An anonymous letter in last week’s Examiner, opposing Isle of Man Overseas Aid, stated that 80% of Oxfam’s funds are spent on ‘administration’.
This is completely untrue. Oxfam’s total spend for ‘administration’ and Fund Raising combined is 17 per cent of net revenue, and includes project management, finance and accounting, measurement, and child protection. The remaining 83 per cent is spent on charitable projects, focused on building self reliance among very poor beneficiaries.
The two main arguments used by opponents of Isle of Man Overseas Aid are that giving should be a matter for individuals, rather than governments; and that spending on overseas aid is wasted.
Addressing the first, most western governments are committed to the UN target – spending 0.7 per cent of GNP on overseas aid. Some already exceed this. The UK, with all-party support, should get there by 2014. The Isle of Man, regrettably, bottoms the league Table, at 0.07 per cent. Why are western countries so committed to 0.7 per cent? Are they being stupid or self indulgent? No. They have five good reasons:
1. The moral case. It’s right for western governments to help billions existing on under £1/day, with minimal health support, frequent natural disasters, and lack of food/clean water.
2. The Life Lottery. We are lucky to have been born into a prosperous society, but have done nothing to deserve it. We could have been born in a Kolkata slum.
3. National reputation. Government giving to low income countries is an accepted international obligation, to which the Isle of Man committed in 2004. Our government rightly aims to enhance our reputation with other countries and international organisations, whose decisions will importantly affect our future.
4. The commercial case. The island’s economic future depends on its ability to attract business from overseas, increasingly from developing countries. The process of contributing Aid can open valuable contacts with overseas politicians, government officials, and leading business people.
5. Value for Money. Overseas aid can have over 100 times the impact of funds spent locally. The new school in Onchan for up to 1100 pupils cost over £33 million. A new secondary school in Nepal for 1100 pupils would cost under £100,000.
The second argument is that overseas aid is wasted. However the only relevant question here is whether its wasted by the Isle of Man overseas aid committee. In my view, the committee invests its funds effectively, with emphasis on very poor people, clear objectives, value for money, rigorous measurement, and sustainability. Anyone doubting this should read its annual report. Because the funds available are so limited, the committee can only afford to approve 15 per cent of applications for small overseas grants.
People say that charity should begin at home. It already does, since the Isle of Man Government spends over 99 per cent of its funds ‘at home’. The current discussion centres on 0.1 per cent of our GNP.
This figure underlies the present Point One campaign, largely run by outstanding young Manx volunteers, of whom we can be very proud.
The island is at its best looking outwards. We lack oil and minerals, and use our skills to earn money from outside. Will the narrow Little Islander approach enable us to flourish in future? I think not. We will succeed by engaging with the world, and meeting our international responsibilities.