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December 11, 2003As Timms goes by... The UK government's top man at the World Summit - Stephen Timms - confirmed this morning what everyone suspected was the British attitude: stand well back and hang onto your purse strings. If Britain is going to hand out any more aid to poorer nations, Mr Timms suggested at a British Council event, it will be on its own terms and not through any of those spendthrift international agencies, thank you very much.
The most telling aspect of his speech, however, was that it appeared to be based entirely on a report written by the Institute of Public Policy Research, an independent think tank. Has the British government done no thinking of its own?
There is no question that Mr Timms understands the debate. He is certainly more informed than he was on December 1, when he took part in the IPPR meeting. The problem is that he appears to have consulted few, if any other sources since. Why else would his patter be so similar to the conclusions reached at that meeting?
There are two good reasons for this:
a) the IPPR meeting provided a very good bluffer's guide to the World Summit, and
b) the British government shares the American government's view that the World Summit is a talking shop for politicians and should not be considered a platform for solving technological issues.
So, Britain is cynical about the World Summit, but just how cynical? Daily Summit has obtained a leaked report of the IPPR meeting, from which Mr Timms seems to have formed the British government's policy.
See if you can spot the difference between the report and the statements Mr Timms made this morning:
IPPR: "While market forces will on the whole drive much of the technology forward it is necessary to clear some regulatory roadblocks."
Mr Timms: "It's absolutely essential we retain market dynamism."
IPPR: "Other concerns were that [a multilateral fund to help poorer countries build their digital infrastructure] was over-simplistic and would reinforce the culture of aid dependency."
Mr Timms: "The Global Solidarity Fund [a multilateral fund to help poorer countries build their digital infrastructure] would continue the aid dependency cycle."
The essence of the IPPR document (and thus probably British government policy) is that multilateral funds should not be trusted because no-one has adequately explained how the money will be spent. Worse still, cash could too easily fall into the hands of governments who would build their infrastructure in such a way as to limit freedom of expression.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Britain is keen to provide funding on a more limited basis providing it promotes free market activity. There is only one caveat. It must first win the approval of the Department for International Development's notoriously prickly policy makers.