• AusAid corruption comfortingly miniscule

    Posted by Gershon

    24 March, 2011

    I awoke this morning to a few articles from the News Limited group of newspapers lambasting foreign aid. The articles decried the ‘systematic criminal behaviour', ‘widespread corruption' and ‘exorbitant wastage' of the Australian Government aid program.

    After a quick skim of the headlines, I was sure that our aid program was now being run by the likes of Tony Soprano and his gangland cronies , and this hard hitting expose was about to burst it all open. The giant multi-media banner pasted across the page, titled “Top Secret, Operation Fraud" just about had me convinced.

    A quick fact check however made me realise that the News Limited headlines may have in fact been a little (or enormously) overstated.

    I'm not saying that corruption in developing countries isn't a significant problem, it is. And I'm not for a moment trying to suggest that all AusAID's programs are corruption free, they're not. What I am saying is that we need to keep these headlines in perspective.

    Getting Some Perspective

    The total corruption losses that the article is referring to, amounts to about $3.4 million over seven years, or about $485,000 a year. Compared to the more than $20 billion that AusAID has distributed over that time, the amount is about 0.017 percent. In other words about seventeen cents for every $1,000 received. If only the amount of money my sister ‘misappropriated' from me was that low.

    AusAID fares pretty favourably when compared to other government departments too. In percentage terms, the amount of fraud losses identified by Centrelink is about 4.5 times greater than that of AusAID, and for Medicare the number is anywhere up to 35 times.

    Furthermore, in terms of both corruption and effectiveness, AusAID stacks up well when compared to other international aid agencies. EuropeAid estimate that the identifiable amount misappropriated within their program was about 2-5% (around 100 to 300 times greater than AusAID). In terms of effectiveness, the widespread allegations of corruption seem to be having muted impact. Around 88% of AusAID's programs were on track to achieve their stated outcomes as compared to the international benchmark of 75%. This is an impressive outcome by world standards.

    The Benefits of Aid

    Perhaps the greatest hole in this discussion is the complete lack of reference to the phenomenal benefits our aid program generates. If we assume that our aid program is comparable in its effectiveness to other international aid programs, dollar for dollar, (and as mentioned there's a lot of reason to assume that it's at least this effective) then the money we are investing in these terribly under resourced developing countries is likely saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

    I'm yet to have anyone tell me of any other Australian Government program that is having that much impact and achieving that much good. Yes, we need to hold AusAID accountable, but sensationalising a miniscule corruption loss for the sake of a headline is in no one's interest. Responsible media should surely balance such condemnation with commendation of AusAID and the world transforming work they engage in.


    Gershon Nibalker is the Advocacy Coordinator for Baptist World Aid Australia and a member of the Micah Challenge Campaign Strategy Group. This article also appears on Catalystonline.