Do Svidaniya DFID
By Ian Mitchell
After fifteen years, the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is pulling out of Russia. Some people think this is a good thing, as it shows that the country is now able to stand on its own feet; others consider it unfortunate, as a source of outside influence will be lost in many parts of the country which otherwise do not have strong international connections.
DFID came to Russia in the early 1990’s when the sudden transition from socialism to capitalism left large numbers of people very badly off economically. The average per capita income in the country dropped by 75% in less than five years. The British government was one of the many nations which came to the aid of Russians in economic distress. It did this in a variety of ways; the Department of International Development was one of them.
DFID supported development schemes in rural areas, where much of the worst poverty was, and is, still found. It supported AIDS relief plans and other public health initiatives. It also helped Russians develop their own version of the enterprise culture which had taken root in many parts of the British economy in the years since the Margaret Thatcher era of economic development in the UK.
But DFID did not confine itself to charitable and humanitarian operations, but also, as befits a government agency in a country which considers itself well-managed, proffered advice on civil service reform and other administrative improvements. It made efforts to help improve the Russian state pension system – ironically at a time when Britain’s pension system was put under severe strain by actions of Britain’s own government.
Mikhail Dimitriev, the President of the Center for Strategic Research within the Russian ministry of Economic Development and Trade, describes the lessons his Ministry has learned. He states, “Britain, used to be a global empire and has had a lot of experience in running big geographical areas with small governmental staffing. These skills are more or less retained by the civil service in Britain”.
Andrey Sharov, Director of the Department for Economic Regulations in the same Ministry, appreciates British public sector culture, especially the way in which not only the public but the civil servants themselves have their interests looked after by the system. Specifically, he says, “It has been extremely useful to collaborate with a nation like Britain because I read the memoirs of Margaret Thatcher: When she came to power, her first initiative was to reduce the number of officials, cut salaries and eliminate many of the upper levels of the bureaucracy. But after a year she raised their salaries as she realised how hard their work is.”
Other Russians see the departure of DFID in a different light. Though they appreciate what the organisation has done, they take pride in the fact that Russia is no longer on a list of donor countries which includes Albania, Tajikistan, Zimbabwe and the Windward Islands.
The agency that developed into the DFID was established under the Colonial Development Act of 1929. In 1964, with Britain shedding its colonies, it became the Ministry of Overseas Development. It was downgraded to Agency status by Margaret Thatcher very soon after she became Prime Minister in 1979. It was under that name that it came to Russia in 1992.
It was only in 1997 that the present structure of the DFID was inaugurated, with a Cabinet Minister at the head. Today, the Minister is Hilary Benn MP, the son of the famous Tony Benn. In the last five years DFID has spent £18 billion worldwide, and committed over £50
million of development assistance to Russia alone, representing nearly 0.3% of the Department’s global spending.
|Tel: +44 (0) 135 584 3132 (from outside the UK) |
Or write to:
The Department for International Development
1 Palace Street,
London SW1E 5HE UK
For further details on DFID, contact the Public Enquiry Point, whose telephone helpline is open from 10:00-16:00 (GMT/ BST), Monday-Friday. A message service is available at other times.