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UK suspension of aid to Ethiopia raises accountability questions

Written by Simon Maxwell

An interesting report yesterday evening, that Hilary Benn, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, has announced suspension of planned budget support to Ethiopia worth £20m, in reaction to the way electoral unrest has been dealt with. Two points:

First, this news comes hot on the heels of last weekend’s announcement that all HIPC completion countries, of which Ethiopia is one, would receive immediate debt relief. A question I asked in my earlier contribution was whether relief would be automatic or subject to a good governance test. This decision by Hilary Benn would seem to support the case for a review before granting debt relief.

Second, it is interesting to ask what kind of consultation took place before the decision was announced. Hilary Benn was in Addis Ababa at the time, so presumably had talked to the government. But was there a role for independent assessment? And was there any right of appeal? In some countries, DFID has been moving to more formal partnership agreements, which do provide for independent assessment – Rwanda is an example, with a clear consultation process laid down in a formal Memorandum of Understanding between the two Governments. In Ethiopia, there is an MoU, but from the information on the DFID website, it appears to be somewhat weaker than the Rwandan one. This is an important issue for those who are concerned about the accountability of donors to recipients: the argument has been that the procedure for reducing aid should be transparent and subject to appeal. The Cotonou Convention provides a good model, with explicit arbitration procedures. Should similar arrangements apply to bilateral donors?