Damning review of DFID’s anticorruption work attacked

Copyright: DFID

Speed read

  • The UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact gave DFID an amber-red rating
  • Critics say there is insufficient evidence to justify such a low rating
  • But the review leader believes they have misinterpreted the research findings

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    The ICAI report recommended that DFID should:

  1. Work with other UK government departments to articulate and implement a detailed plan on tackling petty corruption in priority countries 
  2. Develop standalone anticorruption strategies extending over ten to 15 years
  3. Create more programmes to target everyday corruption and educate people about its effects
  4. Gather and publish stakeholders’ feedback on its anticorruption work so it can assess and improve existing programmes
  5. Create a centre of excellence to gather evidence, disseminate lessons learned and cultivate expertise to drive anticorruption efforts

A report criticising the anticorruption work of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has itself come under fire for supposed research defects.

The review, published by the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) in October, says that DFID’s efforts to tackle corruption in the countries it supports require “significant improvement” and are insufficiently focused on the poor.

Yet critics tell SciDev.Net that the research that partly informed ICAI’s findings is flawed.

“I think it’s terrible and one of [ICAI’s] worst reviews,” says Mick Moore, a political economist at UK research charity the Institute of Development Studies.

Matthew Stephenson, a professor at Harvard Law School, United States, says that “neither the report’s condemnatory tone nor its primary recommendations are backed up with adequate evidence or cogent reasoning. It is, in most respects, a cautionary example of how incompetent execution can undermine a worthwhile project.”

Following the review, ICAI awarded DFID an amber-red rating, signalling that significant improvements are required. The review found that “the programme performs relatively poorly overall against the commission’s criteria for effectiveness and value for money”.

The ICAI made five recommendations to DFID (see box). 

As part of its research, the commission conducted surveys in Nepal and Nigeria to assess the effectiveness of various DFID anticorruption programmes.

“The way ICAI produces numbers to show that there is no reduction in corruption in the areas in which DFID is working is really bad — it’s subprofessional,” says Moore.

Stephenson points to two ICAI surveys that received response rates of just 18 and 27 per cent. He says this appears to be a “reason to be sceptical of any results”.

Mark Foster, lead commissioner of the ICAI review, says he encourages debate about the report, but adds that critics have misinterpreted the findings.

“There is an apparent sense that we have leveraged the survey results to be a bigger part of the evidence base than they actually were,” he says. “I think some of the critics of the report probably felt that we were using the survey data more to drive our findings, rather than to actually validate them.”

In addition to surveys, the review comprised desk research, fieldwork and detailed interviews. The small surveys were carried out to “test whether the things ICAI were thinking about and hearing about were actually borne out by broader groups of people”, says Foster.

“In some of these cases, the sample sizes are going to be small, but we still stand by the fact that it’s a useful extra perspective that we should bear in mind.”

In response to the review, the UK parliament’s International Development Committee says it has scheduled a hearing on 10 December.

Link to ICAI report

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