Lords of poverty and Hardship tycoons


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A British firm was paid a whopping £67.7 million in management consultancy fees for aid delivery to the poorest communities in Zimbabwe in August last year leading Labour Member of Parliament Diane Abbott to describe the growing number of aid consultants in the UK profiting from aid as Lords of poverty, Hardship tycoons and Pinstriped famine magnates.

Abbott did not state how much aid Britain’s Department for International Development had given to Zimbabwe for which the firm, Futures Group, was paid the consultancy fee, but research by The Insider indicated that DFID unveiled a £365.9 million four-year operational plan for Zimbabwe aimed at reducing poverty in the country.

British aid is not channelled through the government but through non-governmental organisation which also take a cut for administration fees.

According to the plan for 20011- 2015, the bulk of the money, £95 million, will be spent on reproductive, maternal and newborn health. The bulk of this money could also be going back to the UK as British companies are usually contracted to supply products needed.

For example, although local pharmaceutical CAPS was manufacturing condoms and supplying them to the family planning project, when Population Services International took over the supply of condoms it imported them from the UK.

Second on the list is poverty, hunger and vulnerability which will get £80 million pounds.

Education is number three at £43 million, more than £20 million less than the fee of the British consultants.

Abbott queried why more than 90 percent of British aid was now handled by British consultants when there were local consultants in the countries receiving aid who could do the job.

She said that DFID spent £500 million on consultants last year. Of the 117 major DFID contracts since January 2011 only nine went to non UK firms.

“I am concerned about aid as a British parliamentarian, on behalf of the British taxpayer, and as someone with an interest in global realities and the important role that aid can play in creating global stability, and as one who one wants to help the poorest people in the world,” Abbott told Parliament last month.

“I am also concerned about aid because, having personal contacts in some of the countries where it is dished out, I know that it causes huge frustration to see UK-based consultants flying out for a week or a month, staying in four-star hotels, going around in 4×4 vehicles, sending a few e-mails, writing reports that simply regurgitate known facts and then flying back to the UK, when there are local people who have a better understanding of the conditions. Whether it is in Afghanistan, West Africa, the Caribbean or the horn of Africa, local people could do those jobs just as well.

“Furthermore, if we employ locally based consultants, first, we help to build the knowledge base and infrastructure of those countries and, secondly, we pump money into their economies. If the only hope that people in third-world countries have when faced with those bloated UK consultancies is to get a job as a driver, a cook or a nanny, and if in the 21st century we are not prepared to start to shift funding to the skills and talent that we know exist in some of those countries, it is no wonder that the question of aid has become a talking point not only in the UK—often among people who are opposed to the principle of aid in the first place—but in Africa. How much good has that aid really done?”

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development Lynne Featherstone defended Britain’s use of UK consultants arguing that it was not how much the consultants were paid but whether there was value for money.

“I was a little disappointed in a way to hear terms such as trousering money, creaming off the aid budget, lords of poverty and hardship tycoons,” Featherstone said.

“I think that the hon. Lady did her case a disservice, because the real test is whether there is value for money. As to what those lords of poverty get, if the sum delivers the aid and it is effective, the quantity is not the issue. The issue is whether it is effective and whether we get value for money…”

*The Full speech by Diane Abbott and the response from Lynne Featherstone.

*DFID operation plan for Zimbabwe 2011-2015

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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