Baroness Cox speaks in International Development Policy Debate in Parliament

20 November 2015

Last night, 19/11/2015, Baroness Cox spoke in the Short Debate on International Development Policy in the House of Lords. Baroness Cox drew upon some of HART’s partners experiences of working with DfID and highlighted that bureaucratic policies can make it difficult for excellent civil society organisations to secure necessary funding. These organisations are often the only ones who can reach people in need who are trapped behind closed borders or in areas with high security risk.

You can download the full text of the debate below, including the Minister’s reply.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on initiating this important debate. My NGO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—provides aid for valiant partners in challenging conflict or post-conflict situations who demonstrate high standards of narrative and financial accountability. But given DfID’s current policy, they are unable even to apply for DfID funding.

I give two examples, from Burma and South Sudan. In Burma, HART supports Shan Women’s Action Network—SWAN—which provides aid to people in great need inside Shan State and in Thailand. SWAN previously received funding from DfID, but when we visited recently it was very distressed by DfID’s change of policy, which now makes it impossible for it to obtain funding. It says:

“DfID funding is being redirected via the IRC as their single fund manager for all programmes operating out of Thailand. This is unacceptable to SWAN and we are having to look for alternative funders”.

DfID explained its changing funding strategy:

“There will be a change in the fund management arrangement where DfID Burma is consolidating various Thailand programmes under a single Fund manager agent. We took this action in response to the Mid-Term review recommendation to improve on DfID’s accountability and efficiency in running this border programme”.

But SWAN has deep concerns about working with IRC:

“SWAN has accepted funds through IRC in the past but found the reporting requirements extremely demanding—very large amounts of paperwork that was often repetitive and unnecessary, meaning SWAN staff members had to spend a large portion of their time fulfilling reporting requirements, rather than on project management and evaluation. IRC also took a large amount of admin costs, much higher than other organisations. SWAN felt that the large amounts of money allocated to admin costs would be better spent on project activities that directly benefit needy people in the community”.

Therefore, SWAN will not take the funding if the project has to go through IRC. It will need to find new funding sources, as the DfID project ends this November. This is very serious. SWAN’s work is immensely important and DFID’s change of policy will have drastic effects on its ability to continue key programmes.

In South Sudan, HART supports the provision of aid in war-devastated Bahr el Ghazal, through our partner, the Anglican Bishop Moses Deng. This area has received massive influxes of refugees from Sudan—fleeing fighting in Abyei and the Nuba mountains—and, more recently, from the civil war in South Sudan. Bishop Moses sent an SOS to HART: a desperate plea for money for food. I responded with a heavy heart, wishing I were Bill Gates, saying that we are so small that the maximum we could send was a pathetic £10,000. We visited a few months later and the bishop said:

“Thank you for the £10,000. It bought a lot of sorghum and saved many lives. Then our own sorghum harvest ripened early and we were able to share that with the IDPs. I didn’t need to spend all your money. Would you like me to return it? But with your permission, I would like to use it to buy tools and seeds”,

for the IDPs. It is obvious what we said. However, when we visited those IDPs we found conditions of absolute destitution and not another NGO on the horizon. I asked the bishop whether he could apply to DfID for funding, given the reports of all the money DfID is making available to South Sudan. He replied:

“That’s impossible. We don’t have the resources to apply”.

He said that some larger NGOs came later, but by the time they carried out their assessments, and assessed their assessments, it was too late; but HART’s money saved many lives. There must be something seriously wrong with DfID’s system if a person of such standing and integrity faced with acute humanitarian crises cannot even begin to apply for life-saving funds.

I appreciate that the Minister will not be able to respond to specific cases today, but I passionately hope that these examples demonstrate serious problems requiring urgent consideration if DfID’s massive funding programmes are to reach people in such need of aid, through personnel who have the integrity and competence to justify the funds they deserve to receive.

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