UK foreign aid money helped fund pope`s visit

British govt initially estimated price of pope`s 4-day visit at £10 million.

Updated: Feb 03, 2011, 09:17 AM IST

London: British lawmakers have demanded an explanation on Wednesday into why GBP 1.85 million (USD 2.99 million) of foreign aid money helped pay for the pope`s recent visit to the UK.

Britain`s government initially estimated the price of the pope`s four-day visit — which saw the pontiff address crowds in London, Scotland and central England — at GBP 10 million, excluding security costs. Officials said on Wednesday that the final tally will be lower than originally thought and is likely to be confirmed to Parliament next week.

But finding out that development funds helped finance the trip was a surprise to lawmakers and will equally surprise taxpayers, said Malcom Bruce, chairman of Parliament`s international development committee.

"Ministers need to explain exactly what this was spent on and how it tallies with our commitments on overseas aid," Bruce said.

Details of the spending came to light in a report from a committee inquiry into the accounts of Britain`s Department for International Development. Bruce said lawmakers and taxpayers alike want to know whether paying for part of the pope`s September visit met global aid rules.

A spokesman for the Department for International Development said the money transferred to the Foreign Office did not constitute official development assistance and was part of a cross-departmental funding effort.

"Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church`s role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries," the spokesman said, noting that that the committee also welcomed the agency`s concentration on fragile states.

"The committee acknowledges that we are right to focus on conflict-ridden countries, home to some of the world`s poorest people," he said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

The committee`s report, however, also cautioned that giving such countries priority for aid dollars means it will be difficult to ensure aid money is well spent in war-torn environments with corrupt and incompetent governments. Well-run countries where aid money might prove more effective were bound to lose out as a result, the committee found.

Bureau Report