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Britain's Department for International Development has for decades been a leader within the British government on ensuring value for taxpayer money. Over the years it has pioneered cost-benefit analysis; rigorous impact evaluations; and transparency of spending—innovations that were subsequently taken up by the rest of government. In the 1990s, the most senior civil servant in the department, Sir Tim Lankester, blew the whistle on a project to finance a dam in Malaysia because it was not a good use of development aid. As a result of his brave action, accounting rules were changed for the whole goverment: value for money was added to regularity and propriety as standards that must be met when public money is spent.
So when Sir Tim Lankester takes up his pen to defend the British overseas aid budget, he deserves our attention.
The media have enjoyed giving prominence to the counter-intuitive idea that aid does not work. This threatens to drown out the more common-sense (and therefore less newsworthy) message that, while there is always room for improvement, aid really does change and save lives, and aid spending is money well spent. Sir Tim’s essay, a rejoinder to critics of the UK’s leadership in international development practice and spending, is a breath of fresh air. He brings evidence, experience and expertise to an on-going national debate in which many of these qualities have, unfortunately, been lacking.
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.