British lawmakers on Wednesday demanded an explanation of why ￡1.85 million (US$2.99 million) of foreign aid money helped pay for the pope’s recent visit to the UK.
Britain’s government initially estimated the price of the pope’s four-day visit, which saw the pontiff address crowds in London, Scotland and central England, at ￡10 million, excluding security costs. Officials said on Wednesday that the final tally would be lower than originally thought and is likely to be confirmed to parliament next week.
However, finding out that development funds helped finance the trip was a surprise to lawmakers and will equally surprise taxpayers, said Malcom Bruce, chairman of parliament’s international development committee.
“Ministers need to explain exactly what this was spent on and how it tallies with our commitments on overseas aid,” Bruce said.
Details of the spending came to light in a report from a committee inquiry into the accounts of the Department for International Development. Bruce said lawmakers and taxpayers alike want to know whether paying for part of the pope’s visit last September met global aid rules.
A spokesman for the department said the money transferred to the Foreign Office did not constitute official development assistance and was part of a cross-departmental funding effort.
“Our contribution recognized the Catholic Church’s role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries,” the spokesman said, adding that that the committee also welcomed the agency’s concentration on fragile states.
“The committee acknowledges that we are right to focus on conflict-ridden countries, home to some of the world’s poorest people,” he said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
The report, however, also cautioned that giving such countries priority for aid money means it will be difficult to ensure aid money is well spent in war-torn environments with corrupt governments.