Justine Greening, the United Kingdom’s Overseas Aid Secretary, the cabinet member in charge of British aid to developing countries, has unequivocally denied recent reports that British Aid money was being used to fund a Nigerian “space project”.
Speaking on a BBC radio programme she claimed that the so called “space project” was nothing more than an investment in satellite technology that did not involve putting a man in space and was not being funded by British Aid money.
Ms Greening defended Nigeria’s investment in satellite technology by saying it will help combat famine in Africa after Conservative MPs have criticised her department for allocating more than £900 million in government funds for social and educational projects in Nigeria when the country is spending its own money on training an astronaut.
She also said she believed British aid was being “well spent” but added: “We obviously have to make sure that we critically assess the projects underway.
“We are investing in education projects – some of these are actually in incredibly challenging parts of Nigeria.”
Ministers expect the Nigerian government to invest in its own infrastructure as well, she said as she praised the investment in satellite technology as “a sensible investment”.
“The so called ‘space programme’ was in fact investment in satellites, weather satellites and for communication.” The minister explained.
“For a country like Nigeria, which still has a huge agricultural sector for which getting crops can be the difference between keeping people alive and having chronic famine, actually understanding weather patterns is absolutely key to food production and food planning.”
The Cabinet minister said it was “regrettable” that almost half a million pounds of British taxpayer-funded aid and equipment had fallen into the hands of al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Somalia.
Over a three month period, the terror group’s franchise in the country, al-Shabaab, “confiscated” the material worth £480,000 from contractors working for the British government in a series of incidents.
Miss Greening sought to play down the significance of the losses and insisted that officials in her Department for International Development “track exactly” what happens to taxpayers’ money.
“This incident shows that often we are working in incredibly challenging circumstances,” the minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“It is regrettable that we lost supplies that were funded by the taxpayer but we were in Somalia precisely because of the terrorism threat and at a time of huge issues of piracy as well and it shows why we were there in the first place,” she told the Today programme.