Justine Greening orders probe into DfID’s use of contractors

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening. Photo by: Department of Transport

The U.K. Department for International Development’s use of contractors and consultants is about to come under close scrutiny, both internally and through an independent review.

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening has asked for an internal review of DfID’s spending on technical experts, a representative of the department said Sept. 17. Greening, who assumed the post early this month, “is taking a close look at every aspect of the department’s spending,” the representative added.

The announcement of an internal review follows the release of an investigation by conservative British newspaper the Sunday Telegraph. The newspaper says it found that the United Kingdom is paying millions of pounds to private consultancy firms whose senior officials earn up to 2 million pounds ($3.25 million) per year. The newspaper dubbed these officials as “poverty barons.”

The Sunday Telegraph’s report also criticized the United Kingdom’s use of foreign consultancy firms as well as its practice of hiring consultants who are former DfID officials. These former officials, according to the Telegraph, have seen “substantial increases in their personal wealth since leaving the department” despite doing “essentially the same work.”

A separate review is also set to look into DfID’s use of contractors in delivering and managing its aid programs. The review is to be led by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, a watchdog group created as part of the coalition government agreement between the United Kingdom’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. ICAI published on Sept. 14 an advertisement seeking a service provider to conduct the study.

DfID is not the first major bilateral agency to come under fire over its use of contractors and consultants — which are typically criticized for being overpaid. The Australian Agency for International Development, for instance, has overhauled its procurement after receiving criticism on the amount it spends on private consultants. The U.S. Agency for International Development is also revising its procurement strategy in a bid to channel more aid directly through country systems and local organizations.

Contractors, meanwhile, maintain they are proud of the job they do. Charito Kruvant of Creative Associates International, for instance, has told Devex: “We’re all implementers. Whenever we did something wrong, we spoke up and things changed. But also, we shouldn’t feel bad about who we are and what we do.”

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.