Department for International Development Annual Report and Resource Accounts 2010-11 and Business Plan 2011-15 - International Development Committee Contents

5  Technical Co-operation

48. The Department spends about £450 million a year, equivalent to around 10% of its total bilateral programme on technical cooperation. This figure is based on a broad definition of technical cooperation, including, according to the NAO, work to enhance the knowledge, skills and capability of people in recipient countries and to assist the provision of services in developing countries, but also the management, on the Department's behalf, of large strategic programmes. It uses a large number of providers for these services, but an increasing proportion of funding is concentrated in the largest 20 suppliers.[49]

49. In this section we look at whether the Department is obtaining value for money from its expenditure on technical co-operation, whether it has the right balance between expenditure on consultants and the use of in-house expertise and, most importantly, whether the Department should make as much use as it does of consultants to run its major service delivery programmes.  

The use of consultants to enhance the knowledge, skills and capability of people in recipient countries

50. The Department pointed out that it is basically a commissioning organisation unlike development organisations such as the German Technical Co-operation Foundation, which employees 15,000 experts who deliver the programme. The Department pays technical co-operation providers for advisory services to developing countries. We understand the rationale for paying for technical experts to provide services in developing countries, but sought assurance from DFID that it was keeping costs down and using in-house capacity where this provided better value-for-money. We questioned in particular why the Department was paying consultants large amounts of public money in fees for development work when it was cutting its use of consultants advising on internal strategy. 

51. The Department informed us that it used a competitive system to drive down costs, but in some cases, the skills were in short supply and providers could charge a premium.[50] It also informed us that it was employing  additional in-house experts in some fields, such as public financial management, but it would never be able to have a full spectrum of international expertise within the Department.

The reason we have the model we have [with DFID as a commissioner of services] is so that we are not providing only things we happen to have but are able to respond to requests that evolve over time from different countries.[51]

The use of consultants to manage DFID service delivery programmes

52. We also asked the Department about the use of consultants to manage DFID's own service delivery programmes. The response was unfortunately unclear.[52] Worryingly, the Department was unable to quantify how much it has paid on different types of technical co-operation as its information systems do not enable it to identify expenditure by purpose.[53]

53.   The Department needs to improve its assessment of which types of projects and services it should use consultants for; in particular, DFID should assess more carefully the use of consultants to manage the Department's own service delivery programmes.. We also recommend that DFID identify expenditure on technical co-operation by purpose.

Parliamentary strengthening programmes

54. As part of its technical cooperation work, the Department works to strengthen the capacity of parliaments in developing countries. In the inquiry we considered two aspects of this work:

  • the role of public accounts committees; and
  • the role of MPs and the UK Parliament


55. We questioned officials about the work of parliamentary public accounts committees and whether it would be possible to tie DFID aid in a particular country to the notice that governments took of their own parliamentary public accounts committees. We were informed that public accounts committees' reports in many developing countries were improving. The Permanent Secretary said:

'when we are providing budget support in a country, we say that 5% of the resource we will provide will go to strengthening all of those accountability systems. It is partly about what parliaments do, but I think it has to go more broadly as well. The media has a really important role to play. NGOs, thinktanks and other lobby groups have an important role to play, so that it becomes impossible for the executive to ignore the legislature when something is found that needs to be sorted out. We need to strengthen all those things, and personally, I would like to see the Department doing more over the next few years.[54]

The Permanent Secretary added that focusing on public financial management and better use of resources was a 'growing priority'. DFID was also not providing any money through the government in countries where corruption was rife, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Department was attempting to achieve this whilst avoiding 'punishing the poor for the sins of their leaders'.[55]


56. DFID has 15 schemes for parliamentary support programmes as part of its bilateral programmes. The Permanent Secretary said:

Building up the whole of the accountability side in developing countries is a priority [...] We do a little bit more than we used to; it includes the media, civil society, the private sector and a range of others, but parliaments are obviously fundamental.[56]

57. DFID has used a variety of organisations to undertake this work. Some projects had been unsuccessful, such as a UNDP-led project in Bangladesh in 2001-05. A report which the Department commissioned in 2007 on Parliamentary strengthening in developing countries from ODI, noted:

UNDP was the lead agency, tasked with the role of coordination and managing pooled funds. There was much delay, and little progress was made. Indeed the project completion report suggested that this was "an example of how not to approach strengthening parliamentary committees[57]

58. Officials agreed that there was scope, as part of its parliamentary strengthening work, for the Department to support better links between developing countries' parliaments and UK parliamentarians and organisations.[58]

59. The ODI report in 2007 set out a series of recommendations of how to achieve this. It particularly emphasised the unique relationship between MPs in different parliaments and parliamentary staff in the strengthening parliaments. The relationship was judged to be particularly strong in Commonwealth legislatures. We agree with the ODI report that there is huge respect for the procedures of the British Houses of Parliament and its officials  in Commonwealth and other legislatures. DFID working in partnership with the Overseas Offices of both Houses, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) UK, the Inter-Parliamentary Union British Group, the Westminster foundation for Democracy to deliver parliamentary strengthening projects would offer good value for money for DFID parliamentary strengthening work.

60. We recommend that, following the recommendations of the 2007 ODI report, the relevant senior DFID officials meet representatives of both Houses' Overseas offices, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK, the Inter-Parliamentary Union British Group, the Westminster foundation for Democracy to determine how best British parliamentarians and parliamentary staff (and former MPs and staff who may have more time) can contribute to DFID's parliamentary strengthening policy and programmes.

61. There is also greater scope for supporting parliamentarians in developing countries to hold their own governments and donors and multilateral agencies to account on behalf of their constituents. Public Accounts Committees in developing countries have a key role to play. We recommend that DFID enhance its work in this area and its response to this report indicate how it plans to do so.

49   NAO, op.cit., para 5.7-5.8 Back

50   Q 43 Back

51   Q 45 Back

52   Q 42 Back

53   Q 40 Back

54   Q 35 Back

55   Q 36 Back

56   Q 53 Back

5 57  7 Overseas Development Institute, Parliamentary strengthening in developing countries, 2007 Back

58   Qq 35, 53-54 Back

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Prepared 9 March 2012