Canada gives about $5 billion in foreign aid annually, but there’s growing concern internationally that a lot of that money doesn’t go to the intended causes.
“Money is sent away, but most of the money is actually used for administrative costs, which basically means the money is spent in Canada, which does not help the countries that we’re supposed to be helping,” says Nushka Blais, a biology student at Memorial University (MUN) and advocacy team leader with the local chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada.
Local chapter members participated Monday in a campaign to generate support for greater foreign aid transparency, by collecting signatures and taking photos of supporters with signs reading, “We need transparent aid,” which will be forwarded to the federal government.
The event was held in The Loft at MUN’s University Centre.
The campaign is part of an International Aid Transparency Initiative, which is questioning whether Canada’s foreign aid investments are achieving their maximum impact.
“We’re trying to give Canadians a voice to be heard by the government,” Blais said.
EWB does a lot of work in Africa and aid work in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency, she said.
“Right now, what we’re asking for is for Canada to sign on to IATI which is the International Aid Transparency Initiative and we’re hoping they’ll do that before Busan.”
The fourth international forum on aid effectiveness is being held in Busan, Korea from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. About 2,000 delegates will be in attendance to review global progress in this area and make commitments for the future.
“We’re really pushing for Canada to be an example during that conference to show that Western countries have a role to play in making our aid more effective and, most importantly, that countries like Canada are taking that step and are willing to change and be better,” Blais said.
EWB is also the first non-governmental organization to sign onto this initiative, Blais added, “which is a great success for us and it’s also hopefully going to help us promote the initiative to other groups as well as other governments.”
Photos of supporters holding up the signs calling for transparent aid will become part of a slide show the EWB members plan to send to Parliament Hill to show that Canadians support Canada signing onto the international initiative.
Signed postcards in support of the initiative are also being collected to be sent personally to International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda.
“It’s in the hopes of getting her also to realize, as a minister, that Canadians have a voice and that we want to make it heard and we do want to see change in our government,” Blais said. “We want aid to be more effective. We want to be able distribute the money in a way that’s more effective and sustainable, so we want to make sure we send the money where it’s needed, not just where we’re told.”
Similar activities were held Monday in other cities across Canada, with EWB Canada reminding citizens of the importance of effective, transparent foreign aid programs, particularly in a time of deficit.
EWB says the campaign is designed to draw attention to the fact that aid spending is like a black box, with very little known about the impact of Canada’s $5 billion in annual aid spending.
“Signing on to IATI is a win-win for Canadians and for developing countries. It’s just common sense,” said James Haga, EWB Canada director of advocacy.
“Not only will this initiative enable Canadians and partner country citizens to see and scrutinize the impact of Canada’s aid investments, but it will also save taxpayers money and cut down on bureaucracy. In fact, just by adopting the IATI standard, participating countries will collectively improve the effectiveness of global aid by an estimated $1.6 billion per year.”
More information on initiative and the EWB campaign can be found online at http://ewb.ca/yourvoice.