Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Panorama Allegations

Rarely do I respond to internet inspired stories, particularly if it’s some media/lobbyist campaign. There are simply not enough hours in a day. So it’s rare that I am stirred to respond. I am using today’s blog post to reflect on the  recent Panorama allegations concerning Adam Smith International and the Government’s Access to Justice and Community Security Programme in Syria. This sort of media coverage seriously undermines the Government’s commitment to International Aid - a budget investment to which I am totally committed. I would like to have had time to write it sooner.
I fully understand why constituents will be concerned about these allegations. The Gov’t is also concerned. And because the BBC decided to run this in the way it did, the Govt has decided to suspend the programme while a full investigation takes place. The outcome of these investigations will be known shortly.

The Foreign Office has already issued a formal response to the allegations, as follows; 

“We take any allegations of co-operation with terrorist groups and of human rights abuses extremely seriously and the Foreign Office has suspended this programme while we investigate these allegations. These programmes, also supported by international partners, are intended to make communities in Syria safer by providing basic civilian policing services. We believe that such work in Syria is important to protect our national security interest but of course we reach this judgment carefully given that in such a challenging environment no activity is without risk. That’s why all our programmes are designed carefully and subject to robust monitoring.”

It may be worth explaining what the AJACS programme actually does. AJACS is a long-term programme that supports the unarmed Free Syria Police (FSP) to deliver basic community policing services (patrols, checkpoints, traffic management etc) in non-regime held areas of Syria. Since 2014, AJACS has helped train 3,500 FSP officers, across 60 police stations, providing much-valued community policing services to around 1.6 million people in Syria. The FSP help to protect some of the most vulnerable in Syria. They offer a visible, unarmed policing presence and help to make communities safer and more resilient to terrorist threats. The project is jointly funded by the US, Danes, Dutch, Canadians and Germans.
This work in Syria is important to protect our national security interests. But operating in this challenging environment, particularly in close proximity to extremist elements and in such contested space, means no activity is without risk. That is why all our programmes are designed carefully and our contracts include a requirement for robust monitoring of supplier performance and regular reporting. In many cases (as with AJACS), implementation is also reviewed by an independent third party organisation.

Its not possible for me to attempt a detailed rebuttal of the main allegations, but I am confident that the Govts investigation will comprehensively address the allegations and the report will be made public. I hope the BBC will give the response to its allegations the same prominence. Personally, I am very proud that the United Kingdom remains committed to supporting Syrians’ efforts to build pluralistic and inclusive institutions through targeted interventions like the AJACS programme. We are joined in that effort by likeminded international partners who share our commitment to stand with the people of Syria and support their aspirations of living in dignity, free from all forms of tyranny. And we will continue to support independent Syrian entities which adhere to inclusive and pluralistic values, in order to provide crucial services and life-saving assistance to communities in Syria.

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