DFID is in the process of reviewing its multilateral aid expenditure for value for money. The process began back in June when multilateral organisations were given the opportunity to comment on the methodology and draft criteria for the review.
Ten country case studies were then carried out in August to obtain the views of local organisations and DFID country staff. Some of the information collected from these studies will be published however there are restrictions due to confidentiality.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) based in the UK have also been consulted and were asked to write to the Secretary of State detailing their views and recommendations. As a result of this consultation and the one with the multilateral organisations several other criteria were added to the list. Despite DFIDs transparency guarantee a criterion to measure accountability and transparency was missing from the original draft. This has since been added thanks to the diligence of CSOs.
CSOs were also given the chance to meet with DFID staff to discuss further their experiences with multilateral organisations. This took the form of a roundtable discussion which I had the opportunity of attending last Monday.
The review is welcomed by CSOs although some felt that evaluating an organisations ‘value for money’ is challenging as this could be interpreted in various different ways, what exactly is the definition of value for money? Another concern was raised that some multilateral organisations are due to call for the replenishment of funds before the review is completed, would DFID therefore wait for the outcome of the review or would they go ahead with their contributions as originally planned? This question remains unanswered.
Issues raised during the meeting included the slowness of UN reform, the burden of bureaucracy and the need for increased bilateral involvement. With regards to humanitarian and conflict organisations in particular these main points were raised:
- UN humanitarian/conflict system is western/northern focused
- What are the comparative advantages of the UN agencies? Donors should look into this and use the UN system for what it is good at not for what it is not. Obviously there is great variability amongst countries.
- There has been progress with the UN reform in certain areas such as coordination but there are still weaknesses with others such as partnerships. In some instances UN pooled funds cannot get money to the frontline quickly enough.
- There is a lack of clarity over mandates of multilateral organisations
- Need bilateral involvement, where DFID sits on executive boards they have an opportunity for increased engagement with multilaterals.
- Need integrated policy to deal with disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change, conflict etc.
- Pooled funds are not the only option for funding; a combination of funding channels should be used.
Going forward the views of the CSOs will be put to the Secretary of State directly and will also inform the rest of the review process. The next stage is to carry out a desk-based study to review the multilateral organisations throughout September and October with the aim of publishing the complete report at the beginning of 2011.