FCDO's foreign nationals policy, G-20 debt framework, and Iota's compounding impact: This week in development

A coast guard assisting in urgent search and rescue and redistribution of relief aid in Honduras affected by Hurricane Eta. Photo by: U.S. Coast Guard / CC BY-NC-ND

The U.K.’s diplomacy and development office restricts employment for foreign nationals, G-20 representatives forge a debt relief framework, and Hurricane Iota makes a bad situation worse. This week in development:

Foreign nationals will no longer be recruited for employment as Home Civil Servants at the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office due to a decision to designate the body a “reserved” government department out of concern for national security. The 154 non-U.K. nationals currently employed, who worked at the Department for International Development before it was absorbed by FCDO, will remain in their jobs, but the office will only hire U.K. nationals for Home Civil Servant positions in the future. The issue does not impact local staff hired by FCDO’s overseas offices. Announcing the new policy, an FCDO spokesperson cited the Civil Service Nationality Rules, which describe “reserved” roles as those that require “special allegiance to the Crown” and relate mainly to jobs involving intelligence, national security, and immigration. A former DFID official described the change as “a disturbing development,” and noted that while it might make sense for an agency that deals narrowly with foreign affairs, it does not make sense for one with a broader remit such as foreign aid. “It merely has the look of an organization that cannot be bothered to nuance its systems to get the best folk for the job in hand,” the former official said. The new hiring policy arrives as U.K. development advocates are already on edge about the future of the government’s legally established commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income on foreign aid. On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson sidestepped multiple direct questions about whether the government would break the 0.7% policy amid a public finance deficit.

The G-20 group of leading economies agreed to a new framework aimed at giving countries options to restructure or forgive their debt in response to the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new framework builds on the G-20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative, which allows countries to postpone payments, and it involves newer creditor countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, and India, in debt relief negotiations. Development experts maintain some reservations about how the new framework will be implemented. For example, it requires countries to initiate the process by making a request from their creditors, which some worry could lead them to the brink of default before they pursue restructuring or relief, since countries are wary of taking steps that could damage their creditworthiness. Others pointed out that since the new framework only applies to countries involved in DSSI, it does not include middle-income countries, many of which are also facing big debt concerns. And they noted that it remains to be seen whether private creditors will follow suit in offering the same kinds of relief and restructuring that public lenders are encouraging — Zambia defaulted last week after failing to reach an agreement with Eurobond holders. “There is no doubt this is incredible progress,” said Eric LeCompte, executive director at Jubilee USA Network. “This process is a step forward that includes more actors and will expedite relief and reduction.”

Central America is reeling from a second major hurricane in two weeks, after Hurricane Iota made landfall as a Category 4 storm in eastern Nicaragua Tuesday — believed to be the strongest storm to ever hit the country. More than 70,000 people in Honduras and more than 60,000 people in Nicaragua have sought refuge in shelters over the course of both storms, according to the U.N., and the U.S. Agency for International Development is deploying a Disaster Assistance Response Team to the region. The busiest Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history has contributed to a situation of compounding vulnerabilities for countries in Central America that were already dealing with heavy health and economic fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic, responders say. When Hurricane Eta struck earlier this month, causing massive flooding and landslides, it disrupted a crucial planting season in the region that now puts food security at risk. “You’re talking about one vulnerability on top of another, and one emergency on top of another,” said Alice Shackelford, U.N. resident coordinator in Honduras. “It’s a multiplying effect.”

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.