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Priti Patel seeks end to 'extensive profiteering' by foreign aid contractors

International Development Secretary Priti Patel has pledged to crack down on "profiteering" by foreign aid contractors amid concern at the way UK development funds are spent.

Appearing before the Commons International Development Committee, Ms Patel said she wanted to see full transparency by contractors - including in relation to salaries and expenses of senior staff.

Her comments follow the disclosure at the weekend that she had written to a number of suppliers giving them 30 days to provide details of their spending and how they comply with conflict-of-interest regulations.

The move comes amid disquiet among some Conservative MPs at the Government's continued commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid, despite growing pressure on health and social care services in the UK.

Ms Patel told MPs there had been some "very, very serious reports and allegations" in the press regarding aid spending by the Department for International Development (Dfid) which was why she had decided to act.

"I do think we need to be looking at full transparency on how funds are spent including the whole breakdown with contractors' salaries, expenses - all the associated issues that come to having transparency," she said.

"When it comes to contractors and suppliers of Dfid, what I want to see is an end to what I consider to be extensive profiteering.

"That is why I want to look at our approach to contracting, our approach to transparency, demonstrating that due diligence is taken through every single stage of the contracting process."

However Ms Patel defended a reported £5.2 million grant to the Ethiopian girl group Yegna, saying it is simply "one component" in a wider programme promoting the rights and wellbeing of women and girls in the country - although she hinted it could be reviewed in future.

"UK aid in Ethiopia is combating forced child marriage, violence, teen pregnancies - all those really, really big, substantial issues," she said.

"We are doing a range of work there. That is just one programme, one project. It is actually doing substantial work combating the issues that I've highlighted. But at the same time all programmes are under review."

Dfid permanent secretary Mark Lowcock said that an investigation was now under way into how private government documents were obtained by one aid contractor, Adam Smith International.

"That involves our lawyers, our internal auditors, forensics specialists. We want to get to the bottom of that. There will be accountability for that," he said .

Mr Lowcock rejected claims the UK was "dumping" billions of pounds into obscure trust funds of the World Bank as a way of meeting the 0.7% target.

The Times reported that over the past five years, the UK had channelled £9 billion through 219 different trusts - more than any other country apart from the United States.

He said most of the UK's funding to the World Bank was made through promissory notes - which meant the cash was only released when it was actually needed - and was used to support projects such as international immunisation programmes or school teachers in Afghanistan.

All Government spending through the World Bank was fully scrutinised by the National Audit Office (NAO), he added.

"If we had been doing anything that we shouldn't have been doing, the NAO would have called us out," he said.

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