UK aid watchdog undergoes review

Traffic light. The U.K. Independent Commission for Aid Impact uses the traffic light system for its evaluations. Photo by: Tomas Aceytuno

Public consultations for the first-ever review of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact starts today (March 27). Aid groups have yet to learn the full terms of the consultation, but Amy Dodd, coordinator for the U.K. Aid Network, a coalition of U.K.-based aid organizations, was able to share her thoughts with Devex on ICAI, its work and areas for improvement.

“One of the things that’s been really positive from our perspective is that they are quite open to engaging with the NGO community,” said Dodd. “There’s been a lot of mutual feedback, them coming to us, and us coming to them.”

But Dodd raised issues about ICAI’s methodology, including its use of the traffic light system in reports. For instance, ICAI’s report on how the U.K. Department for International Development oversees EU aid to low-income countries was given an amber-red rating, which means the program is “relatively poor” and needs significant improvements.

Dodd said the report — published in December 2012, covering EU aid to Mozambique, Tajikistan and Uganda — was not that bad.

“It wasn’t a very, very positive report, but it wasn’t a very, very negative report either. But obviously if you’ve got a big red light on the front of something, the way it gets reported in the media is quite negative,” she said.

“I think the point is that they didn’t want to be in the middle, but then again, that kind of pushes you towards some reports perhaps seeming more negative than they are, or vice versa,” she noted.

In network discussions, Dodd said some of the areas they would like ICAI to look at are DfID’s broader policy issues, such as the department’s health and education strategy and a focus on long-term impact and effectiveness.

“We want to know: Is this good aid? Is it going to make an impact in the long-term?” she said.

The coalition aims to garner input from its members for a paper it plans to publish for a review of the aid watchdog. One of the biggest questions would be if and when has ICAI been useful, although Dodd said “we probably think it has.”

U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening announced the ICAI review last Thursday (March 21) as one in a series of so-called “triennial reviews of nondepartmental public bodies.” These reviews aim at increasing accountability for actions carried out on behalf of the state.

The review is in accordance with the DfID-ICAI memorandum of understanding, which requires “a robust and rigorous review” of ICAI taking place by the end of 2013 to assess the continuing need for an independent scrutiny function.

The first stage of DfID’s review of ICAI will focus on the body’s key functions, their efficacy, and how they contribute to the core business of DfID. At a second stage, the review will determine whether ICAI is operating in line with the principles of good corporate governance.

The outcome of the review will be announced in the British Parliament by the end of December this year.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.