BRITAIN’S soaring foreign aid budget was again the focus of controversy yesterday.
Justine Greening, the new International Development Secretary, is expected to cancel a decision by her predecessor Andrew Mitchell that unblocked aid to Rwanda.
Mr Mitchell was heavily criticised for being out of line with other countries – such as the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – who have continued to freeze payments to Rwanda because of allegations that it is supporting rebel group M23 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The EU is still funding specific projects in Rwanda but it has suspended direct support to that government.
The M23 leader is wanted by international war crimes investigators over alleged murders, rapes and forced recruitment of young men and boys.
Britain initially froze £16million of general budget support to Rwanda in July. But earlier this month, the UK unblocked half of this contribution – a decision understood to have been made on his last day in office by Mr Mitchell, who is now Chief Whip.
Mr Mitchell is proud of his record in leading a Conservative “social action project” to help Rwandan communities. It was seen as a crucial part of the party’s message that it had become more compassionate under David Cameron’s leadership.
Rwanda denies the arming of rebels responsible for atrocities in the Congo. But Ms Greening is expected to reinstate the British freeze.
A spokesman for the Department for International Development admitted: “The new Secretary of State is looking at all departmental spend and will be taking an extremely close look at the issue of budget support to Rwanda.”
Separately, the EU’s own spending watchdogs yesterday slated European water-aid projects in Africa, part-funded by British taxpayers, for not delivering enough benefit.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Auditors published a damning verdict on the effectiveness of multi-million-pound schemes to improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation in sub-Saharan countries.
Spot checks by auditors of 23 projects in six countries found that fewer than half adequately met the needs of communities and many were in danger of ceasing to work unless stable funding was agreed for them.
The report said: “The EU Commission could and should do better.”
Conservative MEP Nirj Deva, vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s International Development Committee, said: “This stinging rebuke must act as a wake-up call for the Commission.”
The Coalition is under pressure from many Tory MPs to rethink the decision to safeguard the aid budget from swingeing austerity cuts made in most other departments.
Britain’s aid spending is set to rise from £12billion this year to £14billion in 2014. About £1.3billion a year of that budget is spent through the EU.
By Alison Little