Surprisingly little reaction to coverage in The Guardian of a Development Initiatives report which suggests at least a fifth of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) in 2011 was never transferred to poor countries – the money was either spent on debt relief or within the donor countries themselves.

While few would be surprised to see that of the $2bn in bilateral aid reported by Italy in 2011, less than $300m actually got to recipient countries, other countries are more surprising candidates – for instance, more than 25% of Dutch and Swedish bilateral ODA never left the shores of those countries. Of course, debt relief can absorb vast amounts of ODA, but most voters do not think of aid as debt write-offs.

The actual situation could well be much, much worse because the report does not examine which universities, companies or consultants win technical support contracts. So, for example, a contract to the University of Mississippi to evaluate programmes in Africa is considered in-country spending although little of it may ever leave Oxford, Mississippi.

These data could be further ammunition to critics in countries such as the UK (which emerges well from this analysis) asking whether more taxpayer’s money should be staying at home rather than going to poor countries, where – in their view – much of it will be lost to corruption and maladministration. However, over three-quarters of British adults, to judge from an Ipsos MORI poll last year, admit to knowing not very much or nothing at all about what happens to bilateral ODA – a figure in line with the average of the 24 countries surveyed.

With so many poorly informed voters, developing any constructive critique of ODA policy is difficult – whether you are pro or anti.

14097121_m