Overseas Development

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 14th December 1990.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 2:04 pm, 14th December 1990

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The recession will make matters much worse. Already developing countries are desperately worried about eastern Europe which, rightly, will need aid to feed its people, preserve its environment and build up the various national economies. The underdeveloped countries are worried that that will take aid from them. 1992 will mean protection barriers around the rich western European countries. That, too, will adversely affect the under-developed world.

One of the lesser obscenities in the Gulf crisis is the United States asking Saudi Arabia, Germany, Japan and other countries for money to pay for the war effort it is promoting there. In the end third-world countries are the most impoverished by what is happening in the Gulf.

On top of that we have foolish restrictions. I shall mention just one. The American war in Vietnam and the sanctions which it has effectively imposed worldwide have impoverished Vietnam. Vietnam has now found oil, which could save it. There is natural gas on top of the oil. Because of the stupid boycott which America is enforcing throughout the world, Vietnam will have to burn off the natural gas to reach the oil. That is a scandal. The Minister has said that aid arrangements to Vietnam are under review. They have been under review for ages. In the words of the Prime Minister, the Minister should be "her own woman" and tell the United States to scrap the stupid boycott.

I have just come back from a trip to Bangladesh. This is a historic time for it with the political upheavals and struggle for democracy which are taking place and which, I hope, will succeed. I shall mention the aid issues, not the political ones. Dhaka university needs an aid project to help it to improve education. Experts told us that there had not been exams for seven years—that in a country which is trying to establish compulsory schooling and which needs middle managers. There have been some brutal assaults on students of Dhaka university—just like those in Tiananmen square, but on a smaller scale. We should provide aid now, so that educational opportunities are improved at the university, in an attempt to stop such brutality. That funding is also vital for improving the country's infrastructure.

Aid should also be provided for the heritage of that country. The tribal people of the Chittagong hill tracts have suffered a mass migration as their way of life has been threatened. Worse is to come for those people, so we must preserve their culture.

We should establish business links with Bangladesh. The most important thing, however, is for the infrastructure to be improved so that there is proper sanitation—a comprehensive, modern sewerage system —and a plentiful supply of clean water. The profits from one day's arms trade could pay for clean water not just for Bangladesh, but everywhere. It is a scandal that that priority is slipping further down the agenda rather than remaining at the top.

Primary health care and hospital development should be funded in Bangladesh as the capitalist system in that poor country cannot provide for it. At this stage there is no profit to be gained from initiating such developments. One of the saddest things has been the spread of Thatcher's privatisation ethos to Bangladesh. The state has sought to disengage itself from its responsibilities and that has contributed to Bangladesh's decline. At best, privatisation is an absolute irrelevance to Bangladesh as it is elsewhere.

People in Bangladesh told me that the donor countries should monitor the provision of aid to ensure that there is no corruption. Rumours are rife about the misuse of funds, but I am sure that such corruption occurs in other countries. If donor countries provide such monitoring, however, the British Government, as a key donor, must take control and insist that there is no corruption and misuse of funds. They must take responsibility.

Aid must be linked to democratic development, especially in Bangladesh, where the army should be kept out of power. If that does not happen, aid should be stopped. We should seek to help that country's burgeoning democracy by offering to send observers from the Commonwealth, the European Parliament and the United Nations to ensure that its democracy can develop. The way forward for Bangladesh is through democracy and development.