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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (December 12, 2001 – New Zealand Herald/Dominion/PINA Nius Online)---New Zealand is setting up an agency to direct its NZ$ 250 million (US$ 108,616,000) overseas aid programs towards resolving poverty in the Pacific, the New Zealand Herald reported today.

It follows a review by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that damned the way New Zealand diplomats have handled aid programs, the newspaper said.

Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs Matt Robson, who is in charge of aid programs, wants the funds to be focused on "the unique nature of poverty in the Pacific."

Aid money would focus more strongly on eliminating poverty and aim at improving the prospects of the poorest people in the region, he said.

Mr. Robson was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying: "The recent instability and difficulties facing governments in the Pacific have highlighted the need to focus aid more closely on the way aid policies might address the cause of the problems."

The review found that foreign aid had been the "poor cousin" of diplomacy and trade promotion. Some ministry staff regarding the aid division as a training ground for diplomats and a dumping ground for non-performers, the New Zealand Herald said.

The newspaper added that the report concluded that the aid program was confused by foreign policy and trade objectives, and that there was too much use of consultants.

A new semi-autonomous body would be formed within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to set foreign aid policy and administer aid programs, the New Zealand Herald said. It would be headed by its own chief executive, have its own budget and report directly to ministers.

Aid agencies yesterday welcomed the change, including Oxfam New Zealand, the newspaper added.

"Oxfam supports the separation of accountability for overseas aid from other foreign affairs objectives such as diplomacy and trade," said executive director Terri-Ann Scorer.

Christian World Service said the changes would remove obstacles to excellence in overseas aid delivery.

But the two unions representing Foreign Affairs staff criticized the review, the New Zealand Herald said.

"The impression conveyed in the report is that staff themselves were critical of the overall performance of the program," said Public Service Association national secretary Richard Wagstaff. "In reality, staff are proud of past efforts and achievements, although supportive of reforms in some key areas."

The Dominion newspaper reported decisions on where aid goes are often made for political rather than developmental reasons.

The ministry's policy of revolving staff between departments often means managers lack knowledge of the countries they allocate money to and do not know what aid money is used for or whether it benefits recipients, the report said.

The Dominion said the review noted "an extremely repressive and unproductive" environment in the ministry and a self-perpetuating culture of arrogance, elitism and paternalism.

Ministry chief executive Neil Walter said he believed the review had been "unfairly critical" and overlooked achievements. Many of the problems were a result of under resourcing, he said.

Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Keith Locke supported the shift away from spending aid money on tertiary scholarships, which were "a form of aid to New Zealand universities and polytechnics".

National MP Marie Hasler called the shift shortsighted. Scholarships were integral to the development of recipient countries, she said.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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