The U.S. House of Representatives is holding hearings ahead of the summit of the seven leading industrialized countries and Russia next week in Scotland hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The U.S. government has expressed support for the ideas laid out in the British sponsored Commission for Africa report, but the Bush administration is concerned that U.S. aid to Africa be used effectively.
When the world's wealthiest nations meet at the G8 summit next week in Gleneagles, Scotland, Africa's development will top the agenda set by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
U.S. Representative Chris Smith, who chaired a hearing Thursday on the G8 summit and Africa's development, says the notion of the wealthy countries of the world helping Africans escape disease and poverty isn't a new one.
He said now is the time for the G8 nations to produce concrete results, adding rhetoric alone would not educate a student, heal a patient or provide for an AIDS orphan. "What I hope will happen when the G8 meets next week is approval of proposals on aid and debt relief that are not only encouraging, but which will actually produce tangible benefits for the millions of Africans now living in abject poverty," he said.
Earlier Thursday, President Bush laid out his own proposals for development in Africa, including a plan to spend $1.2 billion to cut malaria deaths in half by 2010 in Africa. The president also supports total debt relief for 14 of Africa's poorest nations with another 18 under consideration.
Bobby Pittman, deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for international development, finance and debt, testified that along with the debt relief comes an effort to make sure that more foreign development, including aid from multilateral development banks, is given in the form of grants and not loans. "If we look at the history of development assistance for at least the last 40 years there have been a number of lend and forgive cycles. What this has basically meant is that in many of the poorest countries schools were built leaving the payments coming due to the children that were inside the schools," he said.
The United States moved away from loans in the 1980s, but Mr. Pittman said the banks, such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, continued to make loans, which left many of the poorest African countries with unsustainable debt burdens. He said the shift to grants would go a long way to breaking this cycle.
The United States will also push for more accountability from the aid recipient countries. Paul Reid, senior advisor to the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs, said it makes no sense to ramp up aid levels if the serious issue of weak governance isn't addressed. "We will pursue smarter ways to provide more and better aid. But we will do so with the knowledge that more money alone is not the answer, and may well prove to be counter-productive for those nations that lack adequate governance and capacity to effectively utilize that aid," he said.
The Bush administration has said the Millennium Challenge Account, which targets U.S. aid to countries that demonstrate their commitment to rule of law and good governance while investing in the health and education of their citizens, is a way to ensure that official development aid yields concrete results.