February 3rd, 2011
09:59 AM ET
By Sakshi Grover, CNN
The British government diverted 1.85 million pounds ($3 million) of foreign aid money to help pay for the state visit of Pope Benedict XVI last year, lawmakers charged Thursday.
"How does the papal visit count as aid?" asked the parliamentary committee that oversees Britain's Department for International Development.
The committee spotted the diversion of aid money when going over the department's accounts, members said.
"Spending on (the) pope's visit does not constitute official development assistance and is not justified at all," committee chairman Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat, told CNN.
"Many people will be as surprised as we were to discover that U.K. aid money was used to fund the pope's visit last year," he charged.
The government justified the diversion to lawmakers by saying "the Catholic Church has done some good work in developing countries," Bruce said - an explanation he called "lame."
While noting that the amount was a very small part of the aid department's 8 billion pound ($13 billion) 2010 budget, Bruce said that "raising this query will serve as a warning and discourage (it from) happening again."
The British government contributed 12 million pounds ($19.5 million) to the cost of the state visit in September, meaning that the money taken from DFID was about 15% of the total British government outlay. The Catholic Church also helped fund the visit.
Lord Chris Patten, who coordinated the visit from the British government side, is in South Africa and not available for comment, a spokeswoman said.
Bruce said not all of the aid department's budget went directly to aid projects.
But, he said, "the money spent must justify our commitment on overseas aid and development."
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