PHOTO COURTESY OF CCODP

PHOTO COURTESY OF CCODP

April 9, 2012
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Canada's bishops are asking the government to explain a 68 per cent cut in CIDA funding to Development and Peace, but development experts and opposition politicians are offering explanations the bishops are unlikely to hear from the government.

University of Toronto development expert Wilson Pritchart says domestic politics is lurking behind CIDA funding decisions.

"What the government in fact is doing is cutting funding to organizations that are critical of it, that are critical of the aid agenda," Pritchart told The Catholic Register. "And to some extent cutting funding to NGOs that are at all political in favour of using NGOs as conduits for service delivery."

The Canadian Council for International Co-operation, a kind of trade association for development aid agencies, believes CIDA decisions are being driven by economic interests.

"They see it (development) more and more as a tool to promote Canada's interests - business interests - overseas," said CCIC spokeswoman Chantall Harvard. "And geopolitical interests as well . . . The first objective of ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) is not to promote Canadian business.The Official Development Assistance Accountability Act, endorsed by Parliament in 2008, clearly states ODA money should contribute to poverty reduction, take into consideration the perspective of the poor and follow all human rights objectives and standards."

CIDA insists it cannot tell The Catholic Register how or why it decided to slash CCODP's funding from $44.6 million between 2006 and 2011 to $14.9 million between 2011 and 2016.

"CIDA does not discuss publicly the specifics of individual proposals, but does provide feedback to the applicant organization upon request," has been the CIDA response to questions.

Feedback to CCODP came in the form of a letter stating: "Project components in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Indonesia and the Philippines were assessed as most likely to deliver strong, sustainable results."

Ideology and election strategy are other factors contributing to CIDA's recent funding decisions, said Liberal international development critic Mark Eyking. "There's a lot of ideology in how they're choosing, that's for sure," he said. "And then we've seen a bunch of new ones from out West get approval. They have a different religious bent and their philosophy of how they've done things."

WESTERN RIDINGS

Quebec-based NGOs like CCODP (headquartered in Montreal) have faced major cuts or outright refusal while new agencies with a thin track record headquartered in Western Conservative ridings have done well, Eyking said.

If CIDA wants to focus aid by spending more money in fewer countries and allow non-Canadian agencies to vie for funding, those are good development policies, said Pritchart. Developing countries have requested that approach.

But Pritchart said the problem is implementation.

"The reality is that the Canadian aid agency, CIDA and Canadian development assistance more broadly rates consistently very poorly in cross-country ratings," he said. "That's a verifiable fact on the ground."

Part of the problem is an increasingly short-sighted, almost naive set of assumptions about what development assistance can and should do, said Pritchart. "Good development outcomes are essentially grounded in politics. It's not good enough to just dig the well. . . . "The long-term goal of development has to be to create sustainable capacity, sustainable political leadership in developing countries to deliver those services so NGOs don't have to play that role."

The new application process practically guarantees a short-term focus on service delivery, Harvard said.

NO BRIDGE BUILDING

"There is a difference between working with development organizations and hiring a firm to build a bridge," she said. "You cannot expect deep changes in two to three years. It's a complex process and a multi-sectoral one."

The bid system, which CCODP will now be forced to rely on for future CIDA funding, not only devalues long-term relationships between Canadian agencies and NGOs based in the Global South, it wastes time and resources, said Harvard. "It costs between $10,000 and $30,000 just to prepare one proposal"

Inherent in the process, most of the bids will fail and the money spent preparing them can't be redirected to actual aid. The new competitive bid process has left aid agencies scratching their heads as they try to figure out what criteria CIDA is using to judge bids.