Opinion: Purpose blighted by inquiry

Peter Stanford

Tony Blair's Commission on Africa got under way last week with a cocktail of African ministers, development experts and Bob Geldof. They are charged with outlining a solution to the continent's problems, which Blair will then promote when Britain holds the presidency of the G8 group of industrialised nations next year.

This seems to me a genuine attempt to make an appalling situation better.

So, right aim, but, sadly, wrong method. A culture of commissions of inquiry in public life has been creeping in for many moons now, but it seems to be getting worse of late. For every problem, let's have a commission.

Granted, they are occasionally appropriate when, for example, an issue has become so clouded by political rhetoric than it has misted over before the public's eyes. Or when the facts are so disputed that only a team of distinguished experts can produce a definitive account.

But with Africa, we are all aware of its problems. We may be a little tired of hearing about them - compassion fatigue, or putting a good gloss on selfishness - but we know about shocking levels of infant mortality, poverty, Aids-related deaths and so on. And among our bank of internationally respected aid agencies, there is no shortage of ideas - or indeed consensus - on what needs to happen next. Look at the Jubilee Campaign on debt-relief - a whole host of charities sharing a viewpoint and effectively impressing it on government. So what is the commission going to give us that we don't have already?

When I took my future wife home to meet my parents and told them we planned to marry, my mother looked anxious for a moment. You know, she told Siobhan, that he's hopeless with money and very impatient. I have been working on the first one for 10 years now, but the second failing is so much a part of me, it is beyond redemption. And it is, I would argue, not always a bad quality. In which context, the prospect of waiting another 12-18 months for a report that will tell us what we already know is pointless and frustrating.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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