The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) — which currently spends the majority of Britain’s overseas development budget — remains one of most transparent aid donors in the world, according to the latest Aid Transparency Index, an independent assessment of global aid spending.
The report, published on June 24, comes just over a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to close DfID as a separate department and merge it instead with the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which has been given a far lower transparency rating.
DfID has been ranked ninth out of 47 donors by the Aid Transparency Index, and given a rating of “very good” — the highest of the five ratings. However, the FCO falls in 38th place, given a rating of “fair” on its transparency levels — up from "poor" in 2018.
It gathered data between December 2019 and April 2020 on large aid organisations, looking at 35 different indicators of institutional transparency across elements such as budget planning and project performance, the report’s authors said.
Overall, PWYF said that 2020’s results show a “significant improvement” on aid transparency globally since the last index was published in 2018. Several of the agencies assessed have moved up in the rankings.
For example, there are now 11 ranked as “very good” compared to four last time, and 15 are now ranked as “good”, up from 13 two years ago. Only a few now fall in the “poor” and “very poor” categories. The report authors add, however, that work still needs to be done around agencies publishing their own evaluation and performance data.
The index also reveals that globally, across the range of donors, specialised aid agencies — such as DfID — scored an average of 12 points higher than non-specialised agencies such as foreign or defence departments, like the FCO.
In light of the new Aid Transparency Index, Bond, an association that represents UK nonprofit organisations, released a statement condemning the decision to merge DfID with the FCO.
Abolishing @DFID_UK seriously undermines the UK's efforts to end extreme poverty. Take action with us now to #SaveAid:— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) June 16, 2020
◾ Demand #UKAid tackles extreme poverty first.
◾ Insist 50% is spent in low income countries.
◾ Urge @AnnieTrev to remain in cabinet.https://t.co/l7uVwKfGqe
“DfID meets the highest standards for reporting and transparency of all UK government departments that spend aid,” Bond said. “Although the FCO has risen to a “fair” rating from “poor” in the 2018 index, the department has still not reached the UK government's transparency commitment of “good” or “very good” in 2020.”
During the past week, MPs, former prime ministers, and charities across the country have rallied in response to the government’s announcement to combine DfID with the FCO.
Almost 200 leaders in aid and development signed an open letter to Johnson on Monday calling for the decision to be reversed — arguing that it amounts to the UK turning its back on alleviating extreme poverty and the world’s poorest people.
The letter states: "Over the past two decades DfID has secured the UK’s global reputation as a trusted partner, being the guardian of good aid and development that helps build a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world for all of us”.
Transparency is a key issue when it comes to worldwide trust and effectiveness in delivering aid, charities say, and is also vital when it comes to ensuring tax payers' money is spent most effectively.
Gary Forster, the chief executive of PWYF, described the DfID/FCO merger decision as one that poses a “serious transparency challenge” for UK aid.
He told the news site Devex on Wednesday: “It is difficult to see how the new office [the combined DfID and FCO] will reconcile the competing mandates of poverty reduction and UK foreign policy interests both at the global level but also in the field."
Forster also added that the FCO had “consistently failed to adopt the same practices” as DfID, resulting in its low score. “The FCO’s failure to publish evidence as to the impact of its activities bears testament to this,” Forster told Defex.
In response to the criticism, a government spokesperson told the Daily Telegraph: “The UK and DfID is globally recognised for its expertise and transparency in aid spending."
“The new Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office will put that expertise and commitment to transparency at the heart of its work to deliver aid to some of the world’s poorest people,” they added.