Human rights to be guiding light of Finnish development cooperation policy
Finland ending development cooperation with Nicaragua
Finland is planning to end its development cooperation with Nicaragua, a country that is seen to have drifted toward dictatorship under the rule of President Daniel Ortega.
For the past three decades, Nicaragua has been one of the most important recipients of Finnish development funding. In recent years, aid to Nicaragua has comprised about EUR 10 million of Finland’s annual development cooperation budget of approximately EUR 1 billion.
The government is to decide on cutting the aid possibly next week and no later than early March.
The decision to end aid to Nicaragua is part of a new development policy programme aimed at raising human rights to centre stage in its development cooperation.
Nicaraguan Ambassador Ricardo Alvaro says that he hopes to persuade Minister of International Development Heidi Hautala (Green) to reconsider the policy when the two meet on Wednesday.
“Finland has had an important role in reducing poverty in Nicaragua. I would hope that the minister would visit our country so that she might see that the results are real”, Alvaro says.
Hautala says that Finland cannot continue its bilateral development cooperation with the government of Nicaragua because of the lack of transparency and the corruption that prevails there.
In addition, Finland wants to concentrate its aid on fewer countries. Non-governmental organisations will continue to send assistance to the country.
Hautala says that Finland has made mistakes in the past when it has not taken issue firmly enough with human rights problems in countries receiving its aid.
“Development policy is toothless, if it does not take human rights into consideration. This is precisely what I want to change”, she says.
Heidi Hautala feels that human rights is taking on a more important role because new rising economic powers are shaking development aid. For instance, China has been accused of exploiting natural resources in Africa at the expense of the rights of the poor.
“We need to make efforts to get the new countries to adhere to the common rules of the game”, Hautala says.
The new development policy programme has a broad definition of human rights: they extend from clean water and social security to political rights. Neither economic growth, nor even the interests of Finnish companies should take precedence over them, Hautala says.
For instance, Mozambique, which has long been a recipient of Finnish development cooperation, has benefitted from economic growth coming from the mining industry, but this growth has mainly helped foreign companies and the country’s elite, not ordinary citizens.
“Reducing poverty is not enough in development cooperation. Inequality also needs to be reduced. We need to strongly bring this to the attention of the government of Mozambique”, Hautala says.
At the Service Centre for Development Cooperation (KEPA), executive director Timo Lappalainen praises Hautala’s development policy programme, and its emphasis on human rights, as courageous.
However, he was critical that the programme does not outline more concrete measures.
“It will be a challenge for civil servants to understand how it is implemented and followed over the next four years.”
Central Chamber of Commerce CEO Risto E.J. Penttilä laments that development cooperation that boosts Finnish trade has a secondary position in the programme. Penttilä feels that the portfolios of Minister of Trade and Industry and the Minister for Development Cooperation should not have been separated.
In its statement, the Chamber of Commerce says that subsidised loans benefitting Finnish companies should not be dropped. Developing countries have been able to use such loans to buy products and services from Finnish companies. However, the loans have been more beneficial to the companies than to the countries receiving the assistance.
Hautala promised that the aim is to come up with new forms of support that would help Finnish companies in their export efforts.
Hautala also said that there will be export opportunities for companies involved in renewable energy and water supply.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Foreign Minister Santos insists Nicaragua is still a democracy (24.8.2011)