LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain must restore planned cuts in its aid budget for Sierra Leone and Liberia in light of the Ebola crisis sweeping through West Africa, a parliamentary committee said on Thursday.
The Department for International Development's (DFID) bilateral budget for the two Ebola-stricken countries will drop by nearly a fifth from 2013-14 to 2015-16, a cut of 14.5 million pounds ($23.5 million), the International Development Committee said.
The IDC report "Recovery and Development in Sierra Leone and Liberia" was issued on the day the British and Sierra Leonean governments hold an international conference in London to discuss what other countries can do to help tackle the oubreak.
IDC chairman Sir Malcolm Bruce said it was wrong for Britain to cut its support to the two countries "in the midst of this devastating epidemic".
The IDC is a parliamentary committee which monitors the performance of DFID, Britain's development aid ministry.
"The scale of the Ebola crisis now unfolding in Sierra Leone and Liberia may well be connected to declining levels of international support for health system improvements in what remain two of the poorest and least developed countries in the world," Bruce said in a statement as the report was released.
The IDC said it was particularly appalled that DFID's Sierra Leone budget was being cut at a time when Britain's official development aid budget had reached its target of 0.7 percent of gross national income, a record high.
Spending in the two countries affected by the Ebola outbreak needs to increase so that all past development gains will not be lost, and the responsibility falls to Britain as the main bilateral donor to Sierra Leone, the report stated.
The report also highlighted serious concerns with the way in which DFID carried out its operations.
It found it unacceptable that DFID was unable to produce a figure for overall spending in Sierra Leone, and called on the department to provide a more accurate estimate for each country in which it works.
"Its current vagueness on these figures is bad accounting for taxpayers' money and does not truly represent the impact we are having to others, including ministers and Sierra Leone and Liberia," the report read.
Bruce said the IDC was shocked to discover that only $3.9 million out of $60 million of EU health sector support given to Liberia was passed on by the Liberian finance ministry to the health ministry over a two-year period, leaving the Liberian health system struggling.
"We have to ask whether Liberia would have dealt better with the original outbreak and prevent its spread had $56 million from the EU been spent as intended by the Liberian Ministry of Finance on its health system," Bruce said.
"DFID donates 16 percent of its total budget via the EU, so ministers must take a closer interest in where UK money is going and whether it is being spent as intended," he said.
Neither the EU nor DFID seemed to be concerned about how much of the work they recently funded had been undone through this failure to distribute ongoing support, Bruce added.
The IDC report also called on the DFID to work rapidly to establish a program to end female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Lisa Anderson