Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hey dude, where's my car? (CIDA Edition)

It's bad enough that 39 years after Lester Pearson's famous pledge to spend 0.7 percent of GDP on foreign aid, Canada is still at only half that amount. Now, CBC reports this morning that it's become next to impossible to find out how our foreign aid arm, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), spends our money on projects. Requests under Access to Information have been routinely denied on this one particular file. That's because a big chunk of it is sent on to UN agencies such as the World Bank, and the money is pooled with that of other countries. Since most of those countries have less generous disclosure laws than we do, they also have a veto on releasing data related to our contributions.

This is totally insane. Consider the fact that every year during Lent, several churches have fundraising campaigns for their development charities (among these include the Catholic Church's Development and Peace, the Presbyterian Church's World Service and Development, and of course the Salvation Army.) For many years, the federal government via CIDA has matched these donations during this seven week period at a very generous six to one. Faith-based initiatives are not as big a red flag in Canada as they are in the States, because here charities give regardless of one's religious persuasion or lack thereof; and proselytizing, while still present, is still nowhere near as important as giving back.

At least in this case, we know exactly how much money the government is contributing, because it goes back to the charities to use as they see fit. Where is the accountability where the IMF and World Bank are concerned? There is none, of course.

If even one percent of foreign aid money disappears through the ether, it's not good. Stephen Harper said he wanted to make government more accountable. Why doesn't he make good on that on the one level where other countries see it the most -- by practicing what we preach?

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