British aid money may have been used to help corrupt regimes stamp out political opposition, a damning report warns today.
The study by the government’s aid watchdog warns that a £52 million programme to help strengthen Bangladesh’s security services could have been used to target opponents of the regime.
British aid money was used to train detectives in tracking mobile phones and analysing call data – skills which researchers warned could be used to ‘monitor and suppress political opposition groups’ in the country where corruption is endemic.
The Department for International Development (Dfid) initially said the officers involved were not involved in political activity. But when the Independent Commission on Aid Impact warned it would go public on its concerns, the project was scrapped. Dfid last night insisted there was ‘no evidence’ that funding had been misused.
The commission’s report reveals that Dfid also funded training for the Bangladeshi police in taking fingerprints – including fingerprinting 40,000 convicted prisoners. But researchers questioned the value of the scheme in a country where fingerprint evidence is not admissible in court.
The new study raised widespread concerns about the use of British aid to help so-called fragile states strengthen their police and security services.
In Sudan, a programme to strengthen local police had to be abandoned in 2013 amid concerns about police brutality towards street children.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) a similar programme was scrapped last year after a United Nations report accused the Congolese national police of involvement in illegal killings.
Today’s study gives the overall programme its second-lowest ‘amber-red’ rating, meaning that it is performing ‘relatively poorly’, with ‘significant improvements’ needed to achieve value for money.
The report acknowledges the importance of trying to improve policing in some of the world’s poorest countries, where corruption and police brutality are often rife.
But it says that Dfid’s projects are ‘not making enough of a difference to the lives of the poor’. Watchdog chief Graham Ward said a ‘significant rethink’ was now needed to make the projects ‘more realistic and effective’.
The study was scathing about a project to build ‘model police stations’ in a range of countries, including Nigeria, Bangladesh, Malawi, Sri Lanka and the DRC.
The initiative was meant to raise standards by establishing beacons of good policing. The new ‘model’ stations were given extra cash for training and equipment.
In Bangladesh, 15 of the new police stations were built. But the report finds that ‘perceptions of police performance are, by most measures, worse in model police stations than the national average’.
The proportion of people saying they have been the victim of crime increased by 48 per cent in the period, while the proportion forced to pay bribes to police officers more than trebled.
The study found there was ‘little evidence’ of improvement in police standards in Nigeria and the DRC – and warned that the model police stations were too expensive to ever be replicated across the country.
However, the study did find some evidence that Dfid projects were helping reduce crime against women and girls in some countries.
Dfid last night defended its strategy of investing in police and security forces.
A spokesman said there was ‘no evidence’ that funding in Bangladesh had supported police repression of political dissidents. The spokesman said the project had been dropped following a ‘risk review’.
She also defended the fingerprinting project, which she said would aid the detection of crime and reduce the reliance on forced confessions.
She added: ‘Security and justice are the most challenging sectors we work in and Dfid focuses on countries with the biggest potential for improvement. We have made good process particularly in helping women and girls gain access to justice, but where concerns about human rights and instability become too high, we have no hesitation in shutting programmes down.’
But Labour said the report showed ministers had ‘no strategy’ for dealing with the issues.
– By Jason Groves, Daily Mail