Diana Good: Overseas aid has a crucial role in bringing justice

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THERE are daily concerns about the amount of money spent on UK overseas aid. We hear about corruption, waste, incompetence and that the aid budget is ever rising. And risen it has, to 0.7 per cent of gross national income – approximately £12bn.

But did you know that there is a body out there that scrutinises this expenditure? Since 2011, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) has published 42 reports that examine the Government’s aid programmes and assess whether that money is benefitting the poor of developing nations and if it offers value for money for the taxpayer.

I am one of the Commissioners at ICAI, a job that I take great pride in, and we reported last0 week on UK Development Assistance for Security and Justice.

Development assistance for security and justice – namely, support for policing, judicial systems, community justice and related initiatives – is an increasingly important part of the UK aid programme.

It is important because the poor in developing countries face major barriers to accessing security and justice services. They are often remote, especially from rural communities. The costs of travel, accommodation, fees (formal or informal) and lawyers can be prohibitive.

Formal proceedings conducted in an unfamiliar language can be intimidating, while corruption is often pervasive.

In our report, we focused on how UK aid benefits women and girls, In Bangladesh, for instance, approximately 60 per cent of ever married women (women who have been married at least once but may not be currently married) report lifetime physical or sexual violence.

In 2010, dowry-related violence – where a husband abuses his wife in order to extort dowry payments from the wife’s family – was the most common form of violence that women report to police.

Adolescent girls are also acutely at risk. They are five times more likely to be abused than women aged 40–49 and are also the most common victims of acid attacks.

Yet women and girls face an array of barriers when accessing services. People from poor communities find approaching police stations or the formal justice system intimidating and are frequently deterred from by the lengthy delays and high costs of the system. Even where they overcome the barriers to access, they are often denied justice.

We have found that the Government’s security and justice work is showing promising results in addressing some of the needs of women and girls, particularly through community-level initiatives.

We fully support the Department for International Development’s conviction that tackling violence against women and girls should be integral to the UK development agenda.

We believe that there are good foundations here on which DfID can continue to build. The work is most convincing when it focuses on addressing specific challenges for women and girls at a community level.

We do have major concerns though. It is least convincing when trying to improve institutions such as the police in developing nations.

Much of DfID’s policing assistance does not seem to be delivering results. For example, DfID invests in model police stations. By concentrating resources on particular sites, it hopes to demonstrate good practice that will be picked across the police force as a whole. In fact, it is providing difficult to achieve meaningful changes – even in the model police stations themselves.

We were also concerned that DfID has a narrow approach to community policing. It often focuses narrowly on outreach activities by the police, such as appointing community liaison officers or holding open days.

While these can produce temporary improvements in community-police relations, they are not likely to generate real results without broader changes in behaviour and tactics.

DfID should move away from investing broadly in the capacity of security and justice institutions, such as the police, towards specific security and justice challenges.

We believe a “problem-solving” approach has much greater potential to deliver meaningful results for the 
poor. The strategy should 
include working on themes 
such as gender equality, 
labour rights and urban insecurity.

We have recommended a number of measures to improve the quality of DfID’s work. This includes gaining a better understanding of the evidence base behind its programmes.

There have been problems with these programmes but our money has helped people in the poorest countries in the world.

We believe that assistance for security and justice is an important part of the UK aid programme – insecurity and injustice are major priorities for poor people around the world.

Diana Good is a Commissioner at the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.