A view of Aleppo, Syria. Photo by: Sebastien Dechamps / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — The United Kingdom Department for International Development has cleared contractor Adam Smith International to resume bidding on its contracts, one year after ASI voluntarily withdrew from any new bids for funding following media allegations that the company falsified testimonials from beneficiaries and gave itself an unfair advantage in bidding. The International Development Committee later investigated the claims and found them largely false, but asserted that ASI, one of DFID’s largest for-profit contractors, “acted improperly.”

“After a year when we decided not to tender for new business with DFID, ASI now looks forward to re-entering the competitive market for contracts that deliver Britain’s assistance and foreign policy priorities in some of the world’s most fragile countries,’” Rachel English, ASI’s interim chair said in a statement.

UK-Syria aid scandal prompts questions about risk in conflict zones

As a BBC investigation accuses a United Kingdom-managed aid program in northern Syria of allowing funds to end up in the hands of terrorist organizations, Devex looks at what the outlet's attention means for the way aid organizations engage with risk in conflict zones.

ASI’s reforms over the past year have focused on enhancing governance — including a “refresh” of its board of directors, the resignation of its founder and CEO Peter Young, new policies and procedures to implement higher ethical standards, and the implementation of a new, social enterprise-based governance model.

Media reports alleged that ASI staff circulated confidential DFID documents in order to attain a competitive advantage. But the IDC investigation later revealed the documents were neither confidential, nor provided any competitive advantage. Still, under pressure from DFID and the IDC, ASI also underwent reforms to improve staff behavior, including a new code of conduct, an enhanced whistleblowing policy, and improved cybersecurity and IT governance, according to a statement from ASI. ASI also “volunteered to step back” from bidding for DFID contracts after the IDC launched investigations into the claims.

The news also comes only two months after the BBC television show Panorama alleged that ASI’s Access to Justice and Community Security programme in Syria was rife with corruption and helped fund radical groups, among other accusations, an ASI spokesperson told Devex.

The AJACS programme is funded through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office — which reinstated funding to the program last month — as well as the development agencies of Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Following the Panorama allegations, the programme’s donors launched investigations — including both a joint investigation as well as an independent investigation by DFID — which later “cleared ASI of any wrongdoing,” the spokesperson said, adding that ASI is pursuing legal action against the BBC.

The U.K. investigation into the Panorama allegations deemed the show’s claims “untrue, misleading, or were dealt with appropriately by the project and donors at the time.” The donor-wide investigation claimed the allegations "failed to effectively capture the context in which AJACS operates; explain the overall impact of the programme; and provide robust evidence regarding the specific allegations made." Donors stated that they “are sufficiently confident that the Panorama programme did not provide any information that was not already known to AJACS, and thus did not identify any risks that AJACS was not already managing.”

ASI submitted its first bid in a year on Jan. 31 to DFID's Economic Development Framework, a vehicle to strengthen global peace, security and governance, resilience, and crisis response, as well as promoting prosperity and tackling extreme poverty. The ASI spokesperson also told Devex the company is “closing in” on a replacement CEO, and “hopes to make an announcement in the coming weeks.” The interim CEO is Jonathan Pell.

On Wednesday, the IDC will question DFID officials and the authors of a recent report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact on DFID’s approach to its for-profit supplier market.

About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.