UNESCO claims factual errors, political bias in DfID multilateral review

Pallets of humanitarian relief from the U.K. Department for International Development arrive in Sierra Leone. Photo by: James Fulker / DfID / CC BY

The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization is pushing back against the poor rating it received from the U.K. Department for International Development in its recent Multilateral Development Review.

A UNESCO director told Devex in an exclusive interview that he believes the review was based on inaccurate data and may have been motivated by political winds against aid within the U.K. DfID did not respond to requests for comment by the time for publication.

Vincent Defourny, director of the public information division, told Devex that DfID’s strategy of withholding aid contributions until agencies comply with U.K. standards could threaten the multilateral system. UNESCO scored “adequate” in the category “match with UK development objectives” and scored “weak” in the other “organizational strength” category in December’s MDR.

“We can see there is a trend in the international cooperation world, of having that kind of approach, and using the payment of dues as as kind of blackmail,” Defourny told Devex.

“How can we, from a managerial point of view, manage if we need to consult 195 different sets of performance indicators demanded by 195 different member states?”

DfID is rapidly expanding its use of multilateral “performance agreements,” through which it independently evaluates an organization and promises to cut off funding unless the organization meets a series of indicators for improvement within a certain timeframe. It introduced a similar agreement for the other poorly performing organizations in the MDR, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Organization for Migration, all of which received “adequate” ratings.

Last year the Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel also introduced conditions on the U.K.’s contributions to the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, both of which ranked highly in the MDR. The new MDR commits to applying these agreements to all multilateral partners by 2020.

Defourny said DfID did not consult with UNESCO’s 58-member executive board — of which the U.K. is a member — about the indicators it would use for the evaluation. He claimed this risks subverting the individual mandates of U.N. agencies, which range widely, from caring for refugees to protecting the environment to regulating food and agriculture.

“They should bring their concerns through the governing bodies of the international organizations — using the governing bodies in which there are operating,” Defourny said.

UNESCO hosted the DfID Director for International Relations Gwen Hines two weeks ago at its offices in Paris, France, Defourny confirmed, where UNESCO officials explained their concerns and also pointed out what he said were several factual errors in DfID’s review. The U.N. agency submitted a 25-page response correcting the errors, including misquoted statistics, such as a more than $20 million discrepancy in UNESCO’s annual expenditure on management and administration of its field network.

“The level of inaccuracy —- that’s part of the surprise, that’s why we want to make our response public,” Defourny said, “because they make their review public and if they’re using inaccurate figures, this is unfair.”

“At the end of the day several of the issue they are pointing out have already been solved. Maybe they were not properly documented, that we did not give enough information, so we will continue discussing with them to maintain a very clear dialogue,” he said.

Defourny said DfID acknowledged the claims and “would review” the findings. He added that “several other member states, including EU [members] but not only,” expressed concerns about the U.K.’s approach during Hines’ Paris visit.

“[Hines] said at one stage withdrawal of U.K. from UNESCO was considered, but it was not the line they took,” he said.

The UNESCO director asked whether “the political aspects, the politicization of aid in the context of Brexit, and the review of the role of the U.K. in international scene” might have influenced DfID’s evaluation.

“It’s a narrow view and to me, I think here’s a real discussion about what this means,” he said. “It’s the paradigm of multilateral development at stake here.”

For more U.K. news, views and analysis visit the Future of DfID series page, follow @devex on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FutureofDfID.

About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former 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.