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A New British Foreign and International Aid Policy: All about to Change at DFID

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

13 May 2010

Sierra Leone like most developing nations has enjoyed and benefitted from thirteen years of stable and predictable international donor Aid giving environment, largely driven by thirteen years of Britain’s Labour government stewardship, based on the ideals of moral benevolence. But now, all that is about to change.

Britain has a new coalition government led by the Conservative Party that has made no secret of its disdain for the poor and inefficient use of international Aid by developing countries. What effect will this change of government have on the amount of Aid Sierra Leone receives and the manner in which that Aid is being managed and accounted for?

Britain’s new Secretary of State for International Development - Andrew Mitchell has until now been the Conservative Party’s Shadow Minister for International Development. Mr. Mitchell was responsible for formulating the Conservative Party’s Foreign Aid Policy, which is underpinned by the belief that although international Aid is largely a good thing, too much of it is being wasted through corruption, poor management and inefficiencies.

Corruption in Sierra Leone’s government ministries and institutions is a menace that accounts for 99.9% of poverty suffered by its people. President Koroma professes to have a zero tolerance for corruption. There are many in the international community who are doubtful of the sincerity of his efforts to eradicate institutional corruption.

The country’s young, dynamic and professional Anti-Corruption Czar – Mr. Abdul Tejan Cole, has just walked out of the job, living a very fragile skeleton of an Anti-Corruption Commision, to continue the tortuous and dangerous task of pursuing outstanding cases of Corruption that have been charged to Court, including that of the former Fisheries Minister.

Since President Koroma took office, three government Ministers and the Chief of the Revenue Department have been sacked; two of whom were prosecuted and only one so far has been convicted and fined. The trial involving the Fisheries Minister is adjourned, while there is a deafening silence surrounding the case involving the National Revenue Authority's Chief.

Not much is known either, about the investigation of the country's Social Security Chief - a relative of the President, who stands accused of misappropriating funds meant for the purchasing of new and sea worthy ferries for the nation's use.

President Koroma is now being accused of enforcing a policy of selective justice, as opposed to the much avowed zero tolerance mantra. Indeed, media reports are speculating that the resignation of the Anti-Corruption Czar was due to political interference, intimidation and Judicial ‘pussyfooting’. There is disquiet in Sierra Leone, regarding DFID's seeming indifference to the sudden resignation of the Anti-Corruption Chief.  

It is widely believed that the £50 Million annual British government contribution towards a $300 Million multi-lateral financial aid package, aimed at propping up Sierra Leone’s ailing economy, infrastructure and public institutions, was secured and guaranteed based on the ‘special relationship’ that former British Prime Minister – Tony Blair has with President Koroma.

But critics say that this ‘special relationship’ between Blair and Koroma, smells too much of symbiosis, and as such has compromised the standards of due diligence, probity and accountability normally required by the British Department for Foreign and International Development (DFID) in managing British Foreign Aid.

Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative has been accused by Sierra Leone’s media of not being able to account for $2 Million donated by the Bill Gates Foundation to help tackle poverty in Sierra Leone. The Windrush Group of companies used by Blair to front his international work has been targeted for closer scrutiny by members of the British Houses of Parliament and the British media.

With a Conservative government now in power, changes are in sight for Tony Blair and his philanthropic work in Africa. Gordon Brown has expressed a wish to pursue similar international charitable work as Tony Blair. But he is highly unlikely to adopt Tony Blair’s direct hands-on approach in micro-managing the affairs of countries like Sierra Leone and Rwanda. Gordon Brown will not be seeking ‘special relationships’ with African Heads of State.

Twenty-Three percent of British aid to Sierra Leone totalling £15 Million a year is meant to pursue economic reforms, take appropriate measures in ensuring that British Aid is more effective in addressing poverty, private sector development and economic growth.

But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that too much Aid is being wasted, due to the lack of organisational capacity, lack of suitably trained and experienced personnel at programme management levels, corruption and poor governance.

The Conservatives have always argued whilst in opposition, that ‘more should be achieved for British tax payers’ money’. It is for this reason that a statement made recently at the Houses of Parliament by the Labour government MP - Denis MacShane, accusing Ministers of the government of Sierra Leone of pocketing British Tax Payers cash Aid, provided much fodder to the then opposition Conservative Shadow Minister for International Development, who now oversees the work of DFID.

Although DFID argued that they were not aware of British Aid being pocketed by Ministers in Sierra Leone, there is little doubt that the ignorance which prompted Denis MacShane MP in uttering such damaging accusations, can be attributed to the poor communication between DFID, the Audit Office and the British Parliament.

Denis MacShane MP told the Sierra Leone Telegraph; “I think there is a major problem and while I would never make any suggestion about any DfID official, I am of the view that we now need a major debate and investigation as to whether UK Aid to many poorer countries does help them become less poor; or whether powerful politicians are able to divert funds to their own ends.”

Denis MacShane and his Labour government are no longer in control of the British public purse, nor are they responsible for DFID. What is now certain is that the new Conservative led coalition has a new Foreign Aid Policy, driven by a politician that agrees with much of what Denis MacShane thinks of the management and utilisation of British Aid in Sierra Leone.

Although the Liberal Democrats - Conservative Coalition government is not talking about cutting overseas aid, they are all too aware of the need to make savings across all government departments, drive efficiencies, reduce waste, and get more for less.

The new Conservative government has to cut structural deficit by over £6 Billion this year alone. Thus there are doubts as to whether British foreign aid spending will rise to 0.7% of GDP by 2013, as previously forecasted.

Taking a closer look at the Conservative government’s Foreign and International Aid Policy, there are serious implications for the government of Sierra Leone, Local Service Delivery Providers, and Partners. Public Procurement Contract processes and Service Level Agreements will focus strongly on economy savings, efficiencies and value-for-money.

The pressure will be to genuinely award service delivery contracts for health, education, and social programmes to bidders with the lowest cost base. NGOs bidding for DFID funding will have to prove that they are the cheapest, but without sacrificing quality of service and outputs.

NGOs and governmental bodies receiving DFID funding will have to prove that they are also achieving efficiency savings. For every One British Pound spent, UK government will want to see an increasing number of children in Africa successfully completing their secondary education - ‘greater outputs for every One British Pound’ received.

In addition, greater emphasis will now be placed on the effectiveness of Programme and Service Delivery, and the impact on the lives of local people and their communities. The Prime Minister - David Cameron, will be hoping to introduce his controversial proposal, to issue vouchers to poor communities for spending on services, in an effort to "empower" them and encourage competition between aid providers.

Although this new reality and challenge may appear burdensome for local partners and local programme delivery agencies, it should be regarded as an opportunity for President Koroma’s government to align his ministerial performance contracts with this new, more ‘business-like approach’ to service delivery.

British media reports that; “With scores of rival international aid agencies and multilateral bodies, such as the UN's relief agencies and the World Bank, competing to receive government money, the Conservatives say they would introduce an element of ‘performance-based funding’, cutting off funds from bodies that have failed to prove that they can spend money effectively and deliver results.”

A senior Liberal Democrats politician told the Sierra Leone Telegraph today, that there will be significant changes in the management structure and personnel at DFID. Gareth Thomas has gone, so too will senior management staff working on the ground in Sierra Leone. The Conservatives would encourage more recruitment to the department from the world of business and finance.

The senior politician also mentioned that the recommendation of the Audit Commission into the management of British Aid in Sierra Leone, which calls for major improvement in accountability and transparency, will be given the utmost priority.

When questioned about the vacuum created by the resignation of the Chief of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission, she said that the British government may suspend some of its funding until a new Head of the Anti-Corruption Commission is appointed.

She mentioned that she will be working closely with the new DFID Minister – Andrew Mitchell to ensure that there is no political interference and intimidation in the investigation of government Ministers charged with corruption.

The US Embassy in Freetown has expressed its concern following what appears to be an ‘extempore’ resignation by the Anti-Corruption Commissioner. The US government is calling for President Koroma’s government to ensure that steps are taken to fill the vacuum, saying that “Mr. Tejan-Cole’s efforts at combating corruption in the country were truly exceptional.

The US Embassy press statement says; “We are confident the Government of Sierra Leone is committed to selecting a new Commissioner who demonstrates the same level of integrity, dedication, and professionalism exemplified by Mr. Tejan-Cole.”

“The battle against corruption in Sierra Leone is nothing less than a battle for stability—economic, democratic, and political—and the United States Embassy looks forward to working with the next Anti-Corruption Commissioner to follow Mr. Tejan-Cole’s example to fight tirelessly in the face of tremendous challenges, for the good of the nation.”

The Liberal Democrats Conservative Coalition marks the beginning of a new style of politics in Britain, based on co-operation, partnership, fairness and justice. The new International Development Minister – Andrew Mitchell is putting together a new team at DFID that will be responsible for implementing the government’s international Aid Policy.

There is even talk now, in the all new look Whitehall, of the possibility of a new British-US joint policy approach to development in Africa. The US Embassy in Freetown, recently announced that they will for the first time have an Economic Development Officer based in the Embassy to help Sierra Leone's industrial development.

The special relationship brokered between Tony Blair and President Koroma, which has shaped the country’s image both at home and abroad, will no longer have a part to play in the delivery and management of this new British government Foreign Aid Policy in Sierra Leone.

The fight against corruption and efforts aimed at supporting the development of Sierra Leone, are about to take a new direction for the best.

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