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Schmid strikes back over aid criticism

President Schmid (right) says quality comes before quantity

(Keystone)

President Samuel Schmid has defended the Swiss government against charges that it is coming up short on development-aid commitments.

His comments in New York on the eve of a United Nations summit follow fresh accusations from non-governmental organisations that the Swiss have arrived "empty-handed".

The summit, which is being attended by more than 170 world leaders, has been hailed as an opportunity to give impetus to the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, improve health and promote development.

NGOs have hammered the Swiss government over its decision not to meet a UN target of dedicating 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to international aid by 2015. Switzerland currently allocates 0.41 per cent.

Speaking at a news conference at the Swiss Permanent Mission to the UN, Schmid stressed the importance of quality over quantity of aid.

"Switzerland is maintaining its tradition of delivering good quality development aid, and in this context it is not so important how much one spends but how one helps countries which need this aid that is important," he said.

"The government has increased the amount of money spent in this area and the situation will continue to be reviewed."

UN target

Schmid said he was not convinced that countries which had pledged to meet the UN target would be able to do so.

"You do not help developing countries with promises, you help them by delivering real aid," he said.

Swiss ambassador to the UN Peter Maurer echoed the president, saying Switzerland had nothing to be ashamed of.

"Switzerland has made important efforts in recent years to honour commitments it has made," he told swissinfo. "We are an important donor country and certainly above average in our real-term development cooperation."

"I do understand that NGOs might find our future commitments not corresponding to their endeavours but at least they are corresponding to what we are really prepared and able to do. They are not promises which are just put out there without any real chance of being realised."

Unimpressed

But Bastienne Joerchel, who is responsible for development policy at Alliance Sud, a coalition of Swiss NGOs, was unimpressed by the government's reasoning.

She said Switzerland was one of only four Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries not to have agreed to enhance development aid in line with the UN target.

"For a country as rich as Switzerland, which is seen around the world as the big international bank, this is sending out a very bad signal," she said. "We cannot accept this position. Switzerland has to contribute in concrete and real terms to the increase of international development aid."

Regarding the outcome of the summit, which has been preceded by tough negotiations on the wording of a final document, Schmid said he did not think it would be the damp squib that many were predicting.

He said people might have been expecting too much from an organisation where so many interests are at stake.

"Switzerland has worked hard to obtain more but nonetheless the final result will be a glass that is half full rather than half empty," he said.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the compromise document to be discussed at the three-day summit was an "important step forward".

"Obviously we didn't get everything we wanted and with 191 member states it's not easy to get an agreement... but we can work with what we have been given."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in New York

In brief

More than 170 world leaders have gathered in New York for the biggest summit in UN history.

Negotiations on a final document were wracked by divisions over a number of contentious issues including terrorism, a new Human Rights Council, overhauling UN management, and efforts to combat poverty and promote development.

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