£70m Malawi aid 'could give better value for money'

THE UK government's £70 million-a-year-aid package to Malawi could be improved to provide better value for money, a financial watchdog suggested yesterday.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said there was no doubt UK efforts were helping improve conditions in Malawi but said targets were not being met and the effectiveness of the aid was not scrutinised thoroughly enough.

Between 2003 and 2008, the Department for International Development gave 312m to the African state, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.

The programme helped reduce poverty, improve health, boost harvests and encourage more effective governance, the report by the NAO said.

"However, only 61 per cent of the June 2008 targets that DFID set for its programmes were achieved on time, with a further 14 per cent of these within the subsequent year," it said.

The report added that aid programmes had "weak" measures of value for money.

The NAO said that the DFID's programmes to improve health have been well designed and had improved the health of Malawians.

Aids patients had been supplied with increasing amounts of anti-retrovirals. Child mortality had declined and maternal mortality has fallen substantially from its peak in 2000.

But it added that better value for money would be achieved if more effort was made to direct health workers to the most needy areas and drug distribution was improved.

Edward Leigh, the Tory MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee, said "real progress" had been made in tackling Malawi's problems but expressed concern at the management.

"What is unsatisfactory is that the department's own measures of whether programmes are delivering value for money are weak," he said.

"Despite the department setting its own targets for programmes … two-fifths were not achieved on time."

Helping the people of Malawi is also a key ambition of the SNP government, which is building on work started by the former First Minister Jack McConnell.

The Scottish Government funds its own projects and the 3m given to Malawi last year amounted to three-quarters of its international aid budget.

Peter West of the Scotland Malawi Partnership said: "Projects funded by the Scottish Government are specifically requested by the Malawian government, with all impacts externally monitored and evaluated."

A DFID spokesman said: "Our programmes in Malawi are having a positive impact. DFID's health programme has helped ensure 15,000 fewer children and 1,000 fewer mothers die each year.

"430,000 schoolchildren benefit from over 4,100 classrooms built since 1996 and 18 million textbooks have been provided since 2006.

"The NAO rightly acknowledges that our aid has contributed to building a better health service, to getting more children in school and to reducing hunger. We will continue to ensure every pound of aid delivers value for money."

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