Malawi risks scaling down on services that are dependent on British aid following a decision by the European country to have at least 50 to 70 percent cuts in United Kingdom overseas bilateral aid.
On January 26, The Guardian published a report that British diplomats have been instructed to find at least 50 to 70 percent cuts in UK overseas bilateral aid in the next few weeks, ahead of the next financial year.
In a written response to a questionnaire on Tuesday, British High Commissioner David Beer conceded that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on UK’s economy, forcing Britain last year to take “the difficult but temporary decision” to reduce its expenditure on global aid.
He said: “We are still working through what this means and no programming decisions have yet been made.
“In real terms, this means we will still be spending more than £10 billion to fight poverty and climate change, improve global health and achieve the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. We remain firmly committed to supporting Malawi.”
Beer said since the pandemic broke out in Malawi, the UK has committed over £9 million (K9 billion) for Covid-19 response, and another £4.5million (K4.5 billion) in November last year to help vulnerable households that have been affected by market disruptions and food scarcity as a result of Covid-19 not to go hungry.
Through a special fund set up by the FinMark Trust, the UK is also supporting low-income Malawian families affected by a drop in remittances from their relatives in South Africa to meet their immediate needs. And we are supporting informal cross-border traders to trade safely during the pandemic and earn a living.
However, announcing the decision on Tuesday, Labour Party’s Development Select Committee chairperson Sarah Champion described the planned cuts as catastrophic, saying lives will be lost as a consequence with Britain’s global standing as humanitarians destroyed.
Figures from the Centre of Global Development show that 6.6 billion pounds of the 10 billion pounds aid budget was already committed for the 2020/21 financial year, leaving only 3.5 billion for bilateral aid, a cut of 60 percent on the equivalent aid figure in 2019.
The pre-allocated budget includes areas such as climate change and continued commitments to multilateral aid bodies such as the European Union (EU) aid budget
In an interview on Thursday, former Finance minister Joseph Mwanamvekha said the announcement is very worrying to Malawi because Britain is one of the country’s major donors.
He said: “UK contributes a lot of money to governance institutions, including the Anti-Corruption Bureau and is a major contributor to the Health Joint Fund and other education programmes.
“This means, therefore, that service delivery in these sectors will be affected as there would be a scale down.”
However, Treasury spokesperson Williams Banda said there has been no official communication on the intended decisions yet.
“However, if it’s true, areas supported by them stand to be affected but key remains the official communication,” he said.
As of 2020, Malawi’s health sector has been receiving 44 percent of UK’s total aid budget to the country, followed by the education sector which takes up 13.9 percent of the budget.
On the one hand, government and civil society organisations (CSOs) claim 10.63 percent of the budget while disaster and relief, the agriculture sector and others have their shares at 8.29, 7.84 and 15 percent, respectively.
An Internet search also shows that in the 2019/20 project budget to Malawi, UK is wiring £113 million (about K113 billion) and it is projected that the budget will slightly increase to £109 million (about K109 billion) in the 2020/21 budget before shrinking to £44 million (about K44 billion) in the financial year 2021/22.