UK government reviews aid programmes – what do we think?

Andrew Mitchell MPOn Tuesday Andrew Mitchell MP, Secretary of State for International Development announced the results of his Department’s multilateral and bilateral aid reviews. An overview of the results is available here. The reviews were established shortly after the Coalition Government was formed to look at all areas of the Department’s work and make recommendations for changes to make it more effective. The results are the most comprehensive overview we have yet seen of the Government’s approach to international development and therefore the announcement is an important milestone.

Overall RESULTS strongly welcomes the reviews. It is crucial that UK support for developing countries is focused on truly achieving results for poor people and supporting their own efforts to escape poverty. The top-line results that the Department has committed to delivering through both multilateral and bilateral channels over the next four years to 2015 are:

  • Secure schooling for 11 million children
  • Help vaccinate more children against preventable diseases than there are people in the whole of England
  • Provide access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation to more people than there are in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Save the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth
  • Stop 250,000 newborn babies dying needlessly
  • Support 13 countries to hold freer and fairer elections
  • Help 10 million more women get access to modern family planning
  • Provide 50 million people with the means to help work their way out of poverty [by providing them with access to financial services]
  • Stop 10 million more children going hungry
  • Help halve malaria deaths in 10 of the worst affected countries
  • Help millions of poor people protect their livelihoods from the impact of climate change.

Below we discuss the two reviews in more detail, and while we are broadly supportive of their contents we raise a few questions on specific decisions, as well as pointing out the need for further information on funding decisions and the specifics of country-level programmes.

Multilateral Aid Review

In the multilateral aid review, the Department measured multilateral organisations (international organisations that receive funding from multiple donors including rich countries to carry out or fund development work) according to two composite measures: firstly their contribution to UK development objectives and secondly their organisational strength.

The results rank the 43 multilateral organisations to which DFID currently contributes funds into four categories: very good, good, adequate and poor. 9 organisations were deemed to offer ‘very good value’, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and GAVI, both organisations delivering crucial health interventions for which RESULTS has campaigned for the UK to provide more resources. Both organisations were recognised for their ability to demonstrate impressive results and for their transparency.

At the other end of the scale, 8 organisations were rated ‘poor’ overall. Of these, 4 have had their funding cut, releasing £50 million which the Department says will be reallocated to higher-performing organisations. The other 4 poorly-rated organisations have been placed in ‘special measures’ because they are deemed to ‘have a potentially critical niche development or humanitarian role that is not well covered elsewhere in the international system, or they contribute to broader UK Government objectives.’ These organisations are: UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Organisation for Migration, and they have been given 2 years to improve their performance or face a funding cut. UNESCO is the UN agency tasked with leading the effort to achieve the Education for All agenda, and we therefore strongly agree that it has an important niche role and should be supported to improve its areas of weakness. UNESCO plays an important role in monitoring the fight for education for all through research including the Global Monitoring Report.

The rest of the 43 organisations were rated either ‘good’ or ‘adequate’. While we are broadly in agreement with the assessments made by the multilateral review, with some slight reservations, it is not yet clear how the assessments will map across into financial contributions to the individual organisations as no funding allocations were included in the documentation released on Wednesday. Some announcements have been made already, for example funding for UNICEF, one of the most highly-rated multilaterals, is set to double. The additional funding will particularly help UNICEF to deliver health and education programmes in fragile and conflict-affected states. Other multilaterals including the Global Fund, GAVI, the Education for All Fast Track Initiative (FTI) and UNITAID will have to wait to find out whether their allocations will be increased on the strength of their assessments. We strongly encourage the government to increase funding for these organisations, which play a crucial part in delivering on the Millennium Development Goals and can demonstrate impressive impact.

The assessments of each individual multilateral organisation can be found on DFID’s online publications page.

Bilateral Aid Review

The Bilateral Aid Review addresses the issue of which countries the UK actually runs its own development programmes in, and what these programmes consist of. A summary of the results for each individual country programme is available on the DFID website here. In addition, a technical report setting out the process for deciding allocations and the criteria against which country offices were asked to design their programmes is available here.

As yet the summaries are limited to showcasing the top priorities and key results against which each country programme will be measured. We believe it will be important for DFID to release further information to allow partner organisations and the UK public to better understand what the UK is doing to support developing countries, for example to assess whether progress has been made on incorporating the rights and needs of children with disabilities into country-level work on education.

Andrew Mitchell’s announcement included the news that by 2016 the UK will close its aid programmes in 16 countries: China, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Moldova, Bosnia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Niger, Kosovo, Angola, Burundi, Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq and Serbia. The Department believes that this will enable them to focus more effectively on the remaining 27 countries in which they will retain programmes, and to meet new commitments to pay more attention to conflict-affected and fragile states.

While many of the countries included on the list of those who will lose funding from DFID are middle-income countries from which it seems sensible for DFID to withdraw in order to focus its resources in the most needy areas, the list also includes some slightly puzzling decisions. Burundi and Niger are among the poorest countries in the world, and both are affected by conflict and instability, while the Gambia is widely recognised as a ‘donor orphan’, meaning that it is supported by only a small number of bilateral donors. In these cases in particular, it is important for the Department to better explain their rationale for withdrawing their country programmes.

Several country programmes also received very substantial increases in their budgets, including among the biggest winners Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria and Ethiopia. All four are fragile states, and this shift of resources is the biggest indicator that DFID is serious about meeting the commitment to spend 30% of its ODA (official development assistance) in fragile states. These nations do have enormous challenges and contain a very large number of poor people – for example Nigeria has the largest number of out of school children of any country in the world at over 8 million – but it will be important to monitor that the additional resources are used appropriately to support the needs of the poorest people in society, and not simply to achieve UK foreign policy aims.

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