Has Liam Fox been sneaking money out of the aid budget?

Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox. Photo by: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC BY-ND

When people talk about how transparency can prevent corruption in aid, they often have dodgy officials in developing countries foremost in their minds.  Recent events in the U.K. have, however, prompted reflection of the role of transparency closer to home.

Last week it seemed like everyone was so busy talking about the leaked letter from Liam Fox (Secretary of State for Defense) to Prime Minister David Cameron on international aid, that they barely had time to actually read the thing.

For me, the most shocking part of the letter wasn’t Fox’s opposition to the government’s proposal to legislate on the 0.7 percent promise (about as surprising as Owen Barder’s support for economists) – it was Fox’s complaint about transparency in aid spending.

Let’s look at what he actually said:

 “…as a result of the wider drive to improve the transparency and accountability of international development work, the Government’s own monitoring and reporting requirements for ODA (aid) are likely to become more stringent. This may present risks to my department’s ability to both report certain priority activities as ODA and, therefore, to receive funding for them from the Conflict Pool.”

So, basically, if it’s possible to see exactly what Dr. Fox’s defence department are trying to report as aid, there would probably be a judgement that these activities are outside the OECD rules. I can’t see a way to interpret this other than to say that Dr. Fox is complaining because he will no longer be able to sneak money out of the aid pot for his defence activities without anyone noticing.

How much money has he been sneaking out already? If Fox wasn’t breaking the rules, he’d having nothing to fear from transparency. Is this an admission that Dr. Fox’s defence department have already been misusing aid?

There are incredibly clear lines on what can be counted as aid and what cannot. If any of these lines have been deliberately crossed, we would have to say that this is a case of corruption. We couldn’t ask for a clearer piece of evidence that transparency really is critical to ensuring that aid is spent legitimately, wisely and where it is needed most.

Re-published with permission. Please read the original blog post.

About the author

  • Amy Pollard

    Amy has focused much of her tenure as a lead analyst at the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development on aid effectiveness. She has seved as a research officer at the Overseas Development Institute and worked as a consultant for DfID, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Amy is based in London.