Letter to President Bush on Increasing Foreign Aid, April 3, 2002
April 3, 2002
The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I wish to commend you for your proposal to increase substantially United States foreign aid over the next few years. We have been deeply concerned about the decreased spending on development assistance in recent years and the fact that priorities have shifted away from very poor regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Your proposal represents a major step towards reversing this trend. We especially welcome your commitment to direct the new funds entirely to the struggle against global poverty, rather than immediate strategic interests.
We share your conviction that an intensified effort to break the grip of extreme poverty on so many millions around the world is essential to overcoming the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that becomes a breeding ground for terrorism. Moreover, we believe that the basic principles of human dignity, justice and the common good mean that our country, with its abundance of material wealth, is called upon to help the less fortunate achieve their full human potential. It was most gratifying to see the references in your Monterrey speech to the fundamental right to human dignity, and to the fight against global poverty as a demand of faith and conscience.
We note that the increased aid would be available to countries which have demonstrated good governance, invest in their people and have sound economic policies. We agree that aid to governments is most likely to be effective when these conditions apply. Nevertheless, we believe that assessments of governance and policy performance necessarily require subjective judgments about complex issues in widely differing country circumstances. Moreover, experience demonstrates that aid is most effective when those affected determine and implement their own solutions.
We would urge, therefore, that country eligibility be determined through transparent processes with broad local participation, including civil society organizations that give voice to the poor. With improvement in a number of aspects, we believe that the World Bank and IMF's Poverty Reduction Strategy approach would be a good vehicle for this purpose. It is designed to support strategies prepared by local governments and civil society as well as to improve donor coordination.
At the same time, we know that many of the world's poor live under regimes which suffer from poor governance or weak economic management, yet they have the same claim to human dignity and the same right to improved living conditions as people living under strong governments. New and creative uses of foreign assistance funds are essential in such cases to reach the many poor people who would otherwise be consigned to a future of hopelessness. Non-governmental organizations can be effective vehicles for channeling aid to countries with poor governance for investments in, for example, health, education and micro-credit, as well as humanitarian assistance.
We also note your reference at Monterrey to working with Congress to "jump-start" the new aid program over the next twelve months. Given the urgency of the the needs of the world's poor, we earnestly hope that this means that increased funding for poverty reduction may begin immediately, while the new Millennium Challenge Account is being further defined.
We and Catholic Relief Services, which has long experience with civil society in developing nations, look forward to working with your administration and the Congress on the specifics of the new approach.
We particularly welcome this initiative to greatly increase aid for poor countries because you have framed it not only as a matter of our own security, but also as a moral necessity. A substantial increase in development assistance combined with more generous debt relief and a fair and just trade policy can make key differences. They can help overcome widespread poverty in a world where too many still lack the essentials for fulfilling the human potential with which they have been endowed by their Creator.
Please accept my continued prayers for all your efforts on behalf of the poor of the world.
Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville