I read over Christmas that the UK Government will have to find another £76 billion of public spending cuts over the next 8 years if it is to reduce its record £178 billion borrowing – (according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies) which equates to £2,400 for every family in Britain. (Sunday Times – Money – 13.12.09. Kathryn Cooper)
I also read that UK public workers may be facing pay freeze. Many teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants, local government workers face pay caps, higher pension costs and increases in National Insurance payments. (thanks very much to my mother-in-law for regularly sending out a selection of UK Sunday supplements!).
Whilst cuts can possibly be made within Britain in the civil service etc. from my point of view, as a Brit living in Kenya, I might suggest cutting overseas aid budgets to bolster some of the UK’s national debt? I do not profess to be an expert but I do have had some limited experience within DFID and other international aid organisations so feel it’s OK to get on my soap box today.
What people in UK may not know is that right here, in East Africa and Nairobi, within the lucrative world of ‘aid to Africa’, given shape by huge organisations such as the UN, the World Bank, USAID, DFID etc. the world has gone officially crazy for the past ten years. Well staffed aid organisations with numerous highly qualified and trained staff running hundreds of programs routinely farm out work to external consultants, who then hire more consultants to organise their conferences, write reports, run their workshops and roll out their aid programs and schemes. It is what is known as the gravy train.
I was around to watch first hand when the overseas aid machine got gigantic. DFID (UK Department for International Development) started growing like crazy in 2000 and as a local hire admin staff in the office, it was a sight to behold. Back offices systems and accounts struggled to keep pace.
In the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit Blair reinforced this commitment to growth in aid to Africa. He set the agenda to focus on global climate change and lack of economic development in Africa – which was then endorsed by rock stars, concerts, Bono, Bob Geldof etc. It was all so RIGHT-ON with talk of cancelling African debt and lots of protesters etc. As a result, a central promise made by EU G8 countries attending Gleneagles in 2005 was to raise their aid budgets by £25 billion by 2010. Of this new money £12.5 bn would go to Africa. This equates to committing 0.56% of national GDP to go to foreign aid by 2010, 0.7% by 2015. Goes without saying, that’s a lot of money.
These pledges are all well and good and it would be fantastic to see economies strengthening in Africa, but it’s the ACCOUNTIBILITY side (or lack of it) of these huge organisations that niggles me. Aid organisations are not run like bona-fide businesses on ‘profit and loss’ basis, but simply are required to spend huge budgets, then justify it by writing endless reports with lots of statistics that no one reads, fiddling the figures to boast of immediate targets met. But who really goes back in five years time and sees that the money has been well spent?
What is patently clear is that the governments who are on the receiving end are not remotely interested in accounting for it once the money has been pocketed, I mean distributed. Who, in UK Government is asking retrospectively, was the investment of taxpayers’ money a success? While small charities and organisations can do this quite easily, once you are talking of budgets of over millions of pounds, the figures all get a bit hazy and once a certain percentage of the UK’s GDP has gone in the right direction, frankly who cares back home anyway?
I read in yesterday’s Daily Nation, (Jan 11th), Rasna Warah’s piece on ‘Whistleblowers’. She explains how, in the name of professional integrity, some are forced to blow the whistle on malpractice, corruption or abuse of office, only to be rewarded by feelings of isolation, betrayal and abandonment when after having vocalized concerns, whistleblowers the world over are treated by colleagues as social pariah. Some are even sacked. It is clear that poking your head above the parapet to tell some home truths never pays. When she blew the whistle on suspected mismanagement of taxpayers’ money at an international organisation she was met with denial and intimidation.
She writes; ‘a management consultant who I spoke to about my ordeal told me that this reaction is common in big bureaucracies where self-preservation – rather than productivity - is the driving force among managers.’
I clearly remember, whilst working at DFID as local hire staff, that unmarried consultants’ ‘partners’ were allowed to accompany them overseas, to receive a living allowance etc. Children’s school fees are paid, big cars provided, bi-annual ‘breather holidays’ laid on with flights and daily holiday allowances approved in the case of hardship postings (which TZ apparently was) etc. Let’s face it, in the private sector, you’d have to have a pretty damn successful business to be able to provide your employees with all these perks wouldn’t you?
Fine, you might say, the consultants are doing good work, but I felt that the principal beggared belief when this even encompassed the case of a twenty-something unmarried junior consultant who could somehow ‘prove’ that she had been with her boyfriend for two years and was then allowed to bring him over to Tanzania so that he could strum on his guitar and remain unemployed as a dependant for two or three years, courtesy of the British taxpayer. Needless to say, the relationship didn’t survive.
Looking after UK consultants in fine style might be well and good if concrete results were being seen but the news is usually depressing. At the end of Michela Wrong’s book, ‘It’s our Turn to Eat’, she described the difficulty the British High Commissioner, Edward Clay, was having in 2006/7, in persuading both the head of DFID and the World Bank that money given to Kenya was being stolen, particularly in relation to the Goldenburg and Anglo leasing scandals.
Since then, among other public money scandals in Kenya, there has been the 23bn shilling maize scandal and in December it was reported that the Ministries of Education and Finance in Kenya have failed to account for Shs100 million that should have been spent on the Free Primary Education program funded by DFID. Apparently the funds disappeared early in 2009. (see: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/820998/-/item/0/-/109gea5z/-/index.html)
These figures are mind boggling, but at least in December the head of DFID Kenya & Somalia, Alistair Fernie and British High Commissioner to Kenya Rob Macaire, presented a united front to the press, of zero tolerance in the face of such outrageous lack of accountability. In fact DFID promised to withhold a Sh 1.2 billion grant until ‘arrests have been made’ within the ministries concerned. Though this is extremely sad for the Free Primary Education program, theft cannot be condoned. The problem is that it has all been too easy for too long.
From my whistleblower’s standpoint, I would say perhaps the UK Government, now in straightened circumstances, should take a magnifying glass to the money they have been throwing at overseas aid over the past decade. Is 0.7% of national GDP too much? Stimulating the economy through investment in business and world trade I wholeheartedly agree with, but throwing money down the drain via massive aid organisations run by overpaid ‘self-preservation’ driven consultants is no longer palatable for anyone in 2010, ironically, least of all to the Kenyans on the receiving end.