Minister blasts poverty barons who skimmed millions from aid budget... as MPs vindicate MoS campaign
A PROFITEERING fat-cat foreign aid contractor exposed by The Mail on Sunday was last night condemned as ‘appalling’ by the International Development Secretary – after a powerful committee of MPs vindicated this newspaper’s investigation.
Priti Patel warned Adam Smith International (ASI) that its £300million of Government contracts would be axed unless it addressed its ‘systemic cultural failure’.
Ms Patel also said her Department for International Development (DFID) had ‘hard lessons’ to learn over the apparent complicity between it and ‘poverty barons’ who skim millions off the UK’s annual £12billion foreign aid budget.
MPs on the International Development Committee (IDC) set up its probe into the billions spent by DFID on contractors in response to a series of revelations by this newspaper about wasted funds.
We also revealed how Peter Young, ASI’s head of strategy, had encouraged glowing testimonials about its work to be sent to the IDC investigation by recipients of UK foreign aid, in an attempt to blunt criticism.
Committee officials who had sifted through suspiciously similar submissions launched a separate inquiry into the testimonials.
They concluded that ASI ‘acted improperly’ by soliciting them and ‘applying pressure to beneficiaries to submit evidence with implied or explicit references to continuation of funding’.
In its report, published today, the committee said it ‘deplored’ the attempt to ‘unduly influence’ its work, and were ‘very concerned by the serious lack of judgment’ displayed by ASI – the UK’s biggest specialist aid contractor.
MPs also raised questions about DFID’s role in the process, after learning about a phone call between a department official and ASI, which the latter interpreted as a ‘request’ to drum up endorsements.
We also revealed how executives at Adam Smith obtained secret DFID documents and used them to win new Government business.
Ms Patel was furious that ASI had made use of the improperly obtained, sensitive documents.
A source close to Ms Patel said: ‘Priti thinks it is appalling. She regards ASI’s conduct as indicative of systemic and cultural failings, which have left a clear question over its ethical integrity. No new contracts will be awarded unless ASI can demonstrate that it has remedied this very serious issue.’
Damningly, the source added that Ms Patel was ‘deeply sceptical’ of the culture in her own department – as highlighted by the official’s call to ASI – saying: ‘DFID has some hard lessons to learn.’
Last night Labour MP Stephen Twigg, the IDC chairman, said: ‘Our report concludes that the aid contractor [ASI] acted improperly. This is a reflection of the culture within one organisation responsible for delivering aid projects for the UK. The wider issues this raises will be considered in the committee’s inquiry into DFID’s use of contractors. We are grateful to The Mail on Sunday for investigating this issue.’
ASI said: ‘We asked for testimonials from beneficiaries in good faith… Our own investigation concurs with the committee’s findings that the way we did so overstepped the mark, which we sincerely regret. To ensure his does not happen again we have taken rigorous steps to tighten procedures.’
CRITICISM: Priti Patel. Far left: Our report exposing the scandal