I’ve got hold of ‘Official Sensitive’ government business plans. They can help us on bids

Published by The Mail on Sunday (4th December, 2016)

A former government official now working for Adam Smith International obtained secret files revealing aid policies and spending plans for the next four years – then boasted this would help the firm when bidding for contracts.

Raja Dasgupta, ASI’s senior international development manager for Africa, emailed the confidential documents – one marked ‘Official Sensitive’ covering British activities in war-torn Somalia – to nine executives and one regional management team last month.

‘Please find attached some draft Dfid Business Plans that I’ve got hold of (unfortunately not all of the countries we’re interested in),’ Dasgupta wrote.

‘I’d appreciate if you could treat these with the right level of sensitivity – it could be detrimental if DFID know that we have these, particularly via me.

‘I think these can help us on BD [business development] planning and strategic approach on bids.’

Last night Dfid said it had launched an urgent investigation into The Mail on Sunday revelations, which it called ‘incredibly serious’.

The 18 business plans were drawn up by civil servants and diplomats. They set out Dfid strategies for spending billions in 18 key countries and areas of interest, including several of the biggest recipients of British aid, with detailed political and security analysis.

Legal experts said taking such secret state papers may break laws on confidence and procurement regulations, which could lead to the firm being sued and barred from working with government.

‘ASI are in real s***,’ said one source at Dfid. ‘This begs so many questions over how they operate.’

Among those who received the documents from Dasgupta was Corin Mitchell, head of market development and impact investment. He replied with a simple two-word message: ‘Very useful.’

When asked about this on Friday, Mitchell said he could not recall last month’s email exchange.

Other recipients included Zane Kanderian, director of Middle East and Africa; Myles Bush, director of justice, security and peacebuilding; Adam Molleson, head of infrastructure; and Tim Ash-Vie, head of climate change. A spokesman for the firm said senior directors had no knowledge of confidential documents being circulated.

The revelation of such dirty tricks left rivals stunned. ‘It’s incredibly useful to have such information,’ said one experienced contractor. ‘This is very valuable since the way to win procurement bids is to reflect back to Dfid their own thinking.

‘I have never seen such things before. I find it quite extraordinary. It is simply wrong.’

The detailed Dfid reports provide candid political and economic insights into countries where it operates, together with risk analysis, policy shifts and spending plans for the next four years. The papers discuss corruption, thieving regimes, stability and security.

Among the draft and final documents taken by ASI are reports into Ethiopia and Pakistan, Britain’s two biggest aid recipients; conflict zones such as Somalia and Syria; regional development across Africa; and climate change strategy, allocated at least £5.8 billion up to 2021.

Sources at Dfid said the reports were due to be edited, with sensitive political and security analysis and other parts removed before publication. ‘The full and frank conversations in them would definitely come out,’ said one source.

Such advance insight into government thinking is invaluable for a firm such as ASI, which has built a hugely profitable business as Dfid outsources big chunks of its spiralling aid spending – due to soar from £12 billion to £16 billion by 2020.

Former Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the allegations had to be addressed. ‘It is important that delivery of Britain’s development and humanitarian programmes should be done with complete probity,’ he said.

ASI has become Britain’s biggest specialist aid contractor, winning projects around the world, from assisting mining practices in Afghanistan to tax reform in Oman. The firm won Dfid deals worth more than £450 million between 2011 and 2015, plus another £112.2 million in the last financial year.

One aid veteran, who carried out jobs with ASI in Africa, said: ‘When I worked for them it was an eye-opener to see the waste and how our aid was not about poverty-reduction but about jollies, corporate workshops and company profits.

‘We all wondered how they seemed to win so many bids from Dfid.’

Such fears are underscored by leaked ASI emails. One sent in June to directors from a manager in east and southern Africa reported that Dfid ‘sees us as partners, not suppliers.’ The emails also expose how ASI – whose directors include former Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind – works hard to forge useful political relationships.

After a private lunch with Dfid’s most senior civil servant, ASI’s director of strategy Peter Young emailed staff in June to highlight a change in Whitehall policy that meant departments other than Dfid would be spending £5 billion by 2020.

Young wrote: ‘They will need large companies used to spending ODA [overseas development assistance],’ adding ‘we should get to know’ two named Whitehall officials. Young also reported back to senior management on ‘a productive meeting’ at the Tory Party conference with Kelly Tolhurst, the parliamentary private secretary to Priti Patel, the current Dfid Secretary.

The director then emailed ASI staff last month with the ‘urgent priority’ to identify how aid assisted British businesses, a shift of priority under Patel. ‘It has been stressed to us informally that this is now being factored in to bid evaluation,’ he said.

A Dfid spokeswoman said the allegations regarding confidential papers were ‘incredibly serious and would constitute a clear breach of the high standards and integrity expected of all our contractors.’

She said an investigation into possible misuse of Dfic internal documents for commercial gain was under way. ‘There will be appropriate consequences for those found to have acted inappropriately.’

A spokeswoman for ASI said they were conducting ‘a rigorous’ inquiry into a member of staff who appeared to have circulated unpublished Dfid reports in October. She said senior directors were unaware of any confidential documents circulated within their company, adding: ‘Some unpublished Dfid reports were sent to some members of staff, on an entirely unsolicited basis.’

She said the documents contained information available elsewhere so did not provide a commercial advantage. ‘We will not tolerate any incidents of malpractice. We do, and will, take swift and firm appropriate action against anyone found responsible for inappropriate behaviour.’

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