Wellington, March 27 NZPA - A "summit meeting" called to discuss New Zealand's overseas aid has called for public consultation and multi-party talks before changes are made to the way it is delivered.
Labour, the Greens, United Future and the Progressive Party co-hosted the meeting in Wellington today attended by about 120 representatives of non-government organisations, churches, academics and commercial development consultants.
It was called in response to the Government's announcement on March 3 that it was reviewing the $480 million aid programme.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the budget would not be reduced but payments had become "a handout rather than a hand up" and NZAid's mandate for poverty elimination was too broad.
"You could ride around in a helicopter pushing hundred dollar notes out the door and call that poverty elimination," he said.
Mr McCully said the review could include re-integrating NZAid, which administers the programmes, into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It was separated from the ministry by the previous government in 2002.
Labour MP Phil Twyford, who organised today's meeting, said the main concerns expressed by participants were that the aid focus would be shifted from poverty reduction to economic development and that NZAid would lose its autonomy.
"If you just focus on the economy it will help the people at the top of the food chain," he said at a press conference.
"What we've heard coming from Mr McCully ... is they're proposing a wholesale shift from poverty reduction to economic growth.
"We're not against economic development and economic growth ... but it's the kind of economic development that's critical. It can have the effect of making life worse for the people who are the poorest."
Mr Twyford said the main message from the meeting was that consultation with political parties and the public was essential.
"Unfortunately, what's going on is a secretive process to abolish NZAid and completely upend the policy focus and the mandate of half a billion dollars of taxpayer money."
The Green Party's aid spokesman, Kennedy Graham, said the appointment of former prime minister Helen Clark to head the United Nations Development Programme presented an opportunity for New Zealand to raise its level of aid and become "a responsible global citizen".
He said Prime Minister John Key should forge a cross-party alliance and take New Zealand up the aid charts to the level of the Nordic countries.
Dr Graham said New Zealand's aid stood at 0.27 percent of GNI (gross national income).
"New Zealand stands a miserly 16th out of 22 OECD donors -- the seventh most Scrooge-like rich nation on earth."
A spokesman for Mr McCully said the minister had no comment to offer on the outcome of the meeting.
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