LONDON: Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell on Thursday denied he acted as a “rogue minister” when he controversially approved £16 million in aid for Rwanda on his last day in the job.
The support raised eyebrows because it came after an interim report to the United Nations alleged involvement by the African country’s government in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), apparently funding rebels accused of atrocities.
“The British government decided — not some rogue minister — what was the right response,” Mitchell told the House of Commons International Development Committee.
Mitchell told a parliamentary committee that he had kept 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office “in the loop” about the aid, and said it was a collective government decision — and not one made by him alone — to green-light the aid.
The former minister, who resigned as chief whip last month after admitting swearing at police, also denied that Britain had “gone out on a limb” in continuing its support for President Paul Kagame when other donors were suspending or delaying aid payments in response to allegations linking him to the M23 militia.
Mitchell revealed that, highly unusually, he learnt a week before the September cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister David Cameron was planning to make him chief whip. As a result, he said he made an effort to finalise outstanding decisions in order to leave a clear desk for his successor.
The £16 million amounted to half of Britain’s annual budget support to Kagame’s administration, and had already been delayed from July because of concerns over the situation in the DRC, said Mitchell.
Because of the Kigali government’s failure to live up fully to conditions laid down by Cameron, it was decided to channel half of the money directly to education and agriculture projects in the country, rather than giving it to the Rwandan government to spend.
New International Development Secretary Justine Greening will decide whether to press ahead with the remaining £16 million aid, due at the end of 2012, after the final report of the group of experts on Rwanda is delivered to the UN at the end of November, he said.
“We made that response very much on the understanding that there will be the second tranche to be discussed in November and December in the light of the group of experts’ report. That was why we took the decision we did.”
He added: “The decisions were made entirely properly through cross-government consultation, all relevant departments and ministers being consulted and that was how we reached our decision.”
He said that, while countries including Germany and the Netherlands had suspended direct support to the Kagame government, the EU continued its aid programme unchanged, while the US cut $200,000 (£125,000) from military support but pressed ahead with a much larger $160 million (£100 million) programme of development aid.
“This suggestion that Britain has gone out on a limb here isn’t true,” he told the committee.
Mitchell added: “Taking away budget support would have no effect on the elite in Kigali, but it would, bluntly, take girls out of school elsewhere in that country. It might make us feel better to remove budget support and avoid taking these difficult decisions, but it would not affect who makes decisions in Kigali and it would have the effect of damaging the poverty programme.”
The interim UN report in June alleged that Rwandan army members had entered Congo to reinforce rebel positions and had provided logistical support and safe passage for M23 leader Bosco Ntaganda.
The emergence of the M23 — a several hundred-strong group of defectors from the Congolese army — has been linked to an upsurge of violence against civilians in the Great Lakes region.
Kigali has strongly denied any involvement with the group.
Mitchell was challenged by Labour committee member Richard Burden over why Britain had “apparently uniquely” decided that the Rwandan government had ended practical support for the M23.
He responded: “We weren’t saying it had ended, we weren’t in a position to do that, but the ceasefire had held.”