Microsoft founder turned philanthropist Bill Gates has been busy trying to persuade the Netherlands not to cut its development aid budget, with interviews and columns in most Dutch papers this week.
On Friday night, Bill Gates apparently telephoned the Volkskrant newspaper and NOS television to express his fears about the possibility of the Netherlands slashing its development aid budget. The call came while the coalition parties and alliance partner PVV are negotiating about a tit-for-tat cutback solution: PVV leader Geert Wilders has repeatedly said he will only agree to reforms if development aid is cut significantly.
Bill Gates, in an interview with the Volkskrant, said he would gladly invite Wilders to come with him on a trip to Africa. ‘I would show him how spending a thousand dollar can save a child’s life. I think he would soon change his mind about cutting back on development aid’, Gates told the paper.
According to Gates, the Netherlands has always been at the forefront of development aid. It has served as an example to many other countries, including his own: ‘Look Mr President, even a small country like the Netherlands is spending more than 0.7% of their gdp on development aid. And they’ve been doing it for forty years!’ But cutting aid to less than 0.7% of gdp can have enormous repercussions on the willingness of other countries to contribute’, Gates warned.
He emphasized the pivotal role of the Netherlands in a programme to bring down child deaths in the world from eight to four million. ‘That plan is now in jeopardy. The Netherlands cannot do it on its own. But we need the Netherlands on our side.’
Gates tells the paper that the announcement that development aid might be sliced came as a surprise. Gates, who talked to Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Davos in January, said he had not been given any signal that the Dutch contribution would be subject to further cutbacks after it had come down from 0.8 to 0.7% last year.
He rejects the idea that efficient development aid spending might solve the problem. ‘We already buy live saving vaccines at the lowest price. It’s not a matter of efficiency but a matter of more money. With every thousand dollars a life is saved’, Gates tells the paper.
At the paper’s suggestion that Wilders may feel that Gates could give a bit more than the $3bn a year he is already donating through his foundation. He has a personal fortune of $48bn. Gates doesn’t blink: ‘I have already announced I will give everything away, so he will have his wish. And I would like to invite him to come to Africa and see what you can do with a thousand dollars.’
Gates’ intervention came on top of a column by Joe Cerrel, director of the European office of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the Financieele Dagblad and Trouw. In it, Cerrel compliments the Dutch on ‘keeping their promises at a time when others have backed away’.
Until now, that is. The looming cutbacks on development aid would be ‘shortsighted’, Cerrel says, not only because they would have a devastating effect on people who depend on Dutch aid but also because it would not be good for relationships with countries which, in time, could become future trading partners.
Cerrel cites a report by Seek development which charts the positive changes the Dutch have made to development aid over the years: ‘The Dutch have made a number of reforms to increase the impact of their aid, such as building partnerships with the private sector and emphasizing self-reliance of recipient countries. The number of countries supported through bilateral aid has been reduced to concentrate resources where they can do the most good by meeting the most urgent needs. This means every Euro spent on aid goes even further.’
Cerrel concludes by expressing the hope that the Dutch are ‘smart and compassionate enough’ not to go ahead with the cuts.
Source: Dutch News