MPs criticise £1bn ‘slush fund’ for foreign security forces

February 7, 2017

A senior Parliamentary Committee has heavily criticised the Government for failing to allow public scrutiny of a new £1bn fund used for UK security assistance overseas.

In a report published today, MPs on the Joint Security Committee said there was a “fundamental lack of transparency” surrounding the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF), which was “undermin[ing] the Government’s commitment to transparency.” They described the £1bn CSSF as a “slush fund” that has been used for “questionable” projects in Bahrain and elsewhere.

The report comes after human rights organisation Reprieve raised concerns over some assistance to foreign security forces who carry out abuses, such as torture and the death penalty.

The MPs said: “We agree with the human rights group Reprieve [that] the Government has not yet struck the right balance between security and transparency in relation to the CSSF.”

Introduced in 2015, the CSSF comes to over £1bn and is used to provide UK security assistance overseas. There is no single Minister with responsibility for the Fund; projects are overseen by the National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, and the National Security Council. Talking to the Committee last November, Sir Mark refused to go into detail about specific projects funded under the CSSF – offering to brief MPs in secret instead.

Though there is little publicly available information about CSSF spending, Reprieve has established that the Fund has been used to provide training and support for Bahraini and Ethiopian security forces – despite concerns over the use of torture and the death penalty in those countries.

Ethiopia’s security services have kidnapped a British father of three, Andy Tsege, and are holding him under a political death sentence. In Bahrain, the authorities recently executed three men on the basis of forced ‘confessions’, breaking a six-year moratorium on executions. Before the executions, UK-trained Bahraini bodies dismissed the men’s complaints that they were tortured.

The risks of CSSF projects are significant, today’s report says, and include: “the potential to make the situation worse; inadvertent complicity in human rights abuses… and damage to the reputation of the UK and of the Government.”

Amid these risks, the MPs said, they had been “unable to verify whether the CSSF’s programmes are delivering the NSC’s strategic objectives, let alone whether they are collectively having a strategic impact and therefore represent value for money for the taxpayer.”

Despite having been asked by the Government to provide Parliamentary oversight of the Fund, MPs had been given only a “patchwork” of “incoherent” information, today’s report says. This meant that the Government was “in effect marking its own homework.”

Commenting, Maya Foa – a director of Reprieve – said:

“The Committee is right to raise serious concerns over the secrecy surrounding the CSSF. This lack of oversight is deeply worrying, given the risk of complicity in terrible abuses – including torture and the death penalty – in countries like Bahrain and Ethiopia. Such substantial, high-risk security assistance surely deserves proper scrutiny by MPs, and by the public. Ministers must urgently commit to being fully transparent, and accountable to Parliament, when it comes to this £1bn fund.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [AT] reprieve.org.uk. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on katherine [DOT] oshea [AT] reprieve.org.

2. The Committee’s report is available here.

3. Sir Mark Lyall Grant’s public evidence to the Committee, in November 2016, can be read here.