DFID’s £9.4m green energy project for Africa fails to light up

DFID boss Priti Patel

A UK government-funded project to help bring renewable energy to Africa has failed to deliver a single gigawatt of power after five years of operation.

Green Africa Power (GAP): Renewable Energy for Africa was a £9.4 million foreign aid project that was supposed to fund 765 gigawatts hours (GWh) of electricity to over nine million people on the continent.

A review of the project, which is now closed, showed that it did not deliver a single GW of power, according to official documents.

DFID launched the project in March 2011 with the aim of raising investment from the private sector for renewable energy across sub-Saharan Africa. The projection was that by this year GAP was to have funded 10 renewable energy projects across the region, which by 2018 would have installed the 765 GWh of capacity that would bring power to nine million sub-Saharan Africans.

According to the most recent annual review of GAP revealed that ‘no milestone target’ had been set, and that ‘no projects were expected to reach financial close.’

The review added that the initiative would need to ‘remain realistic’ regarding its aims. The only successes that the project recorded included the establishment of a project website and communications strategy, with recommendations citing the ‘inclusion of gender targets in monitoring.’

Indeed, after five years, ‘some delays’ and £9.4 million later, the initiative has so far failed to meet its originally proposed targets on a single project. With investments also coming from the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, the total cost of the project was £16.7 million.

The GAP project was established because of the reality that access to energy is essential in tackling poverty but funding that could be used to eradicate poverty through guaranteeing access to reliable energy continues to be misspent.

That access to electricity is essential in such development efforts was recently defended in the UK parliament by Rory Stewart, the minister of state for international development, when he argued that ‘investments in electricity, as opposed to other forms of infrastructure…not only delivers jobs through the business side, but allows us to deliver our objectives in health and education.’

Similarly, outgoing UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has noted that ‘energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability’ while ‘energy poverty condemns billions to darkness, to ill health, to missed opportunities.’

According to the UN Foundation, there are about 1.2 billion people worldwide – 16 per cent of the global population – who have no access to electricity and the development benefits it brings. More than 95 per cent of those living without electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, and they are predominantly in rural areas (around 80 per cent of the world total).

The UN Foundation says that while still far from complete, progress in providing electrification in urban areas has outpaced that in rural areas two to one since 2000.

Revelations about the GAP project comes after recent reports revealed that DFID had given £274 million to the Strategic Climate Fund, which was established by former US President George Bush in 2008 to help developing countries tackle climate change. But according to The Times newspaper, DFID could not account for how the money was spent.

British aid is currently under intense media scrutiny and the government has reacted by ordering a review in order to meet the challenge of effectively tackling global poverty in the 21st century. Leading the drive is the secretary of state for international development, Priti Patel, who said early December, while launching two reviews: ‘Improving the way the UK delivers aid along with our multilateral partners is vital to deliver the best results in fighting poverty and value for taxpayers’ money.’

She said the UK would ‘champion an open, modern and innovative approach to development that would effectively tackle the global challenges of the 21st century while delivering the best results for the world’s poorest which is in our national interest.’

DFID has been in the spotlight over how UK aid is spent, with foreign contracts involving huge expenditures on consultants of up to £1bn a year since 2012.

On December 19, the UK parliament’s International Development Committee looked into all aspects of DFID’s use of contractors, focusing particularly on the costs and advantages of DFID using large contractors, as opposed to managing programmes itself, through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other community-based organisations, or through multilateral partners.

Patel has written a letter to DFID’s suppliers reiterating the standards the department expects of them and setting out new safeguards to be put in place. ‘As a DFID supplier you must be aware that we must deliver the best possible outcomes that help the poorest in the world and deliver value for money of UK taxpayers,’ the letter said.

‘We need to provide them with assurance that public money is being spent effectively, and that our aid delivery partners apply the highest standards in transparency and ethical behaviour. This has been brought in to sharp relief by recent allegations in the media.’

Patel, who was appointed in in July this year, has explained her tough stand on how UK aid is spent. ‘Global Britain is outward looking and we will use our aid budget to help build a more stable, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all: this is not only the right thing to do – it is firmly in our interests,’ she says.

She earlier told UK television that helping the poorest people around the world was ‘absolutely the right thing to do,’ but she wanted to ‘see results’ for the investment made.

DFID’s annual report describes 2015–16 as a critical year for international development, from game-changing global agreements to the UK’s Aid Strategy, and with increasing aid spent by other parts of government while DFID manages the 0.7 percent target.

DFID is therefore insisting on further transparency and even stronger measures on value for money, for both the UK and its NGO partners. ‘The international aid system, as a whole, must become more effective, transparent and accountable to the poorest people in the world, and to taxpayers,’ according to a DFID statement.



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