In line with the United Nations target that developed nations around the world commit to spending 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA), the coalition government is set to pass this commitment into law.


The defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox, although supporting the 0.7% commitment does however have misgivings about how the government intends to implement it.

Rather than making this commitment a law, which could be legally challenged he would rather have the commitment monitored in the form of an annual report on whether or not it was being met. This would allow the government to react more flexibly to the calls on its purse.

For some it will come as a surprise that this 0.7% GNI commitment from the UN began its journey way back in September 1969 when the former prime minister of Canada, Lester B Pearson, unveiled his report 'Partners in Development' to the World Bank. And it was meant to be reached by 1975. More on this can be found here (www.unicef.ca/portal/Secure/Community/502/WCM/HELP/take_action/G8/Point7_EN.pdf), and by 2006, according to this Unicef piece, only Denmark (0.85%), Luxembourg (0.83%), Netherlands (0.73%), Norway (0.87%) and Sweden (0.78%) have met their 0.7% commitment.

One point to note is that this will be a proportion of GNI, as opposed to GDP. In the UK GNI has been greater than GDP since 2001 (2% in 2008), whereas for example Ireland's GNI is lower than their GDP. For more on this see this House of Commons library research piece.

To put that in context we have had decades to get this commitment properly sorted. We could have had this put in place during the 'no boom and bust' years when money was a-flowing. So why now when the country has no proverbial pot to do its business in and the political battle will be twice as hard? Where is the pressure coming from to implement this? It's not like the electorate are clamouring at the doors of Number Ten demanding it.

Anyway, back to Liam Fox's disquiet. Maybe we need to have an Act that says we pay the equivalent of 0.7% of GNI over a twenty year period, so smoothing out the business cycle. That should fit the bill, so to speak.

One phrase to ignore is that this will be 'enshrined' in law. Laws are made during one parliament and then repealed or amended in another, no law is forever. So when they claim that they will enshrine anything in law they mean they will make a law today that they hope everyone will adhere to and no-one in the future will touch, much like the Magna Carta I suppose.

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