Canadian International Development Agency

Misusing foreign aid

The Toronto Star (Editorial)
May 19, 1999

Cynical. That’s the best way to describe Ottawa’s misuse of foreign aid money to promote nuclear power in Thailand, exposed by Bill Schiller in The Sunday Star.
At the request of the Thai government, the Canadian International Development Agency funnelled $1.1 million
to Thailand through Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to help educate Thai engineers about Canada’s nuclear
technology, and to do a little propagandizing in the high schools. All with a view to creating a market for
CANDU reactors.

Most of the cash – $997,000 – was spent sending teams of Canadian experts to a leading Thai university, to
lecture there. That might be defended as a legitimate transfer of our know-how to a country that needs it, and
thus within CIDA’s broad mandate, though there are other federal agencies that can help sell our goods
abroad, including CANDU reactors.

What is indefensible, however, is CIDA’s decision to spend $122,000 on a consultant to help the Thai
government produce videos, booklets and pamphlets which sing the praises of nuclear energy to
impressionable high school students.

That looks like propaganda, pure and simple.

The money could have been spent helping Thailand’s poorest people, rather than boosting Canada’s export

CIDA allocated the funds for these projects back in 1995-1997, though the tainted “education” materials are
still in circulation, and more may yet be produced.

When CIDA’s critics argue that the agency is losing sight of its mandate, this is the sort of spending that they
have in mind.

Canada’s aid has plunged to about $2.3 billion a year, down from $3.2 billion at its height. That’s a 30 per
cent cut. So there’s no room for waste.

Moreover, the 50 poorest countries currently receive less than a third of our aid; the rest goes to
comparatively better-off places.

And worst of all, the people who monitor our aid programs say that only about 17 per cent is spent directly
on basic needs: health, schooling, food, water.

All this has led the Canadian Council for International Co-operation to urge Ottawa to increase spending by
$200 million to $250 million more a year, to reposition us as a serious donor country.

The council also suggests that 30 per cent or more be spent on basic needs. That aid should not be used to
advance peripheral political or business agendas. And that Ottawa cancel the $1.2 billion in debt owed us by
the poorest countries.

These are all good proposals.

In a world where 1.3 billion people try to live on $1 a day, there’s no way Ottawa should be using foreign aid
to flog reactors.

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