LONDON — The U.K. government claimed last week it consulted 26 NGOs about the merger of the Department for International Development and Foreign & Commonwealth Office but is so far refusing to say which ones they are.
It is the latest in an ongoing dispute over what kind of consultation process the government undertook prior to the merger.
When the decision was first announced in June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there had been “massive consultation over a long period of time,” but that claim was quickly denied by leading NGOs, which said they were not aware of any formal consultation taking place.
Last week, the government provided new detail about its claim of a consultation, in response to a report by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Some in the development sector say the substance of the government's integrated review of international policies has already been decided.
The committee had asked the government: “In the interests of accountability, the Government should explain the process that led to the decision to merge the FCO and DFID. We ask that the Government publishes the findings of its consultation, including a list of contributors and the timeframe in which it was executed.”
The government replied: “The allocation of ministerial responsibility and the machinery of government that supports that is a matter for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has considered the question of synergies between FCO and DFID since his time as Foreign Secretary.
“Engagement with relevant parliamentarians has taken, and will continue, to take place. The Government has consulted with 26 NGOs and will continue its ongoing engagement with NGOs both within the UK and internationally.”
No list of contributors to the consultation or an associated timeline was provided. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office declined to provide Devex with further details on which NGOs were consulted.
Bond, which represents 400 aid NGOs, says the government must commit to meaningful engagement with the sector about the merger.
“I’m afraid we wouldn’t normally provide a list of private conversations we’ve had with stakeholders,” an FCDO spokesperson wrote in an email.
Bond, the network for U.K. NGOs, has accused the government of misrepresenting discussions about the coronavirus response as being focused on the merger. Many in the development community say no proper consultation took place.
NGOs and specialist organizations that frequently worked with DFID are concerned that a lack of consultation on the merger could result in a dearth of voices advising on how best to achieve effectiveness, transparency, and value for money in aid spending and development policy.
The government’s integrated review of security, defense, development, and foreign policy has also been accused of not seriously consulting with civil society organizations. The review is due to report in autumn, but no timeline for its publication has been made public.