Poor communication hampers shifting aid relationships, ICAI finds

16 Nov 16

Poor communication and relationship management weakened the process of ending the UK’s traditional aid relationships with countries including India, China and South Africa, a review has found.

In a report issued today, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact examined how well the Department for International Development managed the process of ending bilateral aid, or transitioning to new forms of development partnerships, in seven countries.

It found that in several cases the department had not specified clear objectives for its new development partnership, or how that partnership would work. The process was also not well communicated, either within recipient countries, or to the UK public.

ICAI, which scrutinises taxpayer-funded UK aid, also found examples of poor planning which led to weaknesses in a number of areas, including staffing and relationship management.

For each country, the end to financial aid did not necessarily spell the end to all forms of aid. Some existing flows will continue, in areas such as technical assistance, centrally managed programmes and spending by departments other than DFID.

Overall, ICAI graded the performance of DFID on existing and transitioning from countries as ‘amber-red’ – which means significant improvement is required.

The case of Vietnam, however, was cited by the report as a good example of how to change an aid relationship. Here, DFID had produced clear objectives, planned effectively and taken care to ensure the benefits of historical programmes were not lost.

Francesca Del Mese, the ICAI commissioner who led the review, said that managing the transition from traditional aid to new kinds of development partnerships is increasingly important for DFID in the current aid landscape.

She said: “This review stresses the importance of clear objectives, effective planning and strong communication.

“Without a robust process, there is the risk of misunderstanding and miscommunication about what remains as part of the UK’s aid relationship, both within the countries themselves, and with the UK public.

“DFID must strengthen how it plans for change in its aid relationships with countries, and ensure it communicates to UK taxpayers clearly to avoid the risk of confusion.”

Based on its review, ICAI has made a series of recommendations for improving the DFID’s performance in the future.

The department should establish a central point of responsibility for exit and transition, and redress the “lack of central policy, guidance and lesson learning”. In the future, it should articulate clearer objectives at the strategic and operational levels. 

Also, it should work together with other government departments to improve relationship management with bilateral government partners through the transition process. This should include joint risk management, and better communication.

DFID should be accountable to UK taxpayers regarding commitments to end aid, or change aid relationships, in a transparent manner. This information should be readily accessible to the public.

Finally, ICAI suggested the government should assess the consequences for local and civil society partners, during transition and exit, including financial and other impacts. 

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