Haiti, Oxfam and a Better Way of Doing Things


Only the flag pole is usable at Haiti’s Presidential palace 7 years after the Country’s devastating earthquake

I have listened with interest to the discussions about Oxfam and Haiti over the past few days but have noted that there is one thing missing from the discussions. A review of the role of DFID in using mega charities and global consultancies in delivering aid packages and investments. Sometimes the amount that they spend on travel; administration and overheads is a disgrace. As a local government representative, I have often been in the back half of the plane going to events and actions whilst others also being paid by the public purse were in the expensive front half!

Frankly, there is another way not for all the spend but for a considerable amount of the spend which is cheaper, longer lasting, and more transparent. That is to do things through local government.

Haiti is a case in point. One of the major donors in Haiti is the Canadian Government. Much of what they do is delivered on the ground in three distinct phases by the Federation of Canadian Mayors, the Canadian equivalent of our own LGA.

Phase one is provided by emergency services such as fire and police who assist within hours of disasters striking.

Phase two is to provide an unbiased assessment of the needs of the rebuilding process. It is done by local government engineers, surveyors and service delivery experts and the like who have no ongoing interest in contracts etc. to get work and make profits.

Phase three is the long-term rebuilding which is done by skilled local government practitioners mostly technical but also involving political leadership. This work not only involves the practical doing of things that need doing in terms of rebuilding physical, social, community and organisational infrastructures but also involved building the permanent capacity of local and regional governments to manage, organise and lead.

In this way you get double benefit for your money – immediate relief and a long-term strengthening of organisations that are strongly rooted in openness and democracy.

These ideas are not new. I discussed them a number of times when, between 20007 and 2016 I was the International spokesperson for the Local Government Association and represented the UK on UCLG the world body for local government. We argue that not only does DFID and the host country benefit but so does local government in this Country. DFID would benefit by reduced costs; the host country gets immediate practical advice and support from current experts and our own local government gets career development which can flow back into our own operations.

The UK does, of course give small amounts of money to organisations like Cities Alliance and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum. But these are very small amounts compared to the routing through local government given by such countries as Sweden; France, Holland and the EU. If you look at the track record of Cities Alliance and CLGF the amount of intervention you get for your money is huge. They are cost-effective, respected and could do much, much more.

I no longer have any responsibility for this within the LGA although occasionally I still do things for local government in Africa. I do believe, however, that this is the time for the Government to enter into a full discussion with the LGA, Cities Alliance and CLGF about ways in which they could enhance their role.

As I have listened to the debate about Oxfam and sex and abuse in the past few days I have been struck by the fact that the Government seems to be blaming everyone except itself for what has happened. DFID has set the ground rules; awarded the contracts and is supposed to monitor those contracts. It has in-country based representatives in all countries where we give aid. Did none of these people pick up any of the difficulties which were clearly being experienced? Did pour Ambassadors and High Commissioners and Consuls-General not pick up any murmurs or discussion about what was going wrong at some scale?

Apparently, it has been asleep at the wheel and not picking up some fundamental problems with what it was paying for.

I have challenged the Secretary of State at DFID, Penny Mordaunt and the Chair of he DFID Select Committee, Stephen Twigg, to do things differently. Let’s see if either of them is prepared to take action.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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