New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully appears to have no qualms about New Zealand’s half-billion-dollar foreign aid programme being used as a tool of its diplomatic policy. The notion of that aid being sent where it can do most good is not for the Foreign Minister. He has, therefore, ordered two reviews into NZAid, the outcome of which is likely to be its re-integration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Yet it was only seven years ago that the two were, quite correctly, separated after a review identified the possibility of giving “mixed messages and for a conflict in aims over what aid was for”. Mr McCully paints the latest reviews as the chance to critique aid payments that have become a “handout rather than a hand-up” from an agency whose mandate of 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. Such statements undermine NZAid and must be particularly galling to the organisations that deliver this country’s aid. They have been praised for the value of much of their development work. Equally annoying to them will be the calculated snub implicit in their exclusion from the review process. In announcing the reviews, the minister steered clear of mentioning any ambition to link aid to foreign policy. But he made this view widely known during the National Party’s years on the Opposition benches. One trigger was the 2006 decision by the Solomons, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru to side with Japan and vote for the overturning of the moratorium on commercial whale hunting. Mr McCully said that was the result of a half-hearted, insufficiently focused New Zealand aid strategy in the Pacific. Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark was ‘naive’ in refusing to link New Zealand’s aid to the conduct of Pacific nations at the International Whaling Commission, he said. Subsequent events in Fiji can only have hardened the minister’s resolve to demand a higher standard of governance in return for New Zealand’s aid in the Pacific. Mr McCully frequently criticised the Labour Government for not being tough enough on Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s regime. Aid to Fiji has continued since the military coup but is being channelled though non-government agencies. Tying that aid to the resumption of democracy would provide Mr McCully with ammunition that strengthened this country’s hand. Of course, just that sort of persuasion has been used by the Japanese to secure allies around the IWC table. Japan, deprived of a military potence, has long relied on foreign aid for political clout. The outcome, as probably even Mr McCully would agree, has often been as deplorable as it is cynical. The United States has used aid in a similar manner. Polls now suggest that Americans have tired of the muddy waters that flow from such practice and want their country’s aid used for clearly humanitarian purposes. If New Zealand adopted a policy based on self-interest, the conclusion, in a relatively short time, would surely be the same. The Government has also made it clear that it wants more than the current 53 per cent of this country’s aid budget to go towards economic development in the Pacific. Part of the reason for this would be the prevention of defections at the likes of the IWC. But, overall, that sharpening of focus seems reasonable enough. It does not, however, require the reintegration of NZAid into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to achieve this. This should be rejected, as should any linking of aid to this country’s political ambitions. Aid works best when it is a regarded as a humanitarian gesture. Government tampering serves only to debase it.