The government today faced criticism after a damning report found that British taxpayers’ money is funding corruption in foreign countries.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) said that in some cases British foreign aid is actively encouraging corrupt practices, such as bribery.
In one example, individuals and organizations in Nepal were being encouraged to forge documents to gain access to funds from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID).
In another instance, a DfID program aimed at tackling police corruption in Nigeria resulted in an increase in the bribery payments.
The report concludes that a significant chunk of the DfID’s £10.3 billion aid budget is being wasted because the government is not doing enough to tackle corruption in foreign countries.
The ICAI gave the Department for International Development a poor ‘Amber-Red’ rating, criticising the fact that only a small proportion of its budget is specifically targeted at fighting corruption.
The report also says that the department was often scared of tackling corruption out of fears it would offend local officials.
Graham Ward, chief commissioner at the ICAI, said they had seen “very little evidence that the work DFID is doing to combat corruption is successfully addressing the impact of corruption as experienced by the poor.”
“Indeed, there is little indication that DFID has sought to address the forms of corruption that most directly affect the poor – so-called ‘petty corruption’,” Mr Ward added.
Such petty corruption included parents paying bribes to teachers in order to educate children; students paying bribes to administrators to take exams; workers paying bribes to get jobs and to be paid; and pensioners paying bribes to receive pensions.
The report will be a huge embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron who had pledged to bring in measures to protect the UK’s foreign aid and ensure that it is spent in the best possible way, despite criticism by some who say that Britain can ill-afford to send vast amounts of money overseas when there are far more pressing needs at home.
Labour immediately latched on to the report to criticize the government.
Alison McGovern MP, Shadow International Development Minister, said: “This damning report should send shockwaves through David Cameron’s government. Justine Greening should have zero tolerance of corruption – especially when it is hitting the poorest – but instead the Independent Commission has found her asleep at the wheel.
“This is about many of the world’s poorest people having to pay bribes for life’s essentials – food, water or even safety – setting back the cause of poverty reduction and severely reducing the effectiveness of UK aid.”
The DfID however, defended its work, with a spokeswoman saying the department had “effective” anti-corruption and counter fraud plans for each country that receives bilateral aid.
“While these plans are tailored to the individual needs of each country, they are based on a common principle that tackles the root causes of corruption by building strong institutions and requiring good governance”, she added.