Select Committee reports on DfID

In this guest post, Anas Sarwar MP writes again for LCID about the work being done on the International Development Select Committee.

Last week saw the publication of the International Development Select Committee report looking into DFID’s Annual Report & Resource Accounts for 2009-2010.  It offers a valuable insight into the key policy areas the coalition government wishes to pursue going forward.  

Some of the main policy areas it touches on include; a major push for efficiency, which will see DFID become the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world; the establishment of a new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), which has been set up to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes; and more work with fragile and conflict affected areas.

 Greater Efficiency and Greater Effectiveness

The Report begins by expressing the Committee’s support for the coalition Government’s commitment to meet the UN agreed target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2013 which was put in place by Labour.  Unfortunately, the government hasn’t yet taken the final step and given a timetable for enshrining this commitment in law. That is what Labour and our campaign for international development must continue to keep pushing for.

The Government hopes to see DFID becoming the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world, by reducing its running costs to 2% of its total budget.  This is to be done through cutting DFID’s back office costs and increasing spending through multi-lateral organisations.  Although, the Committee’s Report welcomes efficiency, it is imperative that we do not compromise our long term strategic goals and objectives. 

As a Select Committee, no matter where we go or whoever we meet, we are always being told that DFID’s greatest assets are its staff.  I sincerely hope that the Governments efficiency drive will not undermine the fantastic image that DFID staff project of the UK all around the world and more importantly the incredible work of vital frontline staff.

A new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), has been established to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes.  The ICAI –which will be accountable to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee – builds on foundations laid out by Labour in Government, and should ensure that money being spent overseas is effective.  

Where should the focus be? 

At a time when 32 out of the 34 countries furthest away from reaching the Millennium Development Goals are in or emerging from conflict it is right to focus aid on such areas.  The Report therefore welcomes the increased priority being awarded to working with these areas as part of a broader development and conflict prevention/resolution agenda. 

However, it issues a cautionary note to the Government in the need for it to recognise the challenges that may arise in redirecting assistance from countries with good governance – where aid is likely to be better spent – to countries that are conflict affected where corruption and bad administration often mean the impact is more difficult to manage and even more difficult to measure.  This is important at a time when the Government is keen to ensure the effectiveness of aid.

Currently 90% of DFID aid goes to low income countries, many of which are graduating from low income to lower-middle income country status.  To support sustainable growth and development, and ensure earlier work is not wasted, we cannot afford to overlook the need for providing ongoing support for these countries, where the prevalence of poverty in the general population remains high. DFID should ensure they continue to focus on the people most in need, not just the countries most in need.

We must now press the government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in to law, and we must provide strong scrutiny to ensure that defence or diplomatic spending is not compromised by being claimed as ODA.   Working with the Shadow DFID team and LCID we must ensure Labour remains the leading voice for development.

Anas Sarwar writes for LCID on the 2010 MDG Review

By Anas Sarwar, Glasgow Central MP and  member of the International Development Select Committee

If you’d like to get up to speed on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, the International Development Select Committee’s report on the 2010 Review Summit is the ideal place to start.

Published yesterday, it provides a detailed overview of where things stand and, more importantly, where the shifting sands of global policy will take us in the lead up to the 2015 MDG deadline.

The report looks at three strands: what has been achieved so far; the summit outcomes; and what needs to be done.

Initially, I was pleased to learn that progress toward eradicating extreme poverty and hunger has been generally good – the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.8 to 1.4 billion between 1990 and 2005. 

But when I looked at the figures in greater detail I was dismayed to discover that the number of people living in extreme poverty has actually increased during that same period if the millions of people pulled out of poverty by China’s surging economy are discounted.

This is just one reason why it was so important to bring together 140 heads of state at the recent MDG Review Summit.

You see, progress toward achieving the MDGs before the 2015 deadline has been lethargic.

The select committee report describes the indifference shown by both developing and donor countries in meeting their commitments and underlines the fact that we are no closer to establishing a new international framework to succeed the MDGs post-2015. 

All the while, volatile food and financial markets, more frequent natural disasters, and climate change are restricting development progress.

The committee’s report makes a series of recommendations to DfID. Two of the central suggestions encompass my vision for the future of development: to target development assistance at building democratic institutions and tackling gender inequality.

It’s absolutely vital that DFID supports democratic institutions in developing countries so that citizens can hold government to account. To that end I have stood up in the House of Commons and demanded that our government help developing countries strengthen their tax collection systems. I have also joined charities in campaigning for the introduction of new UK legislation similar to the US Dodd-Frank Bill which improves transparency and regulation of the US financial system.  That would help to give governments in developing countries access to a more sustainable stream of finance, and it would also promote stronger governance by fostering a more accountable state-citizen relationship. It’s what the long-term success of the summit and the MDGs ultimately depends on.

It is also crucial that we develop a global approach to tackling gender inequality. It’s widely known that maternal health is directly affected by the social, cultural and economic inequalities women face based on their gender. My grandfather reminded me recently of the importance of women in society by saying: ‘educating a boy benefits one man; educating a girl benefits a family. Countering gender inequality in the developing world is the key to unlocking many MDGs.

The Labour government accomplished much after setting up the dedicated Department for International Development in 1997.

We trebled the aid budget; cancelled debt owed by the poorest countries; and cut the link between aid and commercial interest. We were the first country to sign up to the UN agreed goal to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on development assistance by 2013; we ensured Britain became the world’s second largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor. We championed the case for development across the world and we cemented Britain’s position as the global leader. 

These are achievements we can be proud of. But if we are to stand any chance of reducing global poverty in the future it’s vital that these achievements are seen as a foundation to build on.

There is much building work to be done.

And global action to promote stronger governance and gender equality in developing countries must be the cornerstones.