Analysis: Andrew Mitchell has questions to answer over Ethiopian aid

Will the Minister engage with the issue of Ethiopian Aid?

When the cabinet minister finally decided to respond to allegations that aid was being used for political purposes in Ethiopia his performance was polished. In a Newsnight interview his bold assertions that no British development support goes directly to the Ethiopian government, that his officials had investigated allegations in the field and that all was well with the state of aid in Ethiopia were convincing.

But the devil is in the detail, not political puff.

Today the leading international NGO Human Rights Watch has launched an unprecedented attack on the cabinet minister accusing him of ‘misleading’ and ‘disingenuous’ conduct.

It doesn’t pull its punches.

Here’s some of the highlights from the letter sent to the minister by Jan Egeland, HRW’s deputy executive director for Europe.

Your Department has so far failed to conduct a serious investigation into existing allegations of aid manipulation.

Your claim that no British support goes through the Ethiopian government is disingenuous. The vast majority of British support to Ethiopia passes through the government.

These aren’t just pithy quotes intended for media consumption. The HRW letter is a detailed, robust critique based on solid investigation and facts.

A right-to-reply
The Bureau offered Mr Mitchell the chance to answer the points raised, and to explain his reasoning for making seemingly misleading and disingenuous statements on national television.

His response was both glib and patronising. A few paragraphs of little substance which amounted to a blanket denial asserting that the British Government doesn’t agree.

He attacks HRW’s methodology and balance and singularly fails to engage with any of the detailed issues raised. These are not just subjective views, assertions and conclusions, they are solid facts based on months and months of on-the-ground investigation.

Mr Mitchell is a man who holds high office, a member of the Coalition cabinet. What is of most concern is that he is playing politics with grave allegations of human rights abuses and the misuse of British taxpayers money.

This is not the first time Mr Mitchell has come under fire. In July he was accused of ‘turning a blind eye’ to human rights abuses in Rwanda when he agreed to hold talks with president Paul Kagame and approved a 57% increase in aid to the country. Kagame has also faced mounting allegations of brutal repression of opposition politicians and journalists.

The secretary of state ends his response to HRW with: ‘You point out in your letter that the Ethiopian Government must not dictate the terms on which British public money is monitored. I am happy to confirm that this is not the case.’

A bold assertion
This is a bold assertion, but where’s the proof?

Mitchell claims DFID officials in Ethiopia make regular field visits to look into the allegations of aid distortion and that there is no systemic distortion for political reasons in the distribution of aid. But where are the reports from these field visits?

It’s time for DFID to hand over the evidence.