David Cameron poverty plea on trip to Liberia

David Cameron meets pupils at the Anna Whisnant School in Monrovia. Picture: PA
David Cameron meets pupils at the Anna Whisnant School in Monrovia. Picture: PA
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International development targets should focus on tackling extreme poverty over the next two decades, David Cameron said in Africa yesterday.

The Prime Minister, in Liberia to attend a United Nations meeting, said bolstering civil structures was crucial alongside aid.

The high-level panel, which Mr Cameron is jointly chairing with the country’s president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is part of the process to decide what targets to bring in after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Cameron said: “Liberia is a country that was absolutely devastated by conflict and civil war.

“It is now recovering but there is still desperate poverty. I think it is very important we keep a focus on eradicating extreme poverty. Here in Liberia, one in ten children do not make it to the age of five.

“But I also think it is important we look at those things that keep countries poor: conflict, corruption, lack of justice, lack of the rule of law. These things matter as well as money.”

Backing ambitious targets, which are due to run until 2030, could fuel anger among Tory back-benchers at plans to raise aid spending to 0.7 per cent of UK GDP from this year.

The premier was forced to concede yesterday that the defence budget could face more cuts in 2015-16, while the international development budget is protected.

The Prime Minister visited the Anna F Whisnant elementary school with Ms Johnson-Sirleaf, 74. Meeting children in the playground, he asked them all what they wanted to do. Mr Cameron said: “Many of them said they wanted to be doctors, lawyers and even government ministers.”

Asked by Mr Cameron what they would do if they ran the school, one child replied: “Open a library.”

A clearly impressed Mr Cameron joked: “If you ask children in the UK, all they want to be is pop stars and footballers.”

Mr Cameron has strongly defended the 0.7 per cent level of aid spending, despite austerity being imposed to balance the country’s books.

However, the government has yet to fulfil its commitment to enshrine the GDP ratio in law.

At the closing press conference, Mr Cameron was asked about the 0.7 per cent GDP commitment. “I am proud of the fact that Britain has kept its promises. We will achieve 0.7 per cent of our gross national income in aid as promised. And I am proud to be the PM who has helped deliver that.”

Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced yesterday that British police investigating overseas corruption would have their funding extended for a further three years.

Teams tackling bribery and money-laundering will continue to be supported out of the overseas aid budget until March 2016, as will the Crown Prosecution Service’s asset recovery unit.

The Metropolitan Police’s proceeds of corruption unit will get £3.4 million, the City of London Police’s overseas anti-corruption unit £3.8m and the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s international intelligence cell £854,000. The asset recovery unit at the CPS will also get £399,000. All of the sections’ work concentrates on issues in poorer nations that affect Britain, such as foreign politicians or officials laundering money through the UK or British companies. It is separate from efforts to ensure UK aid is not lost to corruption.

At the same time, the Department for International Development has published anti- corruption plans for each of its 29 priority countries.

Ms Greening said: “When corruption happens in developing countries, it is the very poorest people in our world who foot the bill. Corruption is a dead-weight which is holding countries and their people back.

“The UK government will not only work in countries to prevent public funds from being siphoned off or stolen, we will step up our efforts to combat corruption that uses our shores as a host.”