These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Foreign aid is a shambles in almost every way
NOT long ago Malawi was a donor darling. Being dirt poor and ravaged by AIDS, it was needy; with just 17m inhabitants, a dollop of aid might visibly improve it. Better still, it was more-or-less democratic and its leader, Joyce Banda, was welcome at Westminster and the White House. In 2012 Western countries showered $1.17 billion on it, and foreign aid accounted for 28% of gross national income. The following year corrupt officials, businessmen and politicians pinched at least $30m from the Malawian treasury in just six months. A bureaucrat investigating the thefts was shot three times (he survived, somehow). Germany said it would help pay for an investigation; later, burglars raided the home of a German official and stole documents relating to the scandal. Malawi is no longer a donor darling.
The capabilities of finance ministries
All countries have a finance ministry. If one organizational feature defines what makes a state a state, it is a central unit that handles income and expenditure – or aspires to. This remains remarkably consistent irrespective of the huge variations in the purpose and institutional shape of government. Finance ministries are also at the centre of many current policy discussions, whether on how to respond to the 2008 financial crisis, how best to fund global development goals, or how an emerging economy should go about establishing a welfare state. Virtually every policy decision that involves the raising and spending of public money involves a finance ministry at some stage. Yet despite their almost self-evident importance, very few studies focused on finance ministries as objects of study.