Funds For Australian Aid Program To Solomons Diverted

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Australia allocates $392.5 million for asylum seeker programs

By Alexandra Kirk

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 3, 2013) – A development program in Solomon Islands and an education program in the Philippines have both been delayed as part of Australia's Government diverting funds to help pay for asylum-seeker resettlement.

Last month Foreign Minister Bob Carr publicly acknowledged the government had diverted AU$375 million [US$392.5 million], or 7 percent, of his foreign aid budget to help fund the basic needs of asylum seekers released into the community on bridging visas.

After repeated calls for information on which aid programs will be affected the foreign minister's office has released two examples, saying a Solomon Islands rural development program has been delayed by six months and an education program in the Philippines has also been put off.

Aid groups say the lack of public information is a breach of the government's own aid transparency charter which was supposed to make Australia one of the most transparent aid donors in the world.

The Australian Council for International Development, the peak body for aid agencies, says the Government is breaching its own transparency charter by not spelling out which aid programs will be stalled or cut.

The government set up an aid "transparency charter" just over a year ago.

It says by publishing detailed information on the work of Australia's aid program, taxpayers can have confidence their money's spent effectively, achieves real results and helps reduce poverty.

Marc Purcell, from the umbrella group representing non-government aid agencies, says the government's breached its own charter.

"It promises three things; it promises to be transparent and open about the Australian aid program, it promises that the public will have detailed information about how aid monies are used. Thirdly it promises that it will publish in a timely fashion," he said.

"Now in all three accounts the government has failed in its own aid transparency charter."

Marc Purcell says the government's had more than two months to work out which aid programs are affected.

"We believe that these cuts were premeditated and planned over several months, so we believe that the government does indeed know where the cuts are going to be made."

The government maintains it hasn't cut the aid budget because OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) guidelines permit overseas aid to be spent domestically.

In a statement, the Foreign Minister Bob Carr's office says the Government will minimize the effect of the quote "reprioritization" of the aid budget by ensuring that wherever possible, payments are delayed, not reduced.

It says core payments to Australia's non-government aid agencies won't be affected and scholarships to Asian students from developing countries to study in Australia are safe.

It's revealed the Solomon Islands rural development program has been delayed by six months after assessing it would have little effect on intended recipients, and likewise for the education program in the Philippines that's running behind schedule.

The government isn't saying when it will reveal all the foreign aid changes, but Senator Carr's office says it will be done "in a timely manner".

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