Foreign Policy

Looking back at the last few months of New Zealand politics the words ‘bull’ and ‘china shop’ come to mind.

We’ve had the lightning speed bulldozing of the Resource Management Act (with the odd tree hugger getting crushed Tiananmen style in the hearings), the bold move to speedily make John Banks the Grand Emperor of the Universe (or at least our largest city) and now (poof!) the disappearance of NZAID and what it represented as an almost autonomous agency for the distribution of the New Zealand Aid budget.

Now once again ensconced under the artful cloak of the Foreign Affairs portfolio we can all sigh and rest assured that it will now be politicians not aid specialists who will be accountable for how aid money is spent. Professional politicians being famous for being accountable.

It’s also good to know that the intended use for this money has shifted from ‘poverty reduction’ to ‘economic growth’ which sounds great but how exactly do you measure the success of your aid policy using economic growth as a factor?

According to the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, ‘The aid mandate will now focus on sustainable economic growth with objective measures such as trade and tourism statistics as indicators of success.’

Which then begs the question; ‘Is Murray McCully a complete plonker?”
I suppose it has occurred to someone in the new foreign affairs ministry that measuring trade and tourism statistics will only indicate how well the boys in the club (the hotel owners, charter boat operators etc) are doing and not how well the overall development of the country is succeeding. If Mr McCully had suggested using other statistics like drops in infant mortality rates or jumps in literacy rates in all age groups it may have sounded more convincing.

Instead we’re back to the good old days where aid is not so much a helping hand but according to Murray; … “needs to align, as much as possible, with our wider foreign policy interests"

Great! We can use our benevolent gift giving as a means to firmly mark our territory round the Pacific in Grand Schemes rather than the slow boring long haul job of helping developing nations lift communities out of poverty.

Mr. McCully has wisely said that: "There, as have been the case in too many locations around the Pacific, others from outside the region, have moved into the space that we have unwisely vacated." Which is code for ‘China has been giving some pretty flash gifts away and we want to play the game’. This will be fun! Lets see.

We could start by giving away a solid gold throne to a Pacific monarch – much more interesting than training midwives or helping form a school curriculum. Mmm. Too late. China already gave one to Tonga.

We can’t put up an impressive new Ministry of Justice building in Avarua, Cook Islands – the Chinese have already been there done that. Never mind that all the internal signs are in Chinese and all the electrical wiring is in Chinese colour coding and can’t be understood by local electricians. It’s the thought that counts.

What about building an enormous Tertiary Education facility on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu – we won’t need to follow it up with actually providing teacher trainers or a curriculum or worry that the literacy rates are sufficient in the country to ensure enough students able to study at this level. If it doesn’t work we can turn it into a hotel and call it development! Damn! Murray was right – China’s already been there done that. China is really good at the big gift game, and let’s face it – dollar for dollar we’re never going to beat them at it.

What New Zealand used to be good at was the slow long haul approach to the reduction of poverty in the Pacific through education and raising health care standards that was the old NZAID mandate.

The Pacific People aren’t stupid. Let New Zealand aid be the genuine old school tortoise in the so called ‘race’ for the Pacific, not some flash Harry Santa using gifts as bartering cards.

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