LONDON — U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt said on Monday that she still believes in the “great work” being done by NGOs, but that the U.K. aid sector needs to change the way it operates to make sure that beneficiaries are put first.
Speaking at the annual Bond conference in London on Monday, Mordaunt maintained her tough line on the “morally repugnant” actions of “a small number” of humanitarian staff revealed in recent weeks to have engaged in sexual misconduct and alleged sexual abuse, but she confirmed her commitment to the size of the U.K. aid budget and value of British aid staffers’ work.
See more Devex coverage on sexual exploitation in the aid sector:
“In my first week, I told you that I believe in aid. And I’ve not changed my mind,” she said, adding, “And I believe in you … the organizations in this room do great work.” Mordaunt, who has been Britain’s aid chief for only four months, said she doesn’t want her time in office to be defined by a response to tackling sexual exploitation and abuse within the sector. She said she wants to drive broader change within aid.
"Let this moment not just be a wake-up call to improve safeguarding. Let it also be a wakeup call to all we must be, if we are to deliver on our promise to the world’s poor,” she said.
Mordaunt was staunch in her defense of the aid budget and said that those who try to use the current scandal — which was triggered by revelations of alleged abuse by Oxfam staff in post-earthquake Haiti in 2011 — as an excuse to call on the budget to be cut “have been met with short shrift.”
“I’m committed to aid and 0.7 percent. But having said that, we do need to pick up the pace,” she said. Mordaunt added that she wants to make a start in revitalizing public pride and trust in the aid sector. “It’s really important to reconnect the British public,” she said, adding that “they believe in what we do. They are just skeptical about how we go about doing it.”
The minister’s speech was broadly welcomed by attendees at Bond.
However, some onlookers expressed concern about an emphasis on military and private sector involvement in aid as part a soon-to-be announced “new development offer,” outlined by Mordaunt, including greater cooperation between DFID and U.K. armed forces and the private sector.
The secretary of state talked more about her plans for greater collaboration on development across Whitehall departments, involving more synchronized planning. She said this cooperation must extend beyond Whitehall and include civil society and other U.K. organizations.
Mordaunt also emphasized aid in the national interest agenda, saying she will make “U.K. aid work harder delivering for the world’s poor … [but] also for U.K. prosperity upon which the U.K. depends.” She also reiterated her commitment to end funding for organizations that “do not deliver our objectives, contribute to the [Sustainable Development] Goals, or live up to our standards. Putting DFID’s beneficiaries first will also be key to this new approach, she said.
When asked about how Brexit would affect U.K. development, Mordaunt said that while the amount of funding channeled to the EU would “tail off,” the British government would maintain European partners but “will have more control over the money.”
She also pointed to the creation of new bilateral alliances, such as the Sahel Alliance and hinted at new trade deals with developing countries, saying “if we get things right on trade, we will be able to do so much more for developing countries.”