UK aid to Pakistan questioned

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An education campaign in Pakistan funded by the United Kingdom has come under fire – raising questions about limits to the U.K. aid agency’s oversight.

The country’s education program have widely been regarded a success: Just last October, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact gave it - together with other U.K. aid programs in Pakistan - a “green-amber” rating, which suggests relatively well overall performance albeit with some room for improvement. The education program was specifically cited for “scalable, sustainable and promising” results.

A new investigation, however, has put a question mark on the U.K.’s education program - the country’s top priority in Pakistan. At issue is a £20 million “better schools” media campaign awarded by the Department for International Development to the Mir Khalil ur Rahman Foundation, which then engaged the Geo/Jang media group “without a tendering process.” The foundation is named after the late Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman, whose son now runs the media group. That group is now accused of overcharging other media outlets to advance the campaign; as a result, coverage is limited, reducing the effectiveness of the DfID-sponsored campaign.  

This has caught the attention of Lord Nazri Ahmed, a controversial political figure previously suspended from the Labour Party for offering a £10 million bounty to anyone who captures Barack Obama and George W. Bush, the current and former U.S. president, respectively. Ahmed now is demanding an assessment of U.K.’s aid package to Pakistan, which is set to reach more than £1.1 billion by 2015.

A DfID spokesperson brushed aside the request, noting: “A recent review by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recognised the strength of DfID’s approach to improving education in Pakistan. They praised our ‘work with senior political leaders, opposition parties, the media, NGOs and the international community to build a consensus in favour of reform’.”

Still, the controversy comes at an inopportune time as public discontent in Britian about the ring-fenced foreign aid budget continues to grow amid tough domestic budget cuts. It could increase pressure on U.K. leaders to review spending priorities especially to Pakistan, a country that has received its fair share of bad press lately for a series of violent attacks and governance issues.

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    Adrienne Valdez

    Adrienne Valdez is a staff writer for Devex, covering breaking international development news for the Development Newswire. Before joining Devex, Adrienne worked as a news correspondent for a public-sector modernization publication.