Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary has backed the Ethiopian government, refuting claims that foreign aid was being used for political oppression in an interview on 28 September.
His remarks received strong protest from Human Rights Watch (HRW), accusing him of being “disingenuous” and “misleading”.
A BBC investigation in August revealed that the Ethiopian government was using billions of dollars intended for long-term development as a tool to repress its opponents.
According to the investigation, communities who are considered to be opposition supporters have been denied of food aid, seed and fertilizer.
Appearing on BBC’s Newsnight, Mitchell argued that British development aid does not go through the Ethiopian government.
He also said that an on-the-ground investigation into the allegations indicated “no evidence of the systemic misuse of food aid”.
HRW’s deputy executive director for Europe, Jan Egeland, accused Mitchell’s department of failing to conduct a serious investigation.
Egeland went on to say that the Ethiopian government is “responsible for administering and monitoring the largest development programme, which the British Ambassador to Ethiopia said was budget support in all but name.”
“Your [Mitchell] claim that no British support goes through the Ethiopian government is disingenuous. The vast majority of British support to Ethiopia passes through the government,” said Egeland.
To this Mitchell responded, “As I have made clear, the British government does not agree with all of your assertions nor your conclusions. We also do not believe the report is methodologically sound.”
He also expressed his concern that if HRW overstates “criticism in an unbalanced manner” it will “undermine the vital work” it does in other parts of the world. The Ethiopian government also refutes the allegations.
In 2009/2010 Ethiopia was the UK’s third largest recipient of bilateral assistance (£214 million). In its 2011 report it assessed it as third in the Needs Effectiveness Index – which takes into account a country’s need for aid and the quality of its institutional environments.
The UK announced significant changes to the make up of its aid programme in March, with a greater emphasis of bi-lateral trade and security.