Ethiopia should probe political food aid claim: UK

Ethiopia should investigate allegations that local officials are keeping food aid from opposition members to force them to join the ruling party ahead of national elections, a British aid minister said yesterday.
An opposition coalition last week said its members were being refused places on a long-running food-for-work scheme for more than 7 million hungry people to force them to join the governing party before the elections in May next year.
“I have heard allegations from the international community about distribution of food aid and the (food-for-work) programme and I have already raised those accusations with the deputy prime minister,” Gareth Thomas, Britain’s state minister for development, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.
“These allegations should be investigated thoroughly. The government said if evidence is produced that they would investigate and that was encouraging.”
Thomas said Britain had made no decision to suspend aid to Ethiopia one of the world’s poorest countries but that it could take “tough decisions” if necessary.
Britain donated 71 million pounds to the food-for-work scheme this year, making it the second largest donor after the World Bank.
The Ethiopian government says 6.2 million people will need emergency food aid this year and has appealed to the international community for help. With 7 million also on the food-for-work scheme, that means that more than 13 million of Ethiopia’s 80 million people rely on aid to survive.
Ethiopia’s national elections will be held on May 23.