NZAID – six months on

  • Marian Hobbs
Foreign Affairs and Trade

By Marian Hobbs

The New Zealand Agency for International Development, NZAID, has come a long way in the six months since it was established on July 1.

It has had a good think about what it should be doing, how and where. It has recruited new staff, established new teams, moved to a new building and is still on track for spending its budget in making the world a better place. It has explained what is going on to organisations from all around the world, and it has spent much time talking to New Zealanders and Pacific peoples in developing its Pacific strategy.

NZAID was created after a review of New Zealand's foreign aid that looked at what we were doing, how well we were doing it and how we could do it better. It manages the government's $230 million overseas aid programme.

Since its birth the agency has put together new methods to evaluate what it does and how well it does it. One problem the review found was that New Zealand had a large number of bilateral aid partners and that our effort was very dispersed, maybe spread a little thinly.

NZAID has now developed tools for assessing whether we should have a bilateral aid relationship with a country, or whether it is worth funding a multilateral agency, like those based in the United Nations and the Commonwealth. Taxpayers can now see whether their money is well spent, whether it makes a difference or whether our efforts might be better redirected.

At the heart of NZAID is the idea of partnership. Aid has come a long way since well-meaning donors built monuments to western ideas of progress. Developing countries are littered with hospitals that moulder unstaffed, without electricity or medicines, with heavy machinery rusting into the ground for want of spare parts and skilled mechanics.

NZAID’s partners are developing country governments, communities in those developing countries and New Zealand civil society such as aid agencies Christian World Service, World Vision and Oxfam. Only when you talk to the people do you hear what the people need.

NZAID, Nga Hoe Tuputupu-mai-tawhiti, “the paddles of growth from afar”, was born in a year when many strands of development were being gathered together. We wanted to achieve some coherence across the wide range of policies that affect how we and other countries grow: trade, financing for development and sustainable development. The world in which we live agrees that giving aid is only one way to help. It is equally important to let developing countries help themselves, to ensure that they can sell their goods.

The $230 million aid budget represents around 0.25 per cent of gross national income, about average for OECD donor countries. I am absolutely committed to increasing that proportion and the Cabinet has approved some work on how we might do this. As New Zealand grows, the dollar value has to increase to maintain the proportion. But as another Aid Minister once said, you cannot say we are too rich to give aid.

I am concerned that we get better value for the aid monies we do have. I believe that through a sharper and tighter focus, better and stronger partnerships and greater focus on the results and effects of our assistance, we can achieve a more effective programme and obtain better value for our existing aid dollars. It makes sense from both a financial and a development perspective that we increase our level of coordination with other donors.

NZAID’s vision is a safe and just world free of poverty. Its central, but not sole, focus is the Pacific. We give aid because as a developed country and a good international citizen, we should. But to be honest we also have a strong self-interest: New Zealand's security depends on the world being a safer and healthier place. Conflict and terrorism gain footholds where people are poor and desperate. We feel the effects through people-smuggling and terrorist attacks.

If you think New Zealand is too far away for any of this to matter, consider that other people are equally capable of seeing New Zealand as the last safe haven. The diseases that thrive in poverty threaten us as well. Should HIV/AIDS reach the proportion in our region that it has in Africa – where in some countries a quarter of the population is infected - New Zealand will never be the same again.