The extravagant deal has stirred controversy inside the DfID office in Nepal, where many are upset about the inefficient way aid money is often spent. It has also raised eyebrows in the wider donor community. One aid worker said that visiting the DfID house was “like stepping into the Great Gatsby”.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia. According to the DfID website it has “a high rate of poverty and hunger with 55 per cent of people living on less than 80 pence a day”. Average income is just £313 per year. British aid was worth £66.9m in 2009-10 and is set to increase over the coming years.According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, “upgrading” the rented mansion for the country director included repairs to the marble flooring, £4,031 worth of “kitchen furniture works” and £1,343 for landscape gardening.Even before DfID rented the property in 2009 it was something of a dream home, built in 1945 for the son of a Nepalese Maharaja. The walls are two feet thick, the ground floor ceilings are made of arched brick vaulting, the house has two staircases and there is a fountain in the beautiful garden.It had been occupied for two decades by a group of English bohemians including an Oxford don. When those tenants left in 2009 the rent was £277 per month, and the propertys owners had allegedly neglected the maintenance for many years.RELATED ARTICLESCutting waste at DFID has only just begun 18 May 2010Government departments spend £4m on website redesigns 27 Dec 2009According to DfID the house “required numerous improvements to bring it up to the minimum safety standards for earthquake resilience and meet local building regulations”. Yet the documents show that structural retro-fitting, to make the building more resilient to earthquakes, cost only £440. Meanwhile a total of sixty walls and thirty ceilings were re-plastered in the mansions many sitting rooms, lobbies, balconies, staircases, bedrooms, bathrooms and walk-in wardrobes.Other prospective tenants who looked at the property at the same time as DfID recall that the landlord was planning to raise the rent to around £595 while undertaking extensive repairs himself.”When showing us round the landlord talked about the vast amounts he was going to spend on it,” said one. A few days later he discovered that DfID had rented the property. “I remember [the landlord] saying that DfID were going to pay for the repairs and then pay rent too, which seemed a very strange set-up to me.”The rent DfID agreed to pay was also a third higher than the landlord had been asking other people.According to DfIDs rental agreement they will pay £793 per month for the first 34 months rising to £952 until 2014. The rental contract is for 10 years but the rent during the second five years is not specified.A DFID spokesman said: “Two thirds of the £32,760 refurbishment was spent making the property earthquake proof as well meeting basic health and safety standards for the electrics and sanitation.”Some remodelling work was done but these costs will be recouped from the landlord for the taxpayer through a rent reduction deal brokered by DFID.”