Four Labour Party members of Parliament are seeking election to chair the U.K. House of Commons International Development Committee for the next five years.
The committee’s previous chairman Sir Malcolm Bruce, Liberal Democrat MP for Gordon, stood down at the last election. But the collapse of Lib Dem representation at Westminster in the May 7 general election meant the party had no role in negotiating with government whips on committee chairs.
Instead, in a deal worked out between the governing Conservative Party, the opposition Labour Party and the third party, the Scottish Nationalist Party, whips decided which party should chair the committee on the basis of representation in Parliament. The committee chair was allocated to Labour.
To be nominated to stand the chair has to gain the support of 15 MPs from within their own party and five from opposition parties. All MPs have a vote and an election will take place Wednesday, with a runoff the following week between the top two candidates if no one candidate achieves an overall majority.
The four candidates are Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds, North West; Stephen Twigg, MP for Liverpool, West Derby; Albert Owen, MP for Ynys Mon; and Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton, South East.
All four are standing on platforms promising tougher scrutiny of the government’s Department for International Development — some with a stronger emphasis on whether the U.K. gets the best value for money from contractors or nongovernmental organizations commissioned to carry out overseas aid.
Fabian Hamilton is the only candidate who has already served on the committee and he has a wealth of experience in the field of scrutinizing overseas aid.
“I do not think that there is enough scrutiny of private sector contractors involved in the delivery of our aid programs,” he said. “In the last Parliament I was the chair of the IDC subcommittee to which the Independent Commission on Aid Impact was accountable and was able to see at least some scrutiny of the contractors.”
Hamilton told Devex he aims to “beef up” ICAI to ensure that potential abuses are discovered quickly and dealt with efficiently. He pledged to ensure DfID does not attempt to control ICAI’s agenda and investigations, adding that he was “confident” that new ICAI Chief Commissioner Alison Evans would work hard to keep ICAI genuinely independent.
He explained that key priorities for future enquiries included the effectiveness of U.K. aid in some of the world’s poorest countries. Other focus areas included exploring how to target aid to the poorest middle-income countries, assessing how well U.K. aid has helped prevent death and serious injury in Nepal following April’s earthquake and investigating how the U.K. could better use the money spent on helping Syrian refugees — he mentioned water poverty in Jordan and the detrimental effect on Lebanon, which has seen its population increase by more than one-third in four years. Perhaps most importantly of all, he urged the importance of assessing the effect of climate change on the poorest nations and their populations.
“I would also like to look at the effect of religious persecution on aid and poverty in those countries where the religious minority are being targeted by the state,” he said, adding that it was important to take evidence from a wider range of witnesses and organizations and not just those who work in the “sometimes rarified world” of development expertise.
Stephen Twigg’s nominators include Andrew Mitchell MP, the former Conservative international development secretary. He is a former director at the think tank Foreign Policy Center and has worked in Rwanda for the Aegis Trust.
His bid is to take a wide-ranging look at overseas aid marrying up to support with private economic development.
“International development is not just about aid,” he said. “That is why the Addis Ababa financing for development conference is so important, ensuring the sources of finance available to grow businesses in least-developed countries are expanded.”
Twigg’s key priorities include infrastructure, public services and trade.
“Taxpayers’ money must be deployed not only where there is need but also where it can be shown to be succeeding,” he said. “There is an important role for the private sector in development policy.”
However, he said that it is vital that there is a proper system of scrutiny and oversight in place, driven by three key principles:
● A relentless focus on poverty reduction in both low- and middle-income countries.
● Capacity building so that poorer countries can develop effective public and private sectors.
● Learning from what works to maximize both aid effectiveness and the impact of wider development policy.
Albert Owen, a backbench MP since 2001, wants to change the role of the committee and conduct more controversial inquiries, giving Myanmar and Yemen as two examples.
He wants to broaden the list of witnesses to include U.N. special envoys, volunteers and local groups, as well as established NGOs. Owen also proposes setting up subcommittees to look into different aspects of overseas aid in greater detail.
Yasmin Qureshi is a barrister who worked on a U.N. mission to Kosovo, heading up the Criminal Legal Unit and setting up a ministry of justice in the country. She wants to toughen up scrutiny of the aid budget.
“This must begin with greater scrutiny of DfID’s budget,” she said. “Excessive spending on external consultants and wastage must be better scrutinized to ensure that taxpayers recognize that their money is being well spent.”
Qureshi wants private and public sector companies “to be heavily scrutinized” to make sure aid funds are spent on those who need them the most and not on “rent accommodation in the most expensive party of the city.”
“They have expensive cars and spend most of money on administration,” she pointed out. “And consultant costs. This needs to be looked in the bidding process and the awarding of contracts.”
Qureshi’s proposed inquiries would include a closer look at the aid program in Myanmar and aid money for the rule of law and civic society.