Chief Commissioner speech at CIPFA International conference
Graham Ward, Chief Commissioner – Independent Commission for Aid Impact
Let me begin by thanking you for inviting me here today. The last time I spoke at a CIPFA conference I was speaking as the President of the International Federation of Accountants. It is always a great privilege to speak before a CIPFA audience, not least because you are fellow professional accountants! I am delighted, however, to be addressing you today in a slightly different role as Chief Commissioner of the new Independent Commission for Aid Impact – or ICAI (another acronym I’m afraid!). In my last speech to CIPFA I talked about the importance of ensuring the sound and efficient operation of governments and protecting the rights of their citizens. Something not too far away from the messages you will hear today.
You have heard this morning from the Minister of State, Alan Duncan, that the Government has pledged to increase aid spending and that this is matched by a commitment to greater transparency and increased scrutiny. I would like to thank the Minister for his supportive words. Shortly after Andrew Mitchell was appointed as Secretary of State for International Development last year, he announced his intention to establish an independent watchdog to evaluate all UK aid. He is clear that an independent organisation is crucial to give confidence to taxpayers that they are getting maximum value for money for Government spending on aid.
ICAI has been established to evaluate aid independently and ensure increased accountability. We will focus on delivery of value for money for the UK taxpayer, maximising the impact for recipients and ensuring effectiveness of the UK aid budget.
The key characteristic of ICAI is that we represent a new approach in terms of independence and remit. We report to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee, not to Ministers or to Government. This is vital for independence. Our mandate is to scrutinise all Official Development Assistance: meaning we will evaluate, investigate and review aid expenditure in a number of government departments, including, most materially, in DFID. This is important because it will ensure a more complete picture of the effectiveness of the UK aid budget as a whole.
We will produce a range of reports which combine development expertise and value for money scrutiny expertise. All reports will be published on our website. Reports will include a clear set of recommendations for Ministers. ICAI will provide strong, transparent, evidence-based feedback into Government decision making, to ensure that our recommendations, which will be positive and constructive, lead to beneficial change. Indeed, we will follow through to assess whether our recommendations have been implemented. Our recommendations will play a vital role in championing the use of evidence to support the UK to learn from experience and to spend aid on what works best.
I have been in post for a relatively short period of time, having been appointed to the role of Chief Commissioner at the end of October last year. As many of you will know, my background is in Chartered Accountancy and I am sure you will recognise the skills that this type of background will bring to the role. I hope to bring private sector expertise and the necessary experience of scrutiny to ensure value for money and effectiveness of the aid budget.
You might ask about my development experience. I have considerable experience of working in both developed and developing countries. During my time as President of the International Federation of Accountants, I was able to visit many countries around the world and more than doubled the resources of IFACs Developing Nations Committee, which itself is a key component of building an investment climate of trust in the developing world.
I have visited 61 different countries, including a number of developing countries such as Malawi, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco to name a few. I have also visited places like Sri Lanka and Pakistan and have a first hand understanding of the complex political, economic and governance challenges which developing countries face.
As Vice Chairman of the UK India Business Council I have been to India many times and have some understanding of what life is like there and the needs of that country. I arranged to build a school in a remote area of the Punjab and have seen many projects including a rural microfinance scheme. These visits were very educational in understanding village life and underlined the importance of understanding and of listening to the voice of the recipients. This is something that is at the heart of ICAI’s core values.
Last month we announced our full board of Commissioners. I am joined by Mark Foster, until recently Group Chief Executive of Global Markets and Management Consulting at Accenture; John Githongo, who is well known for his pioneering anti-corruption work in Kenya and across Africa; and Diana Good, a former senior partner of Linklaters who is a part time judge and has worked on governance and girls’ education projects in Africa. They are all acknowledged leaders in their field and I am delighted to have them on board. Together, we aim to bring a fresh perspective to the development debate, through our combination of scrutiny and private sector expertise, as well as our international and development experience.
ICAI is now starting to take shape and we are in the process of recruiting a contractor to carry out the evaluations, reviews and investigations. Whilst this is an ongoing and therefore confidential process, I can say that I am confident that we will shortly appoint an effective consortium which brings together the best of public and private sector experience, fusing audit and assurance disciplines with the knowledge and experience of development specialists. Our challenge will be to work closely with the contractor to establish in detail how we will go about scrutinising programmes and producing reports. Getting this right early and ensuring effective quality assurance, whilst recognising the need for innovation, will enable us to produce credible and accessible reports based on strong evidence.
Another of our key priorities is establishing a work plan for our first three years. We are currently holding a consultation to ask the public which countries and sectors they think ICAI should scrutinise. This and our ongoing conversations with stakeholders, will feed into the development of our work plan. We have not yet made any decisions about what will be in the work plan, but we would like a mixture of one-off reports and structured interventions, so that we can report on topical issues, as well as taking a strategic approach to the breadth of programmes based on our assessment of risk, materiality and public interest. May I make a plea for you all please to respond to the consultation? The consultation is simple and easy to respond to, simply visit our website at www.independent.gov.uk/icai and use the online form. Your views will be vital in helping us develop our programme of work.
I believe that UK aid is the right thing to do: morally, politically and economically. It is equally right that the money that is spent – taxpayers, money – must deliver meaningful outcomes for both the UK taxpayer and the recipients of that aid. We hope that our work will help DFID and other parts of Government to ensure that this happens and to ensure trust, transparency and accountability in UK aid.
Trust, transparency and accountability in ICAI are vital too. We must practice what we preach, be transparent and open to public scrutiny. We will ensure that all our reports and evidence, as well as details of our own costs are publicly available and that disclosures are set out clearly on our website.
We are aware that ICAI will continue to face many challenges. These include:
• how to report on allegations of corruption without interference in the appropriate legal processes;
• how to evaluate multilateral programmes, getting access to what is really going on, without duplicating or seeking to override existing reporting mechanisms;
• how to attribute outcomes to UK interventions where there is a complex delivery chain; and
• how to examine the increasing amount of ODA spend that is going to fragile states
These are challenges that will not be solved overnight. We plan to work closely with DFID, other government departments, our stakeholders and our partners to ensure that we learn from their experience and expertise.
We will also face many opportunities. Our success will be based on the credibility of our reports and recommendations. That credibility will come from the importance we place on balancing value for money with delivery and impact on the ground. It is our hope that ICAI recommendations will be implemented swiftly and will help to support improvements in the delivery of UK aid. There will be many challenges, but we plan to seize the opportunities to ensure that aid delivers value to the taxpayer and the maximum benefit to recipients in the most efficient and effective way.
The world’s poor deserve nothing less.
Thank you very much for listening.