RESULTS UK is calling on the Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell to provide a full explanation of why officials in the Department for International Development (DFID) were tasked to produce a list of public commitments that should be dropped.
Following the recommendation from DFID officials that only a small number of previous commitments made to the international community should be honoured by the new government, members of the RESULTS network have expressed concern about DFID’s intention to renege on promises it has made to the world’s poor and its attempt to do so behind the backs of British parliamentarians, civil society groups and developing country partners.
RESULTS agrees with the coalition government that it is crucial to ensure aid is spent effectively and in the areas of most need, and we therefore welcome the government’s current review of its aid portfolio. However we are greatly concerned about the recent leak of 100 targets that civil servants recommend be dropped by the Department for International Development. The commitments on the list are not restricted to inefficient or contentious areas of spending, but would impact on the core business of DFID – fighting poverty and enabling developing country governments to deliver the basic services needed to support poor people.
In addition, some of the commitments on the list, including the pledge to spend £8.5 billion on aid to education and £6 billion on health services and systems by 2015, were made in the context of guaranteeing developing country partners long-term reliable contributions for basic services. To renege on such a commitment seriously undermines the UK’s international credibility and could impact upon our relations with partner governments in the developing world.
There is some suggestion from DFID that ‘input-related’ targets pledging just an amount of spending will be replaced by ‘output-related’ targets detailing what will be delivered, and therefore we could see the commitment to double aid to education replaced by commitments to deliver certain outcomes in education. However the details of the list reveal that civil servants also recommend dropping key ‘output-related’ targets including the commitments to ‘Support 8 million children in school in Africa by 2010’; ‘Help 25 million people gain access to water and sanitation in Africa over the next 5 years’ and to ‘Support the development of a new multi-donor facility across Africa, aiming to deliver microfinance to 10 million more clients over 5 years’.
In May the coalition government in its ‘Programme for Government’ set out their priorities for aid spending: ‘we will prioritise aid spending on programmes to ensure that everyone has access to clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education; to reduce maternal and infant mortality; and to restrict the spread of major diseases like HIV/ AIDS, TB and malaria.’ It is deeply concerning to see good commitments on these core priorities feature on the list of targets to be quietly dropped.
We are reassured to see that among the commitments that will be honoured include the pledge to contribute £1 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and to help partner governments abolish user fees at the point of use for basic health services but note that neither of these targets are framed in terms of outputs suggesting an inconsistency in DFID’s approach to its proposed cuts.
The Secretary of State’s refusal to comment on the leaked documents will only fuel concern and scepticism among development organisations. If DFID is committed to improving the impact and effectiveness of UK aid then Andrew Mitchell should seek to reassure both British and the international community that public commitments will only be dropped in order to replace them with more focused and ambitious pledges.