Leadership of merged DfID evidence of ‘hostile takeover’ by FCO, say critics

NGOs and MPs fear appointments to Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office reflects unbalanced priorities

The UK’s ambassador to the EU is to become political director of the newly merged Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), one of seven senior officials who will form the core of the leadership team when the department launches next week.

Tim Barrow is one of five appointees from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office chosen to serve on the board of the FCDO. Two further appointments are officials from the Department for International Development (DfID).

Barrow, who joined the FCO in 1986, was appointed as the UK’s EU ambassador in January 2017.

Staff at the FCO and DfID have been reassured that the merger, announced by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, in June, does not represent a takeover by the FCO.

However, the timing and makeup of the leadership team were immediately questioned by critics, who argue the new department will jeopardise Britain’s position as a world leader in development and risk abandoning its commitment to poor people in low-income countries.

Staff were told by the new department’s permanent secretary, Sir Philip Barton, that the makeup of the team would send “an important signal about our ambition for the FCDO, our determination to integrate diplomacy and development in a transformational way”, the Financial Times reported.

The two DfID officials on the leadership team are Juliet Chua, director general for finance and corporate performance, and Moazzam Malik, director general of country programmes. Malik will serve as director general for Africa at the FCDO.

Preet Gill, Labour’s shadow international development secretary, said: “We are really surprised. Allegedly the department is supposed to be up and running by 1 September. To announce the leadership team a week before that is pretty typical of the incompetence and bluster of this government.”

Gill, who has described the new Whitehall department as a takeover by the FCO, said: “There is nothing here to convince me otherwise.”

She added: “There are only two DfID people here. FCO people are going to be leading in development, but they don’t have the experience and understanding. It is the world’s poorest who will suffer.”

Stephanie Draper, CEO of Bond, the UK network for development NGOs, said: “We are disappointed to see a complete lack of balance between development and foreign policy experience in the newly announced FCDO interim leadership team and are concerned this could be a sign of development increasingly taking a back seat to diplomatic and commercial interests.”

She added: “If this merger is to succeed, then it requires a balance across areas of expertise such as tackling disease, assisting humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts, providing sanitation and clean water, or securing access to quality education for girls. It is critical that the final senior team and non-executive roles have an equal balance of development and diplomatic experience.”

Sarah Champion, Labour MP and chair of the international development committee which scrutinises UK aid, said: “Consistently, I’ve been concerned that this is a hostile takeover rather than an equal partnership. The makeup of the senior leadership team just reinforces that for me.”

The committee’s interim report into the effectiveness of aid, published in June, argued strongly that an independent aid-giving department with a cabinet-level minister leading its work was imperative if the UK was to help end extreme poverty.

The merger has been widely criticised, including by three former prime ministers, David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.


Karen McVeigh

The GuardianTramp

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