DfID under the spotlight over aid for trade in Southern Africa

U.K. Secretary for International Development Justine Greening, who has shut down one of the aid agency's programs in Southern Africa over irregularities. Photo by: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC BY-ND

Justine Greening has shut down one of the U.K. Department for International Development’s programs in Southern Africa after an independent internal probe revealed irregularities and weaknesses.

The probe raised serious concerns over the the impact, oversight and financial monitoring of the five-year project to support trade and regional integration.

After the Independent Commission for Aid Impact sounded the alarm in May, DfID agreed to carry out a management assurance review of the TradeMark Southern Africa program.

But while the U.K. aid watchdog recognized that both DfID Southern Africa and TMSA implemented certain changes, ICAI noted in a report published on Thursday that the “program was still seriously deficient” and flagged it red, the first time ever for a DfID-funded aid project.

TMSA — according to the second review — misreported on targets met, putting into question the measures taken by Greening’s department to improve oversight over aid spending. There was also poor strategic planning, with a 67 million pound infrastructure budget failing to attract additional contributions from other donors.

ICAI also reported serious problems in terms of procurement, having found “little to no competition” for major contracts.

Part of the money was also questioningly granted directly to the Zimbabwean government for a fruit fly eradication project — which while may be helpful to fruit and vegetable growers, is in no way related to regional integration and in contravention of official British foreign policy.

Aid for trade

But perhaps the biggest blow the probe unveiled is the weakness in DfID’s policy of linking trade — and therefore economic growth — with poverty eradication.

ICAI noted the agency failed to relate program activities to “specific benefits for the poor, and mitigate short-term negative impacts” with its push for economic growth. A look at TMSA’s program design “suggests that DfID has undertaken some limited poverty analysis,” noted the report.

This underlines aid groups’ recurring concerns over the agency and other donors’ policy of pursuing the joint goals of sustainable economic growth with poverty eradication.

“Economic growth is of course important to development but the link between growth and poverty reduction is not always as straightforward as the [secretary] laid out,” Amy Dodd, coordinator for the U.K. Aid Network, told Devex last March.

It is still unclear what will happen to DfID’s regional integration goals in Southern Africa, but Greening said the agency is now looking for alternative means to support trade and regional integration there.

The aid community however can expect stricter program management controls following this latest controversy, including mandatory annual reviews and reviews of country offices every two years instead of just four.

Greening announced that “programs with significant weakness that fail to improve significantly will be considered for closure.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.