God does have a sense of humour. Murray McCully rocking up to the United Nations in New York to give a speech on the Millenium Development Goals is proof.
He is the John Bolton of New Zealand foreign policy. Remember Bolton? He was George W. Bush’s Ambassador to the United Nations, chosen because of his visceral dislike of the UN.
The MDGs are everything Mr McCully hates: it’s the UN, multilateralism, ending poverty, gender, HIV/AIDs, the environment and all that stuff.
But to his credit our Foreign Minister turned up. Only once did a little of the real Murray slip out when he said:
I share the optimism of those who believe we can make better, faster progress. But it will not be because we have established new committees, or new procedures, developed new slogans or new acronyms.
That’s McCully-speak for ‘I’m not like you UN types. I spend my aid money on roads and bridges and airlines and tourism.’
In the last eighteen months Mr McCully has switched the focus of New Zealand’s aid programme from lifting people out of poverty to promoting economic development. It is odd because you’d think that economic development would simply be the means to reducing poverty. But not in Murray’s world. It has become an end itself.
And the odd thing is, that while the Minister’s desire to spend Kiwi aid dollars on airlines, infrastructure and tourism might stimulate private sector-led economic growth, he doesn’t seem to have given much thought to who will benefit, or whether it is the highest priority. Will the benefits of growth trickle down to the 85% of Pacific Islanders who live from subsistence farming or will they just line the pockets of the elites?
The Pacific is one of only two parts of the world falling behind in progress towards the Millenium Development Goals. The other is Sub-Saharan Africa. In Papua New Guinea mothers are dying in childbirth at a rate similar to Afghanistan. That is 80 times more than New Zealand. The Minister had nothing to say about how his economic development focus would reduce these needless deaths.
Without investing in health and education, the poor won’t be able to take advantage of any opportunities from economic growth. Mr McCully is so ideologically blinkered that he thinks training midwives or getting kids into school is supporting ‘bloated bureaucracy’.
He is particularly hostile to the idea of aid promoting good governance. But then, a Minister who hands out lucrative contracts to his political cronies without putting them to tender, wouldn’t really be in a position to talk to Pacific governments about good governance, would he?