OECD cautious over aid plans for UK veterans

A Royal marine unloads aid supplies from a RAF C-130. Photo by: Cpl Darren Legg RLC / MoD Crown / CC BY

LONDON — The group that sets the global rules for aid spending has cautioned against “upset[ting] community dynamics” after the United Kingdom government pledged last week to use official development assistance to support veterans of the U.K. armed forces living in poverty in former British colonies.

“Across the Commonwealth, many answered the call to serve alongside Her Majesty’s Armed Forces before their countries became independent. And approximately 8,500 of these elderly veterans, or their widows, face a daily struggle to meet their basic needs for decent food, shelter and medicines,” U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt said in a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank.

“I am very pleased to announce that [the Department for International Development] is designing a bespoke program for preindependence Commonwealth veterans, who ... are now living below the poverty line,” she said.

Though Mordaunt touted the program as “a win for the developing world,” officials from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development — which sets the rules for ODA spending through its Development Assistance Committee — said aid that benefits one political or ethnic group over others could create or exacerbate tensions, particularly when the majority of community members face the same hardships.

Yasmin Ahmed, chief statistician at OECD, told Devex that according to the DAC rules, “the U.K. can count as ODA any contribution for the economic development and welfare of Commonwealth countries that are low-income enough to be ODA-eligible, providing what it is spent on falls within the boundaries of ODA.”

At the same time, she added that “such contributions should of course be made in a fair and sensitive way, for example, they should not upset community dynamics or favor one ethnic or political group over another.”

Another official pointed to four current recommendations set out by the OECD’s International Network on Conflict and Fragility, which is co-chaired by the U.K. and Germany, as relevant in some Commonwealth contexts, including “deep analysis of how [donors’] own activities will interact with and impact (directly or indirectly) on peacebuilding and state-building processes” and being “responsive to and sensitive of the conflict when designing, implementing or evaluating programs — to avoid making things worse.”

“This is about ensuring that programming is effective and conflict sensitive, and respecting the principle of ‘Do No Harm,’” they added.

OECD stressed it was too early to say whether the program — which is now entering the design phase — was in violation of ODA recommendations. It is not yet known how much support Commonwealth veterans will receive compared with other Commonwealth citizens currently living in poverty, or compared with U.K.-born armed forces veterans.

Mordaunt said she expects the program “to commence next year,” when the limited funding already provided to Commonwealth veterans through the Treasury’s now-terminated Libor Fund — which was not ODA-funded — runs out. Only U.K. armed forces veterans or their widows will receive funding. They must be from ODA-eligible countries who served prior to their country’s independence from Great Britain.

In the eight months since becoming DFID chief, Mordaunt — a Royal Navy reservist — has consistently advocated for a “deep and strong” connection “between U.K. aid and our armed forces,” as she put it during her Policy Exchange speech. She has also frequently reaffirmed her commitment to advancing progress on the U.K.’s cross-government strategy, which commits to spending 30 percent of all ODA through departments other than DFID by 2020. That includes the Ministry of Defence, the government department usually responsible for supporting U.K. veterans, which Mordaunt said would co-design the program.

She added that DFID and MoD “can inform and support each other to better meet the challenges that we both face,” and said that “at the core of these changes is my intention to make best use of both our budgets. If I can deliver a humanitarian operation and it is cost-effective and appropriate for me to seek the use of U.K. military assets to do so, then I will.”

DFID programs “must demonstrate in everything we do with U.K. aid that it is not just that we are spending money well, but that we couldn’t spend the money better in the national interest,” she added.

Finally, she said the new initiative is “not about the militarization of aid, but about ensuring that each department plays a complementary role.”

DFID declined to comment on the issues raised by the OECD, but stressed that the program would follow the OECD-DAC rules.

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.