Eying the development budget

Article as analysis
Switzerland is proud of its contribution to the successful adoption of the 2030 Agenda. At the same time the Government is planning deep cuts to development cooperation funding.

In late September the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is an ambitious catalogue of goals which are expected, over the next 15 years, to place not just developing countries but the entire world on a path to a socially and environmentally sustainable future. Official Switzerland is bragging about its contribution to the successful formulation of these goals, and promises to participate actively in implementing them.

This sits rather badly with the fact that the Federal Council is planning deep cuts to international development cooperation funding, precisely at this time. Its draft 2016 Federal Budget provides for savings of some 85 million francs in development cooperation in the South and East. By all accounts, hardly any improvement can be expected either from the 2017-20 line of credit for international cooperation. The Confederation's development spending is likely to remain below the 0.5% of gross national income requested by Parliament – and this despite increasing asylum costs (which, as is common knowledge, Switzerland counts as international development assistance).

It was originally intended to cut humanitarian aid funding as well. But the Federal Council has now withdrawn that unfortunate decision. It recently announced that for this and next year it plans to spend about 70 million more than planned on humanitarian and peace-seeking measures in the light of the current refugee tragedy. The bad news is that part of this expenditure will also be charged against long-term development funds. The cooperation budget will therefore shrink even further. Obviously, the Federal Council can think of nothing better than funding sorely needed emergency assistance at the expense of tackling the root causes of poverty and want.

Switzerland's aid budget is not only shrinking, it is also increasingly becoming a self-service facility for interests not related to development. It is being used unsparingly for climate funding and increasingly for export promotion. Left to the Federal Council, it would also be used to fund Switzerland's economically desirable but developmentally highly questionable membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

SDC Director Manuel Sager accords us an interview, in which he does express regret that these abuses are jeopardizing Switzerland's successful development cooperation work. He acts like a very nice and highly decent fellow. So decent that he prefers not to get involved in political struggles over resource allocation. For him it is up to policymakers and not the Federal Administration to protect official development assistance from being bled dry financially. Other federal offices take a much more proactive approach.

Much work (of persuasion) lies ahead for Alliance Sud. As new Director of the think-and-do-tank of Swiss development organizations, I look forward to this challenge. For we are not short on good arguments.

Mark Herkenrath, Director Alliance Sud