The Roles of Aid in Politics Putting China in Perspective

Burnside, Craig and Dollar, David (2000), “Aid, policies and growth,” in American Economic Review, Vol. 90, No. 4, pp. 847–868

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Burnside, Craig and Dollar, David (2000), “Aid, policies and growth,” in American Economic Review, Vol. 90, No. 4, pp. 847–868.

In this paper we have investigated several questions regarding the interactions among foreign aid, economic policies, and growth. Our primary question concerned the effect of aid on growth. Consistent with other authors, we found that on average aid has had little impact on growth, although a robust finding was that aid has had a more positive impact on growth in good policy environments. This effect goes beyond the direct impact that the policies themselves have on growth.

A second question concerned the allocation of aid: do donors favor good policy? We found no significant tendency for total aid or bilateral aid to favor good policy. On the other hand, aid that is managed multilaterally (about one-third of the total) is allocated in favor of good policy. These findings, combined with a separate finding that bilateral aid is strongly positively correlated with government consumption, may help to explain why the impact of foreign aid on growth is not more broadly positive. Our results indicate that making aid more systematically conditional on the quality of policies would likely increase its impact on developing country growth. This would be true as long as conditional aid of this type had plausible incentive effects.

A final point is that there is a marked trend toward better policy among poor countries, which means that the climate for effective aid is improving. In our sample the mean of the policy index reached a nadir of 1.0 in the 1982-1985 period, and then climbed to a peak of 1.8 in the most recent period, 1990-1993. Our OLS results suggest that the effect of aid was significantly positive for a policy level of 2.4: by 1990-1993, 15 of our 40 poor countries had attained that level. Ironically, the past few years have seen cutbacks in the financing of foreign aid: in 1997 OECD countries gave less, as a share of their GNP, than they have in decades. Thus, the climate for effective aid is improving, while the amount of aid diminishes.

Burnside, Craig and Dollar, David (2004), “Aid, Policies, and Growth: Revisiting the Evidence,” World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2834.

In conclusion, our original finding that aid spurs growth conditional on the quality of institutions and policies is quite robust. We find the relationship in a new data set focusing on the 1990s and using an overall measure of institutional quality. Our strongest conclusion from the cross-country work is that there is far more evidence that aid spurs growth conditional on institutions, than for the competing hypothesis that aid has the same positive effect in all institutional environments. On the other hand, because all cross-country statistical results are fragile, we cannot completely reject the hypothesis that aid never works anywhere. Like most economists we believe that institutions and policies matter for growth, but it is possible to find specifications in which the institutional quality variable is not significant, so a limitation of the cross-country approach is that it cannot definitively settle some debates.

Fortunately, policy makers do not form judgments based simply on cross-country regressions. There are other types of information that are useful for those trying to establish effective aid policies. First, one should not underestimate the importance of theory. Given that institutions and policies affect growth, it is difficult to write down a coherent growth model—unless one assumes international capital markets are perfect—in which the impact of aid would not be conditional on the same institutions and policies.6 For aid to have no impact in a low-income country, regardless of the quality of institutions, would require a degree of perfection in international capital markets that we find implausible. So, based on theory, it is quite plausible that aid would promote growth in poor countries that manage to put good institutions into place.

A second type of information that is relevant comes from case studies. There is fairly broad agreement that the Marshall Plan accelerated European growth after World War II: this is the ideal example of the model we have in mind, with a significant volume of finance pumped into an environment of solid institutions and social infrastructure. We would argue that this one case disproves hypothesis #3, that aid is always money down the rat hole. There are quite a few case studies of aid to developing countries. Many of these support the view that money channeled to a highly corrupt government with distorted economic policies provides no lasting benefit. On the other hand, studies of successful aid typically emphasize that the recipient government had a good set of policies to enhance growth and directed assistance to useful investments in roads, schools, and the like.

A third type of evidence that is relevant comes from data on individual projects financed by aid. In a variety of sectors, projects are more likely to be successful in countries with growth-enhancing institutions and policies [Isham and Kaufmann (1999)]. When South Korea was a low-income country with a large amount of aid in the 1960s, most projects, of many different types, were successful. In Kenya and Zimbabwe in recent decades, on the other hand, many projects, of all types, have failed, in the sense that they have not provided the services or benefits anticipated from the investment. If aid were not fungible, this project level evidence would settle the debate. However, it is possible that all of the good projects in Korea would have been financed by private capital in the absence of aid, so that project-level evidence alone cannot settle the debate about aid effectiveness. Once we combine the evidence from case studies and projects with the cross-country correlations, however, we feel more confident that aid effectiveness depends on institutions and policies.

We were also interested to see the results of a global poll commissioned by the World Bank from a private survey company [PSRA (2003)]. The poll focused on “opinion makers” in a wide range of developing and developed countries (that is, government officials, academics, the media, trade union leaders, NGOs, etc.). In Sub-Saharan Africa, 84% of opinion makers agreed with the statement that, “Because of corruption, foreign assistance to developing countries is mostly wasted.” In other regions of the developing world, similarly large majorities agreed with the statement. Opinion makers in the rich countries were the least skeptical (only 58% agreed with the statement). So, while first-world academics may find some specifications in which aid works in all institutional environments, that argument is going to be a tough sell in the developing world.

A final important point in this debate concerns incentive effects. We and others have found that in the past aid has not systematically led to improvements in institutions and policies. But the phrase “in the past” is quite important. In the past aid has been allocated indiscriminately with regard to the institutions that are critical for growth. If the allocation rule changes, then the past evidence tells us little about what may happen in the future. We would not expect aid—even well managed—to to be a main determinant of reform. But if aid is systematically allocated to low-income countries with relatively good institutions, then we would expect that this would increase the probability that reforms are successful and politically sustainable. Thus, aid could be a useful support to reform even if it is not its main determinant. Our line of reasoning is speculative, but it is not unreasonable to think that allocating aid to relatively good governments would have a positive incentive effect.

Based on all the evidence, we think that it is good news that aid is now more systematically allocated to countries with sound institutions and policies. If anything, we would encourage aid-givers to strengthen this trend even more.

Byrd, Peter (1991), “Foreign Policy and Overseas Aid,” in Bose, Anuradha and Burnell, Peter (eds.) Britain's Overseas Aid Since 1979: Between Idealism and Self-Interest, pp. 49-73, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

The Conservative government found that it was extremely difficult to fulfill its aspiration of 1979 in reordering aid on a clear foreign-policy framework of assisting friends and promoting exports. 16 By the mid-1980s, under Raison, a clear development priority had reasserted itself (alongside the commericial pressures on the aid budget), although the ODA (Overseas Development Agency) and its Ministers lacked the political clout to recover the major cuts in the budget imposed in the immediate post-1979 period. As a tool of foreign policy aid has shown itself to be too inflexible and too strongly shaped by forces of inertia. Moreover, it has been too small in size to be an effective instrument, except in isolated cases. Those exceptional cases are not insignificant – the use of aid as part of a policy of securing regional influence, as in the case of Mozambique; the exclusion and then prospective re-accommodation into the aid programme of such states as Vietnam; the use of the aid programme as an instrument of trade promotion and industrial policy, as in the case of India; the use of aid as part of a prime ministerial foreign policy coup to mend a broken relationship, as in the case of Malaysia. But as an instrument of foreign policy in the 1980s overseas aid has remained of only marginal significance.

Cable, Vince (1982), “British Interests and Third World Development,” in Cassen, Robert, Jolly, Richard, Sewell, John, and Wood, Robert (eds.) Rich Country Interests and Third World Development, pp. 182-214, London: Croom Helm.

To the extent that it is possible to pull together the various strands into an overall assessment of how the British government views its interests in developing countries, the conclusion is not too encouraging from a mutual-interests standpoint. The current British government simply does not relate to the Keynesian framework of economics which underlies much of the Brandt analysis. There is little interest, either, in proposals for intergovernmental regulation of commodity markets, or the transfer of technology, or restructuring, on other than a commercial basis, of contractual debt. Liberalization of markets is closer to its ideological heart but where this might help developing countries (lifting restrictions on imports of competing manufactures and agricultural goods and, above all, people) there are major political obstacles and some genuine, if exaggerated, frictional costs. The virtual ending of any British need for imported energy, the increasing self-sufficiency (albeit at great cost) of European and British agriculture, and disengagement of British and other Western mining companies from developing countries, have substantially weakened formerly strong sources of economic interdependence. Political interests have waned with winding up of Empire and the ending of all but nominal military involvement. What is known of public opinion also indicates some hostility or, at least, indifference. The present government has signalled its attitude towards North-South relations in general by representation at conferences which is low in level and negative in tone and by even sharper cuts in the aid budget than in public expenditure in general. Although its tone was more conciliatory and its policies, on aid notably, more generous, the last Labour government showed no evidence of being persuaded that an accommodating approach to the demands of LDCs was in Britain’s interest. This background helps to explain, in large part, the cool government response to the Brandt report. Foreign Office ministers have since made more positive noises, but not due to any real reappraisal of ‘interests’; rather because of a greater sensitivity to the country’s image overseas and in deference to the strength of ‘moral’ feeling – in the Church, Parliament and in some sectors of public opinion.

However, there is evidence, which this survey has tried to bring together, that there are some British interests in developing countries which are of growing and perhaps underestimated importance. The share of LDCs as a market for British exports of goods and services is increasing again after decades of decline. Private foreign investment in developing countries is now of growing relative importance and is given high priority by the present government. There is strong interest in stabilizing the international monetary system not least because of the heavy involvement in LDCs by UK-based banks and the role of sterling as petrocurrency. There are signs that austere monetarism is giving way to greater concern for economic expansion at home and abroad. It might be said that all of these aspects of interdependence are well known and understood and are best dealt with problem by problem and country by country, corresponding to the reality that developing countries differ greatly in outlook, economic potential and political importance. It is at this, modest, level that the Brandt report may prove to have been useful; not in persuading this, or other, British governments that a radical new international economic order is in their interests – of which there is little prospect – but in promoting an outlook towards LDCs which is somewhat more positive, longsighted and generous in spirit than before.

Carleton, David and Stohl, M. (1985), “The Foreign Policy of Human Rights: Rhetoric and Reality from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan,” in Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 205-229.

In sum, United States foreign policy under both Presidents Carter and Reagan has been characterized by a sharp distinction between the rhetoric and the reality of human rights policy. Moreover, there is a sharp difference in the rhetoric of the two administrations. We have seen that the rhetorical aspects of the Reagan critique and reformulation of human rights policy have demonstrated empirical and logical flaws. In contrast, the practice of the Carter and Reagan Administrations on foreign aid distribution has been remarkably similar. Neither administration has acted in accordance with the established human rights legislative package. Thus, while the Reagan administration has produced a rhetoric on human rights policy that is radically different from that of the Carter administration, the policy outputs in the area of foreign assistance are not any more coherent. Decisions on the distribution of United States foreign assistance continue to be made with interests other than human rights in mind. While Carter's policy may have failed while raising expectations, Reagan's policy offers no hope whatsoever.

Cassen, Robert, Jolly, Richard, Mathieson, John and Sewell, John (1982), “Overview,” in Cassen, Robert, Jolly, Richard, Sewell, John, and Wood, Robert (eds.) Rich Country Interests and Third World Development, pp. 1-40, London: Croom Helm.

What can be concluded from the studies for the future? It would be dishonest to pretend that a clear and simple set of conclusions emerges. Interests there are and strong they may be – but there is a complexity in the way they arise from the differing concerns of different groups within and across the developed countries which makes it difficult to compile a summary.

This is hardly surprising. Clear and strong interdependence exists between companies and unions within any of the countries of the North, or between, say, the economies of the European Economic Community. But the mere existence of this interdependence does not permit a simple summary of mutual interests, let alone a logical economic deduction that all forms of progress of one group or country necessarily will benefit all the others. Mutual progress can be mutually beneficial and co-operation to pursue this may be in the strong economic interests of the various parties in pursuing it. If all this is true within and among the developed countries, why should it not also be true of the interdependence between the developed and developing countries?

Thus the critical question is not ‘does interdependence between North and South exist?’ but ‘on what terms is it in the interests of the North and South to pursue and fashion interdependence between them in the 1980s?’ The acceptance of interdependence then becomes less a deduction from economic facts than a declaration of economic and political will. The essence of the Marshall Plan was not an econometric calculation of multipliers and linkages but the statesman-like vision that a reasonable post-war world required a reconstructed Europe and Japan and that it was in the broad interests of the United States to provide major economic support for its achievement. The terms on which interdependence was reconstructed included financial transfers, five year plans and the OEEC, an organization for co-ordinating economic advance and interaction.

The starting point with the Third World today is quite different. Parts of the Third World are growing rapidly and strongly, while many of the poorer parts are stagnating. The world economy is stagnating – if not in recession and crisis. The question posed is: does anyone have the vision for a purposeful reconstruction of a more dynamic world system – and how do the different groups of Third World countries fit into such a system? The answers to this are even more difficult than to earlier questions. Some will probably say that such a question is totally incongruous at the present time, politically and philosophically, because of widespread disillusion with the commitments to and capacity of international institutions and organizations. Such commentators may be ‘realistic’ in their disillusionment. The vision may be beyond our grasp.

But what the country-studies depict is the absence of any striving for a reconstruction of a new interdependence, a widespread failure to grasp the importance of what is at stake. In country after country of the North, economic interactions within the North are treated as serious economic issues, economic interactions with the South are treated as political diplomacy. Yet as the studies also show, the economic facts are otherwise: the Third World matters economically, the structural adjustments already facing the North in energy, food production, trade and finance, give it even greater incentives to establish new economic relationships with the South; and finally, in the context of continuing recession, there is a special area of mutual interest in any measures which would stimulate a greater level of economic activity through the growth of world trade.

While all the countries of the North have a variety of ties of interdependence with the large number of middle-income countries of the South, it is hard to see from the case studies what they have to gain economically from the prosperity, or even the continued existence, or the poorest among developing countries, even if security is considered an important factor. A Nepal, a Bangladesh, a Lesotho, a Haiti, could go the way of Cambodia in more or less disappearing from the West’s international community, with hardly a ripple of effect on the immediate well-being of the North’s inhabitants, and even in the longest of long runs, with only a rather marginal loss of some opportunities for trade or the chance to import cheap immigrant labour at some distant time when the migration-potential of sources closer to hand is exhausted.

The satisfaction of humanitarian wishes that we should seek to aid the Nepalese and the Haitians can hardly, therefore, call arguments from self-interest in support. The case must rest mainly on support for measures of common humanity and poverty eradication, of shared membership in a ‘world society’ which have been mentioned throughout the case studies.

The papers discuss the factors which tend to strengthen support for this sort of action, in particular on the marginal incremental effects of binding arrangements involving partial renunciation of national autonomy for some collective interest. It is worth, finally, addressing one particular sort of international development – the entrenchment of ‘class stratification’ among the nations of the world. Most of the case studies examine the effects of ‘class consciousness’ in inhibiting the rich nations from ‘defecting’ into alliance with groups of Third World countries in confrontational situations. Similarly, there have been occasions, at the CIEC meetings, for example, when OPEC countries have seemed about to use their oil power while consciously in the interests of poor countries as whole, and not just in their own national interest or in the interests of an Arab or Islamic grouping. To be sure, such solidarity remains weak in practice, and it is not clear that it will ever become a decisive force.

On the other hand, there are other possibilities. The effect of widening gaps in living standards is difficult to calculate. If the oil countries’ industrialization and modernization plans turn sour and they remain the world’s nouveaux riches, when will they feel they are entitled to be viewed as something better? Perhaps increased density of communications will have an effect: what Marx said the railways did for working-class consciousness in Germany, the jumbo jet and international conference might do for Third World consciousness. If there were such a development, the effects would be uncertain just as the rise of class consciousness was for the Western democracies in the nineteenth century – on the one hand raising the level of dissension, on the other hand leading, eventually, to the ‘incorporation’ of dissenters because the cost of the dissension to the ruling groups proved too great. That process of incorporation enabled the very poorest who had no bargaining power to have their claims to citizenship recognized by riding on the coat-tails of those whose bargaining power was stronger. This may be true of such countries as Nepal and Haiti. The Third World countries as a whole have a considerable role in determining the nature of the objective situation in which the rich countries find themselves and base their interest on.

While coalitions of specific interests could lead to progress on some limited issues, they do not seem adequate to forge a new order of a kind which would promise more solid opportunities of development for the Third World. For that, the question is whether the real interests in the areas of energy and economic security can bring the North to a greater understanding of the relevance to their own peace and prosperity of other economic and political issues in the Third World – or whether they feel they can do sufficiently well with the past strategy of maintaining the status quo, making a concession here and an advance there, and hoping they can get by without anything that seems to have major costs for themselves.

It is not the conclusion of this analysis that all issues have to be negotiated simultaneously. The negotiating process in the United Nations has suffered rather than gained from making attempts in that direction. But there evidently must be enough items on the agenda to make the potential outcome satisfactory for all parties. That there are mutual gains to be achieved seems clear; but they may only emerge in a situation where some bargaining of positive and negative elements is possible. It also seems clear from this analysis that progress in this endeavor is worth striving for, for the North’s sake as well as the South’s. The choice is between a world of growing poverty, instability, rapid population growth resource depletion, conflict and insecurity – and a more manageable future. The idea that business can indefinitely continue as usual may prove to be an expensive illusion.

Cassen, Robert (1991), “Afterword,” in Bose, Anuradha and Burnell, Peter (eds.) Britain's Overseas Aid Since 1979: Between Idealism and Self-Interest, pp. 204-209, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Aid is often described as beginning with Truman’s Point Four programme; in fact its origins in both the US and Europe go back before the Second World War. The present volume is mainly concerned with the Overseas Development Administration and its work, which began effectively in 1964. But it is as well to remember that governments recognized some claim on their resources from developing countries long before that.

Worldwide aid grew fairly steadily up to 1986, when the effects of the steady diminution of Arab aid since 1980, which had reached US $14 billion at its height, began to outweigh increases elsewhere. CMEA assistance rose from US $2.8 billion in 1980 to US $5 billion in 1987 but has fallen slightly over recent years. The aid of members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee has been growing consistently since 1970, apart from downturns in 1973, 1981 and 1987. Different countries have taken the lead in adding to volume: as US volume stagnated or fell, Italy became a significant donor in the 1980s, and in 1990 Japan became the biggest of all.

Britain is still a major donor, but with a low percentage of GNP: at 0.32 per cent in 1988 (having reached 0.44 per cent in the 1970s) it was below the DAC average of 0.36 per cent; only four countries in the OECD league table (including the US, at 0.21 per cent) had a lower score. Successive British governments have fairly cynically reiterated their commitment to the 0.7 per cent of GNP UN target for aid, but without a date. The Labor Party’s 1990 policy documents, however, promise to achieve the goal within five years.

The British aid programme in 1990 almost defies assessment. It has achievements of high technical quality to its credit; its projects in Africa have had more success than those of many other donors. It has given expression, if in many cases only belatedly and thinly, to concern about poverty, gender and environment. It has shown both compassion and toughness.

At the same time it has been subject to – and has often yielded to – commercial pressures. It has declined in real value terms over most of the 1980s, until 1988, when it rose (and there is now a government commitment for it to rise in real terms over the next three years). It is spread over an excessive number of recipient countries. It has contributed growing amounts to EC aid programmes, about which it is not happy, though it has had little ability to improve them.

All in all, it is a create of the cross-currents of political, foreign-policy, economic and social interests of the national life, with a genuine mix of altruism sustained by outside pressure which meets a ready response in many parts of Whitehall. It is a thoroughly British compromise.

Commercial Aspects

The UK’s aid programme is among the most affected by commercial influences. At 17 per cent of bilateral aid untied, it has one of the lowest scores of donors for whom such information is given – though these do not include France, Japan or the United States.1 While it can be argued that, without efforts to satisfy commercial interests, governments might find support for aid less easy to come by, some of the actual forms of commercialization are peculiarly damaging to the purposes of aid.

That is especially true of the Aid and Trade Provision, which this book correctly describes as a ‘wretched abuse of taxpayers’ money’ (p. 124). It is sometimes argued that Britain has been forced to take such action to compete with other donors who do similar things – the French were the first, with their crédits mixtes. Certainly where other governments help their companies compete by improving credit terms, those which do not do so may lose out. But it would be better to attempt to improve the international machinery which is supposed to govern credit competition.

The ATP cannot strictly be described as matching others’ credit behavior in competitive situations. It is often applied in particular deals where big contracts are at stake between UK firms and foreign governments, and aid acts as a ‘sweetener’. The ATP takes scarce concessional resources away from poor countries and poor people; it has created, as Toye observes, a vested interest which lobbies for the scheme’s expansion. It benefits a small number of (often large) firms, but conveys no obvious good to the country as a whole. It has been ad discredit to the Labor government of 1977 which introduced it, and to the succeeding Conservative government, which nailed its flag to the mast of Competition, but enlarged and preserved it. Anurdha Bose’s account of business lobbying in Chapter 7 only supports this afterword’s view of the complexities of the ODA. The lobbies studied support the ATP, with varying intensity. They seek other forms of access to aid contracts. They recognize, some of them, to some extent, the developmental aims of British aid. And many parts of the aid programme are not accessible to them. Other Whitehall departments are often instrumental in assisting them in their objectives. The forces contend for the ODA’s virtue, within and outside it, and the battle is neither won nor lost.


A further case in point is the channeling of aid through NGOs, now quite a major programme (Chapter 9). This reflects in part a genuine attempt to meet the anti-poverty objectives of British aid, in part an attempt to deflect criticism about failure to do so by other means, and in part a means of saving on administrative costs. An incidental effect, as Mark Robinson points out , in Chapter 9, has been some muting of criticism of official aid by NGOs – though it would be too Machiavellian to suggest that this was an aim of the policy.

At the same time, actual practice has borne out many of the ODA’s virtues: a concern for performance evaluation by NGOs, which has not been pushed to the point of excessive obtrusiveness; using NGOs to give humanitarian aid in countries where governments are not to be relied on; even some sensitivity to the dangers for the NGOs in getting too close to officialdom. But, as Robinson’s account of the selective availability of the block grant shows, even on administrative matters principle is not taken too far; if it is awkward to follow precedent consistently it can be pragmatically accepted that like cases need not be treated alike.

The Environment

British aid has become virtuous on the environment. It began the 1980s without an environmental policy and with some considerable destruction of its scientific capacity. But after the Prime Minister’s conversion to the environmental cause its own (modest) programmes and, perhaps more important, its role on the international scene have become creditable. As described by Brian Walker in Chapter 10, the UK has played a significant part in influencing policy in the World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme, and in promoting arguments and recommendations of the Brundtland report.

Foreign Policy and the Distribution of Aid

It is hardly surprising that in Chapter 3 Peter Byrd characterizes the foreign policy of British aid as ‘pragmatic’. No consistent thread can be found in the various uses of aid. Instead, aid is used sometimes for highly specific foreign-policy purposes, such as assisting the resumption of relations with Malaysia in 1986, or attempting to improve the UK ‘presence’ in southern Africa by providing assistance to Mozambique. More often, aid simply lubricates the conduct of foreign relations – this is why UK aid is spread over 120 countries in rather small packets.

The geographical pattern of British aid has changed over the years. Many commentators particularly regret the decline of Indo-British relations.2 India received 20.5 per cent of British bilateral aid in 1970-71; by 1987-88 this was down to 6 per cent.3 The UK compares reasonably well with other donors in the proportion of aid it gives to the poorest fifty countries (68 per cent in 1987) and to Africa (49 per cent) – it is Africa which has gained at Asia’s expense.4 It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for this shift, common to most donors: it at least runs counter to the ‘economic interests’ view of aid, since these are arguably greater in Asia than in Africa for virtually all donors. It is indeed true that what has attracted aid to that continent has been the darkening economic prospects there, leading to an international response to Africa’s plight, standard theories of international relations have something to explain.

Britain’s contribution to multilateral aid institutions is also fairly ‘virtuous’: 46 per cent of its aid, including EC aid, or 27.2 per cent (compared to the DAC average of 24.6 per cent) excluding EC contributions. The ODA has found the steady increase in this proportion somewhat frustrating, particularly the amounts going to EC programmes, much of which it would rather see going through its own bilateral channels. Adrian Hewitt has detailed some of the UK’s dissatisfaction with EC aid programmes and policies in Chapter 5, though the present author gives more credence than Hewitt to British efforts to reform EC aid; it is perhaps not so much that the UK has never tried as that, when it has tried, it has not been supported by other EC members. Also the secretiveness of EC functionaries makes it difficult for outside bodies to document the failings of EC aid and support attempts at reform – though from time to time the EC’s own Court of Audit produces some fairly damning commentary.


British aid has a reputation for technical quality. The World Bank’s study of aid to African agriculture, for example, found the UK among the more accomplished of the donors it covered – a fact which it attributed in part to Britain’s long experience on the continent.5 The present volume pays tribute at various points to the ability and dedication of ODA professionals – tributes which are for the most part thoroughly well deserved.

As with much bilateral aid, however, objective knowledge about effectiveness is limited. James Winpenny makes it clear in Chapter 2 that the ODA takes evaluation seriously and puts lots of effort both into the techniques of evaluation and into implementing its findings. But by no means all aid activity is subjected to formal evaluation, and only recently have evaluation reports been made available to outsiders.6 In this respect the most ‘virtuous’ agency is the United States’ USAID, which is unique among bilateral donors in evaluating almost all its aid (the World Bank is the only other agency to do so) and publishing almost all its evaluations. It would be gratifying if the ODA were to move in this direction. There is enough sophistication in the aid community for the publication of evaluations, both positive and negative, to be possible without harm – indeed, with much value – to the aid programme as a whole and public interest in it.

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