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Q&A: Portugal’s Development Aid Untouched by Crisis

Mario Queiroz interviews MANUEL CORREIA, president of the Portuguese Institute for Development Support

LISBON, Jan 4 2011 (IPS) - Despite the global economic crisis that has hit Europe especially hard, Portugal’s official development aid to its former colonies will not decline this year, although “unfortunately no increase is expected either.”

Manuel Correia Credit: Katalin Muharay/IPS

Manuel Correia Credit: Katalin Muharay/IPS

The guarantee that this aid will not be reduced in 2011 was expressed to IPS in this interview with university professor Manuel Correia, president of the Portuguese Institute for Development Support (IPAD), which handles 15 percent of Portugal’s aid to the developing South.

Q: In this time of crisis, which has particularly affected Portugal, has development aid suffered less than other sectors? A: The crisis has affected donors in different ways. They have become increasingly demanding in terms of requiring accountability, because at times like these we must explain very well to taxpayers where we are spending their money.

Portugal’s official development aid (ODA) fell from 0.27 percent of GDP in 2009 to 0.23 percent in 2010.

It would be easy to speculate that the financial crisis was responsible for that drop, but there has been no reduction in the 525 million dollars in aid handled by IPAD, although unfortunately no increase is expected either.

Q: So the outlook for 2011 is not grim. A: The financial crisis has had little impact on the funds that Portugal dedicates to cooperation. For 2011, independently of budget restrictions, the funds earmarked for IPAD are the same as in 2010.

In the case of IPAD, many funds are obligatory contributions, to the European Development Fund, World Bank, African Development Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, among others.

It is hard to imagine any impact on technical and military cooperation, which in some countries, such as East Timor, takes on considerable importance. IPAD is in a position to apply for delegated cooperation programmes (in which donors entrust part of their development funds to another donor) to design and manage cooperation programmes with funds that the EU provides to different countries.

Q: Could you specify what kind of assistance and cooperation you’re talking about? Because in many cases aid is conditional on contracts that benefit the donor country. A: It must be kept in mind that everything we do is in accordance with national anti-poverty plans. It’s true that they ask us for more than we can give, but the options for taking action are always in line with the development strategy of each country.

There are also emerging countries, principally China, that do not want any strings attached.

Q: In what areas is Portuguese aid focused? A: Our greatest emphasis is on education. If you combine education and training at different levels and through the broadest range of ministries, you will see the fundamental objective of our development aid. In this framework, the training of teachers in different countries is one of the essential elements today.

Our aid ranges from vocational-technical to university education. In health, we primarily invest in training at all levels.

In Angola, in collaboration with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, we created a centre for research on endemic diseases. Portugal has participated in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, reaching a contribution of 2.5 million dollars in 2010.

In agriculture, we provide aid in Timor, where we have one of Portugal’s most representative cooperation projects, and in Angola and Guinea Bissau we participate with small projects.

Q: How is that aid distributed? A: Mozambique, Cape Verde and East Timor are in first place, closely followed by Guinea Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe. The case of Angola is unique, because we are in a phase in which the projects are now being co-financed at a level of 50 percent.

Q: Is the issue of corruption taken into account when development funds are allotted? A: Generally, the funds are spent through technical cooperation in the area of training and education, and in the case of bigger projects, through a coordination cell that controls how the money is spent, in the best possible manner.

Although the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD/DAC) has advised Portugal to provide cash grants to the different countries it cooperates with, in the last DAC exam in November, they willingly accepted our response that the varying levels of development do not yet allow a generalisation of that practice.

For that reason, the level of corruption is low and often nonexistent.

Q: Considering the huge economic potential of Brazil, the world’s largest Portuguese-speaking country, have joint aid projects for Portuguese-speaking African nations and Timor been considered? A: We are still in a phase of much talk and little action. There have been attempts by both countries, but except in the case of the language, where Brazilian teachers help teach a masters programme in the Portuguese language, very little is done in general.

This is not the time to reflect on this, but one day we will have to understand why the Portuguese and Brazilians talk so much and do so little together.

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