Following revelations about the disturbing destinations of large chunks of the UK’s foreign aid budget, over 130,000 people have signed a petition, opened by the Mail on Sunday, demanding that the Government stop devoting a fixed percentage (currently 0.7%) of the country’s national income to foreign aid.
The petition comes on the back of a two-month investigation, carried out by the Mail on Sunday, into the destination of UK foreign aid, worth £12 billion, which showed some shocking findings.
According to the newspaper, “thousands of Palestinian terrorists, including men who have masterminded suicide bombings and murdered children, are given cash handouts from aid money.”
Critics of the policy say that at a time when the Government is continuing to cut back on national spending, including on crucial areas such as the National Health Service and education, as well as tightening up benefits paid to disabled people, the money would be better spent at home.
Currently, the UK gives £72million to areas under Palestinian control, more than a third of which is paid directly to the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is building a new presidential palace at a cost of £8million, while much of the money is paid to terrorists or their families, via the PLO. The amounts are scaled depending on the scale of their crime, the amount of time they spend in prison, and the size of their family. The two cousins responsible for murdering five members of the Fogel family in Itamar are reportedly on the PLO’s payroll, with one of them having received an estimated £16,000 so far.
The Department for International Development (DfID) acknowledged that the PLO makes these payments, describing them as ‘social welfare’ for prisoners’ families, but denied that any British money actually goes to terrorists.
A spokeswoman for the DfID said the Mail on Sunday’s claims were “incorrect.” She was reported in Jewish News as saying, “This allegation is simply incorrect. We have extensive precautions in place to ensure that UK money does not support terror groups or organisations.”
The Mail on Sunday also claimed that there is large scale corruption within the PA civil service, with many civil servants receiving salaries for jobs they no longer do.
This is not the first time that there have been accusations about misspending of British money. The Guardian claimed three years ago that funding intended for overseas aid projects was being paid to terrorists, as did The Daily Telegraph two years ago. However, on this occasion, the Government was disturbed enough to issue a point by point refutation of the claims, on a public holiday.
In a statement by the DfID, the Government described the newspaper articles as “misrepresent[ing] or inaccurately portray[ing] projects” or “focus[ing] on projects that are no longer funded.”
The statement says that “UK aid is spent where it is most needed and is subject to rigorous internal and external checks and scrutiny at all stages.” It continues by saying that recipients are “vetted” and “funds are subject to independent auditing.” Furthermore, “UK support, alongside Norway, France and Japan, is provided through a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank, which carries out close monitoring of Palestinian Authority (PA) expenditure.”
According to DfID, “No UK aid is used for payments to Palestinian prisoners, or their families,” and “The UK does not provide any funding to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.” Regarding the Palestinian presidential palace, DfID said that no UK aid money has been used for this project. “UK direct financial assistance to the PA is not used for the purpose of capital expenditure and is via a World Bank trust fund.”
The Government claims that by supporting projects with the foreign aid budget, it is helping to tackle “the great global challenges” such as disease, terrorism and global climate change, “all of which also directly threaten British interests.” To reject claims that the money could be better spent at home, the statement concludes: “Britain can be proud to be a country that not only meets its responsibilities to the world’s poorest, but in doing so best serves and protects its own security and interests.”
Since the number of signatories has exceeded the 100,000 necessary for Parliament to consider the proposal for a debate, it will be interesting to see whether MPs agree on this subject.