by Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch and agencies
Parliament has voted in favour of spending some SFr11.35 billion ($12.06 billion) on development aid over the next four years, as the government moves to increase its total aid budget to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) by 2015.
The Senate on Tuesday followed the House of Representatives which had approved the increase back in June, by voting 28 to 15 to approve the new development budget.
Under the new plan, 61 per cent of the funds – around SFr6.92 billion – will be dispersed under the auspices of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and another 17.8 per cent or about SFr2.03 billion will dedicated to humanitarian relief efforts.
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) will receive SFr1.28 billion to assist with economic development projects in developing countries, and another SFr1.13 billion has been earmarked for development activities within east Europe and the former Soviet bloc.
Under the funding arrangements, the two chambers of parliament agreed that aid funds could be dispersed to both non-governmental organisations as well as private enterprise.
The debate saw a minority of rightwing and centre-right politicians arguing that Switzerland could not afford to increase its aid budget given the difficult conditions of the global economy and demands on the state for other tasks, including the army or infrastructure projects.
Supporters said Switzerland as a winner of globalisation could afford to increase its aid contribution which was also in the country’s very own interest.
Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said Switzerland must set a good example on the day the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is visiting the country.
“I can confirm Switzerland’s discussions on its development aid are watched closely abroad – at a time when we have to solve a number of problems at an international level. We can show that keep we our promises and don’t backtrack on issues such as solidarity and responsibility,” he said.
“The cabinet calls on you not to cut the credit, not to give a wrong signal to the world which is watching us – particularly on the day the UN secretary-general is here on a visit.”
Burkhalter also explained that the SFr11.35 billion figure is a considerable sum of money: every Swiss pays one franc per day for development over the next four years. This compares with SFr14 a day for old age pension and SFr20 for public health.
In 2011 Switzerland spent SFr2.74 billion or 0.46 per cent of GNI on development aid. This puts the country in eleventh place among the 23 members listed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch and agencies