David Cameron has suggested aid money should be stripped from corrupt countries because it is unfair on taxpayers.
The former prime minister said that nations who fail to prove “basic norms of governance” should not be given funds.
He questioned whether it was right for corrupt regimes to get funding “year after year after year” as he called for a change in approach.
The comments came as Mr Cameron appeared before a US congressional committee to discuss how to help “fragile” states.
They carry weight given Mr Cameron is one of the biggest supporters of UK’s development budget.
He brought in the legal requirement for Britain to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP a year on aid.
It follows a string of scandals over how Britain’s aid budget is spent, with some claims that funds have ended up in the wrong hands in the past.
Mr Cameron, who was appearing in his role as chairman for the commission on state fragility, growth and development, called for a rethink on how aid is directed.
He said that countries often make the greatest advancement from fragility after a “particular moment” such as a new leader and suggested that should guide how aid is distributed.
“If what we do is just have continued programs for countries that sometimes fail year after year after year, we just keep going, maybe that’s not a good use of our money,” he said.
Mr Cameron added: “There may be some cases where the governance in a particular country is so bad that we simply say ‘well, we’re not going to help because we cannot have the guarantees that this money is not going to be wasted, that the corruption doesn’t continue.
“Because it’s not fair on our taxpayers to say we’re going to go on supporting a country where they’re not even achieving the basic norms of governance and audit to make sure this money isn’t stolen.”
The former prime minister made a similar point in his written submission, suggesting nations should be told “we will back your programme as long as you cut out corruption and stop the theft of aid money”.
The criticism of current aid spending is likely to be cheered by Tory backbenchers who have questioned Mr Cameron’s decision to legislate to protect aid spending when in office.
Mr Cameron did make clear in his written submission that he did not think aid spending should be scrapped, but that “we need to change how we do aid”.
He also appeared to be speaking about the international aid system in general rather than specifically about the way Britain’s development budget is spent.
Mr Cameron used his written statement to the Senate foreign relations committee to talk up the danger of instability in nations across the world.
He said in little more than a decade half the world’s poor will live in “fragile states” – those suffering from conflict, corruption, weak governments, insufficient security and too few jobs.
Mr Cameron said: “Some countries are poorer than they were 40 years ago despite the aid that has been delivered there. Fragile states are also increasingly linked to terrorism, crime, mass migration and pandemics.”
He also warned: “There is growing evidence that in weak states long lists of western priorities lead to unrealistic expectations and certain failure.”
He said there had been a tendency to say “Let’s try and make everyone like Denmark”. He added: “This is hopelessly unrealistic”.
The former prime minister added: “We have to be frank, when it comes to these fragile states the aid may have helped in particular areas but these countries in many areas haven’t got better.”
Mr Cameron said: “Of course our taxpayers, our publics, do not want to see money endlessly spent that is wasted.”
He added that he had been looking at the idea of “governance conditionality”.
That meant, rather than telling fragile states what to do, their own national plan should be backed, but aid money should be withdrawn if there was corruption.
He said: “There is an argument, actually, it would be better to say to a failing state you have your national plan, we will back that plan, but we want governance conditionality instead of policy conditionality.
“If the money is wasted, if aid money is stolen, if there is corruption, we will withdraw that support. That is one of the things we’ve been looking at.”