Behind the fine words, corruption festers

Published by The Mail on Sunday (12th February, 2017)

So now it is official: Adam Smith International, Britain’s biggest specialist aid contractor, engaged in dirty tricks to dupe MPs investigating the creaming off of cash in the aid sector.

The firm is still being investigated for obtaining secret Government documents to gain advantage in commercial bids.

It deserves to be barred from bidding for future contracts. But it should not get all the blame. For this dodgy firm is merely symptomatic of wider corruption that festers behind all those fine words of the poverty industry.

The devastating findings by the International Development Committee – not known for baring its teeth at the aid sector – underscore in starkest terms the problems of daft adherence to a devalued aid target.

Over the course of this decade, the sums doled out to developing nations will double to £16 billion while services at home struggle. This is, remember, borrowed money.

Little wonder one Labour peer said the decision to commit to an outdated UN target of donating 0.7 per cent of national income was so foolish it could have been invented by enemies of aid.

Private firms, some of them tax dodgers, cluster around the rivers of cash flowing from the Department for International Development. Charities mimic them, paying chiefs six-figure sums while pleading for more.

Dfid’s civil servants – the highest paid in Whitehall – see their job as shovelling money out the door rather than protecting taxpayers’ interests. The inevitable legacy is scandal after scandal over the sickening waste.

The department has a shameful record on stopping corruption. And it fails to protect whistleblowers, as I found when one brave man revealed how £400 million had been blown on beach bars on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.

These aid gurus talk grandly of transparency while seeking to frustrate journalists probing waste. DFID even gave me misleading information to throw me off the scent during a probe into overspending on consultants.

The inquiry into profiteering by private firms was only launched after my investigations. And these subsequent revelations about ASI’s behaviour only emerged after a concerned whistleblower passed me leaked documents.

Still the cash flows uncontrolled from Dfid’s coffers.

Somalia – the world’s most corrupt country – is to be handed half a billion pounds. Last week there was an election that one respected observer called ‘a milestone of corruption’. Worse, the aid is given despite internal documents revealing DFID accepts ‘certain’ risk of funds being diverted to terror groups.

This is all the wearily predictable consequence of focusing on spending rather than results. But the biggest villains are those politicians who pose as saviours while unleashing policies that do more harm than good, at home and abroad.

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