Saturday, October 20, 2012

UK: Minister ‘did not heed advice on Rwanda aid’

By The Independent/London
Sunday, 7October, 2012

The embattled Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell gave a personal promise to Rwanda’s controversial leader that Britain would continue its multi-million-pound aid payments to the regime despite growing concerns within his department, according to documents obtained by The Independent.

The former International Development Secretary has been lambasted for his decision last month – before he moved jobs in the Cabinet reshuffle – to reinstate £16m of British aid to Paul Kagame’s government, which is facing accusations of fomenting conflict in neighbouring Congo.

Officials insisted there was nothing improper about the decision to remove the block put on the funds earlier this summer as part of an international aid freeze. Mitchell, now David Cameron’s Chief Whip, has been accused of overruling advice from the Foreign Office and his own civil servants when he ordered the payment.

Internal documents from the Department for International Development, released under the Freedom of Information Act, underline the warmth of the relationship between Mitchell and President Kagame, a one-time darling of the West after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide but now accused of increasing authoritarianism.

In a note made by civil servants of a telephone conversation between Mitchell and Kagame in February 2011, the Cabinet minister announced Britain was increasing its aid from £60m to £90m by 2015, much of it to be provided as “general budget support” paid direct to the Rwandan government.

The memo states: “SofS [Mr Mitchell]... recalled how they had recently discussed that Rwanda is an excellent development and delivers results... We will continue to provide a significant proportion of the UK’s aid as budget support. We will continue to provide high levels of general budget support (£37m annually).”

Two months earlier he had flown to Rwanda to see Kagame for a “90-minute tête-à-tête followed by lunch” in which they had “friendly but robust” exchanges. That meeting followed Kagame’s re-election amid accusations he suppressed the opposition and gagged the media.

It was this general budget support which Mitchell unexpectedly re-instated last month, ordering £8m to be released immediately with a further £8m in December for education and food security. Labour has demanded Mitchell publish the advice he received about the funding release.

During the telephone conversation, Mitchell emphasised the personal links between the upper echelons of the Conservative Party and the Rwandan regime, dating from the period in opposition when senior Tories intent on detoxifying their image visited the country to carry out aid work.

The internal DfID memos underline the growing qualms within the ministry about the “political risk” in Rwanda with Mitchell’s ministerial colleague, Stephen O’Brien, highlighting international concern about the human rights situation in the country. Mitchell’s successor, former Transport Secretary Justine Greening, is reportedly preparing to reverse Mitchell’s decision.

The Cabinet Office said Mitchell had not shied from raising difficult questions with Kagame: “The former secretary of state had a candid relationship with the government of Rwanda and frequently delivered tough messages on issues of concern.”

The DfID said: “The Secretary of State will consider the issue of budget support to Rwanda carefully before our next decision in December.”


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