The Luxuries of the Department for International Development

The Department for International Developments budget remains at 0.7% of gross national income. In this article Katie Wand questions whether the current checks and balances in place on DFID’s spending are sufficient.

Call me an idealist, but after centuries of societal evolution, I for one expect the state to hold up their end up of the proverbial deal, fulfilling their duties according to the social contract in return for our societal obligations. Besides, we haven’t sacrificed our civil liberties for nothing, have we?

To justify the recent cuts to the NHS, and the subsequent paychecks and self-respect of our junior doctors, we assume that the government simply does not have sufficient funds to sustain the government service of days gone by. That sounds reasonable; with lower growth forecasts than expected, and an impending crisis overseas, it may pay to be thrifty. As a country that prides itself on its dedication to justice and other worthy attributes, to the extent that it seeks to impose these ideals on other less reputable countries, we can surely assume that our money is being well spent, warranting the taxes we pay, and the civil liberties we cede in order to participate in the mutually beneficial agreement we call society.

Sadly this utopian ideal has been replaced by an unnervingly dystopian reality. Take DFID (The Department for International Development), for example. Of all the government departments, you would hope that the one assigned to the noble task of international development (and the imposition of so-called British ideals) might be one on which we can rely; a beacon of honesty in the obscurity that is the developing world. But where does the money actually go? Aside from the already questionable morals behind British interventionism abroad, in terms of results the proof really is in the pudding, which at times looks about as appealing as some sloppy semolina.  Not so long ago, DFID generously funded a project in Uganda for £150,000. The project was reportedly implemented, budgets signed, etcetera. Later it materialised that this generous sum had been used to design and build not one, but two lovely new houses for the programme officers on the ground. Money well spent, I’d say. If the government is to haphazardly distribute large sums of cash, surely it is not too much to ask that we police the projects, ensuring misconduct like this does not occur?

 

DFID / Creative Commons License

DFID / Creative Commons License

 

This is an example of painstakingly blatant corruption, and is absolutely not unique to Africa. My colleagues in Nepal casually dropped in that whilst working on a DFID funded project in Kathmandu, they and their many associates were treated to breakfast and lunch every day at the most regal and expensive hotel in the country, named Dwarikas. An old palace, Dwarikas is notoriously expensive, and my colleagues reckoned that DFID spent around £10,000 per month on this communal bi-daily feed. It is no wonder that NGO work and international development is one of the most lucrative sectors in developing economies.

It would be naïve to think of this as a dig at DFID. My digging encompasses far more than one sole inefficient government department. Military spending will take up about 5% of the budget, more than twice as much as is spent on housing, unemployment and family and children welfare combined. The age old argument of needing an expansive military for our protection against aggressors might seem reasonable, were we under attack. Yet in my lifetime we have not once defended ourselves against aggressors, but instead have become the aggressor, using our military to not defend, but to attack other countries.

 

Jan Tik / Creative Commons License

Jan Tik / Creative Commons License

 

I am by no means proposing cutting government spending, especially not to foreign development services (nor the NHS, for that matter). What I do propose is that more safeguard measures be put in place, and a results-based system enforced to ensure that public money is put to good use in some of the many wholly worthwhile endeavors.  The tragic and unjustifiable waste of public funds is just testament to the crumbling mess that our social contract has become, whereby state acts independently of society, conducting practice to fit the wishes of the very few. We preach transparency and efficiency, yet we- the British public- unknowingly provide the very fuel to the fire of corruption and inefficiency, both at home and abroad.

At a loss for ideals and expectations, perhaps it is time our notions of government service delivery become more realistic.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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