Accounting for aid: Get off DFID’s back

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The Public Accounts Committee reignited debate over Britain’s aid spending today, with their report on DFID’s financial management.

Some quick thoughts from me:

  • It’s not true that the risk of DFID’s spending is increasing because of the fragile states focus. DFID gives money to many countries with high levels of corruption – but it has also stopped giving money to many countries with high levels of corruption.  As I blogged about previously, the overall levels of risk aren’t very different than they were before the bilateral aid review.
  • The irony is that many of the mechanisms for aid spending that make it ‘harder to track’ are also the ones that have been proven to be most effective in achieving results. There are oversight mechanisms even when money is given through these channels, and the efficiency gains of these modalities arguably outweigh the downsides of making it more difficult to trace the money.
  • It’s a ridiculous criticism to attack DFID for not knowing how much money is ‘wasted’.  If you are selling sandwiches you can say how much food you have thrown away at the end of the day and calculate your waste; but how on earth are you supposed to calculate to the penny what is ‘wasted’ in programmes that are about transforming and saving lives?  Parliamentary committees need to work through precise definitions, but none of this is black and white and they shouldn’t paint it as such.

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