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A less reported aid scandal

THE UK GOVERNMENT’S CONFLICT, STABILITY AND SECURITY FUND (CSSF), created in 2015, is a £1.1 billion annual pot of money operating in dozens of countries, supposedly to promote UK national security interests. But according to a new report by Global Justice Now, this is not real aid money at all. It is used to fund military projects, with minimal transparency, and often in states with appalling human rights records.

Much of the work done by the CSSF is outsourced to a mix of NGOs and private corporations. One of these organisations, winning at least £450 million of contracts since 2011, is Adam Smith International. In 2017 it was accused of attempting to falsify evidence to a parliamentary inquiry and the Commons international development select committee described its behaviour as “deplorable”.

Yet the company still has a £14 million project in Syria, funded entirely with aid money, which “aims to bolster local security inside Syria”. In early 2017 an all-party parliamentary group of MPs and peers - the joint committee on the national security strategy - criticised the CSSF’s lack of transparency. It stated: “The CSSF method of allocating funds appears to involve awarding grants without any strategic assessment of the needs of the country concerned.”

Nearly 5% of the total UK aid budget is now being spent through the CSSF, yet the bulk of this is not managed by the Department for International Development but by the Foreign Office and Defence Department.

This is part of a growing trend to pass off as aid a range of projects which are not aid at all. These include financing the police in Somalia, Nigeria and Sri Lanka, “promoting security sector reform” in Iraq (£7.5m), training the military in Sierra Leone and supporting “capacity building” for NATO. Since when did military training constitute aid?

Increasingly the government is using overseas aid as a form of soft power, deployed not where people need it most, but where British national interests can best be promoted. This includes helping regimes with ugly human rights records, such as Bahrain, where £3.5m of ‘aid’ was spent on training the police to deal with demonstrators. CSSF money was also reportedly used to support lobbyists seeking to dilute UN criticism of Bahrain’s human rights record.

The Burmese, Sudanese and Ethiopian military have also benefited from CSSF funds. Small wonder that the government refused to disclose which countries were receiving this money when a parliamentary committee began investigating.

  • The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund: Diverting aid and undermining human rights, by Mark Curtis is available here.
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