There is uncertainty over the United Kingdom’s (UK) Department for International Development (DfID) continued aid to Malawi following reports of a possible merger of DfID and Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
The expected merger of the two institutions has been ignited by the aid-skeptic Conservative Party’s win of 365 of the UK Parliament’s 650 seats last December, the party’s biggest majority since the 1980s.
UK media has since reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants Britain’s $14.5 billion annual aid budget—a cake which Malawi partakes—to come under the Foreign Secretary and be spent more in line with the country’s “national interest”.
According to the reports, civil servants from DfID and FCO had been asked by the UK Cabinet Office to draw up plans for a potential merger between the two departments, raising fears of a potential loss of DfID aid to Malawi, of which the health sector claims a lion’s share.
Our search shows that Malawi’s health sector has been receiving 44 percent of UK’s total aid budget to Malawi, 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.
Currently, there are 25 active projects Britain is implementing or supporting in Malawi, including Malawi Health Sector Support Programme, Private Sector Development Programme, Education Support in Malawi (ESM), Tackling Serious and Organised Corruption, National Registration and Identification System project, Chevening Scholarships, Tsogolo Langa Family Planning Programme, Building Resilience, Tithetse Nkhanza Programme, and Adapting to Climate Change in Malawi, among others.
Any possible cut in aid by Britain could, therefore, spell doom for Malawi, ranked one of the poorest countries in the world at 171 out of 189 on the Human Development Index, with about 80 percent of the population living below the World Bank poverty line of $1.90 (about K1 400) per day.
Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Spokesperson Davis Sado yesterday described the possible change in policy thrust by the UK as a “sad development” but said it was premature for Treasury to comment more as it is a diplomatic matter involving the two countries.
He said: “It is a sad development considering the developmental aid that comes through several channels from DfID, but being a diplomatic matter, as Treasury we will not comment much.”
But a Lome-based Policy Specialist for the International Trade Union Confederation (Africa Office) Alex Nkosi yesterday said it is not surprising that the UK is contemplating merging DfID and FCO, adding the Conservative Party has signaled a reconfiguration of development financing to countries like Malawi.
Said Nkosi: “With Johnson’s right-wing credentials and his personal history, plus his insatiable wish to align himself with the Trump administration, the stage is almost set for Britain to take its seat of politics of authoritarian populism. This could signal further dwindling of Britain’s ODA [Official Development Assistance] to developing countries like Malawi.”
When contacted to comment on the matter, British High Commission-Malawi Office communications officer Benson Linje yesterday asked for more time as their office was closed for New Year’s holiday.
Meanwhile, a coalition of major aid groups has warned Johnson that the expected merger of DfID with FCO would give the impression the UK is “turning our backs on the world’s poorest people”.
In a joint statement seen by The Nation, over 100 charities, including ActionAid, Oxfam, War On Want, World Jewish Relief and Islamic Relief UK state: “Merging DfID with the FCO would risk dismantling the UK’s leadership on international development and humanitarian aid.
“It suggests we are turning our backs on the world’s poorest people, as well as some of the greatest global challenges of our time: extreme poverty, climate change and conflict. UK aid risks becoming a vehicle for UK foreign policy, commercial and political objectives, when it first and foremost should be invested to alleviate poverty,” reads the statement.
Alistair Burt, a former joint minister for DfID and FCO, is also on record as having said a merger of DfID and FCO would need “great scrutiny” and recommended instead that the UK should consider how best to “reshape the structures and mechanisms of government to ensure its collective foreign policy aims are delivered more effectively”. In recent years, Treasury has found itself in a tight corner to shore up expenditure in the national budget by balancing available resources in the wake of continued withdrawal of direct budgetary support and dwindling grants since revelations of the plunder of public resources at Capital Hill, called Cashgate, in 2013.