You don't have to like Bob Geldof, and I can kind of see why the blunt language he used to criticize New Zealand's level of foreign aid (one of the very lowest in the OECD) would have raised some people's hackles slightly.
But I've been a little taken aback by the outpouring of boorish, hypersensitive responses from NZers, in forums such as the Kiwiblog comments section and the Stuff website feedback. They range from the straightforward "how dare he come here and criticise us" to the ill-informed cop out, "their corrupt leaders will take it all", to the openly racist "I'll give aid when they stop having ten kids".
And it's the Americans who are supposed to be arrogant, insular and unable to take criticism? God, I would hate to see what kind of superpower NZ would make.
It's the "aid will just be wasted and encourages corruption" line that is perhaps the most insidious. People use this as an excuse to absolve themselves completely of responsibility and not to have to think about the issues again.
It's true that a lot of aid has been squandered in the past. But how hard was anyone trying to make it effective and well-targeted? During the cold war, both blocs squandered a lot of foreign "aid" buying the support of corrupt elites, in the service of their respective geopolitical strategies.
But if you have the right motivations, getting good value for aid money is far from impossible.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' international aid unit, NZAid, works with proven, reputable partner organisations in selected countries, and directs funding towards specified projects that aim to support human development, especially in health and education, in these countries. The ones I have seen look well-designed, at least on paper.
The aid we do provide is actually quite transparent and well-targeted; generally, we aren't handing out pork in exchange for political influence. But we could do more; additional $ going in from New Zealand would probably make a genuine difference to people in the developing world.
In Peru, I talked extensively with a local NGO that ran a number of projects, some of them quite innovative, and very much driven by the "hand up not a hand out" philosophy. They were able to answer my "and how are you evaluating this project?" questions, rather better, I might say, than in some examples I could identify closer to home.
They are supported by Italian, US and Swedish organisations, but resources are of course limited. Again, I would be reasonably confident that more funding for them would not go amiss.
Some argue, like Helen Clark, that NZ helps in other, less quantifiable ways, such as by contributing to peacekeeping and having open trade policies. But there's no reason why we can't do those things AND increase our level of direct aid. Then we could more genuinely argue that we are an example to others.
On David Farrar's Kiwiblog (this post seems not to be presently available) , there were the usual responses from the"government shouldn't be spending my money for me" types (including Farrar himself), arguing that private citizens should be making personal donations, rather than the government spending our tax dollars.
That's fine; I would agree that in some circumstances individuals can make more effective, better targeted contributions. This is an area that interests me - so I would be genuinely pleased if those people could describe their experiences in contributing aid at an individual level, and their strategies for ensuring its effectiveness.