The Syria police scandal shows it’s time to reclaim aid from the private profiteers
Today UK aid is on the front pages again for all the wrong reasons. As today’s headlines peddle yet another story of aid misused by private contractors, this time in a conflict zone, the anti-aid lobby have been handed an open goal by the government’s continuing attempts to divert aid away from its core purpose.
The centre of today’s scandal is a multi-million pound aid-funded project to support police forces in Syria, uncovered by the BBC’s Panorama in an episode that will air tonight. The Times also reports that the project, aimed at providing access to justice and community security (AJACS), includes spending on items that are not what you would traditionally imagine to be part of an aid project – smartphones, furniture and cameras, for example. And then there are claims that the project has been paying fictitious staff, and worse still, it has allegedly been supporting horrific acts of violence, including the stoning of two women.
The private consultancy company behind this project – Adam Smith International – are no strangers to controversy. Earlier this year ASI was at the centre of a scandal in which it was accused of attempting to falsify evidence to a parliamentary inquiry. The Commons International Development Select Committee said in February that the company’s behaviour was “deplorable” and “entirely inappropriate” . As a consequence, executives resigned from the company, and DFID announced it would not be giving it any new aid-funded contracts.
The Foreign Office connection
Despite this freeze on new contracts, the government has continued to award ASI aid-funded contracts via the Foreign Office, which is how they received a new injection of £14 million of aid money in April 2017 for their Syria projects, including the AJACS project, only months after this scandal. It seems that by channeling aid funds through different departments, the government has been undermining its own policy in order to keep money flowing to a company that has repeatedly taken ludicrous amounts of taxpayer cash to fund western consultants in the name of ‘fighting poverty’.
ASI has reportedly been charging some £850 a day for its western staff to deliver this work, while Syrians employed on the ground receive as little as £68.50 a day. These are astronomical rates compared to what most people receive here in the UK, never mind in Syria.
Global Justice Now’s previous report into Adam Smith International showed how it became a multi-million pound company thanks to the aid budget. The most recent figures reveal that ASI continue to receive millions of pounds of UK aid money each year, helping it maintain its fruitful profit margins – the company made an impressive £15.4 million profit in 2016. What this means is that public money which is set aside to help alleviate poverty overseas is translating into bumper profits for private interests.
This is an unacceptable use of UK aid. But the solution is not to end aid. Instead, we must reclaim aid from the aid profiteers and bring it back to its core purpose. The fund behind today’s scandal, the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund, must be scrapped. We must make sure that all aid reaches those it is intended for, and that it is solely focused on alleviating poverty and reducing inequality. That would be the right reason to put aid on the front pages.
Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr