Select Committee on International Development First Report


93.  The United Kingdom Government has stated that it is "committed to maintain a viable community in the north of the island as long as it is safe for people to live there".[155] To this end, and to allow for the rational planning of development aid, the Government of Montserrat and HMG are at present engaged in the consideration of a Sustainable Development Plan. Mr Ireton said that "The Plan will be drawn up and owned by the Government of Montserrat, but done in consultation with ourselves because...we will be the major financier of this and we are providing additional help to the Government through the aid budget office to do it".[156] We are not in a position to comment on the viability of the island nor the possibilities for sustainable development. Any Plan must, however, take account of the continuing dangers posed by the activity of the volcano. The north of Montserrat is not perfectly safe, merely significantly safer than elsewhere on the island. At present all planning and commitment of funds must take account of the possibility that the north itself might have to be evacuated.

94.  We are not sure what the Government means when it says that it is committed to maintain a viable community in the north. Does this mean HMG is committed to establshing a community in Montserrat which can function independently without significant and continuing subsidy from the United Kingdom? Or does it mean that the United Kingdom will subsidise and support such a community without any limits on either amount or duration? Baroness Symons insisted that there "are no blank cheques. There is not limitless funding available".[157] That is self-evident. The Sustainable Development Plan will need to take a realistic look at the prospects for the economy of the north. The Plan should propose development which can maintain a community on the island appropriate to current circumstances, in other words development which is genuinely sustainable. We have particular concerns at the prospects for employment and food production in the north.

95.  We are not arguing that any Plan should minimise the financial contribution of HMG. But some judgements will have to be made as to a sustainable population in the north of Montserrat. HMG says that it will pay the fares of any Montserratian who wishes to return. There must, however, be practical constraints which limit the number who can now live there. The Plan should thus be designed for such a sustainable level of population. It will also have to take account of the fact that we look forward in the longer term to a return to those parts of Montserrat at present evacuated.

96.  We also see merit in an attempt to consult Montserratians on the content of the Sustainable Development Plan, not only Montserratians on the island but also those elsewhere. Our visit to the Caribbean revealed significant differences of opinion amongst Montseratians on the best way forward for the island, not surprisingly there being in general a difference of view between those in Montserrat and those in Antigua.

97.  In any event it is probable that HMG will be providing considerable sums to Montserrat for a number of years. This is as it should be. But should these funds come from the DFID budget? The traditional argument for DFID funding of a Dependent Territory is the principle, reiterated in the recent White Paper, that the "reasonable assistance needs of the Dependent Territories are a first call on the development programme".[158] This does not sit very easily with the White Paper's general objective of eliminating extreme poverty. We have the sense that it is DFID's responsibility simply because no one has thought of anywhere better to place it. When the ODA was part of the Foreign Office it was perhaps to be expected that it would pick up the rare spending obligations that fell to the FCO. The point of creating DFID, a separate department of state, was precisely to give international development its own clear policy direction.

98.  Not only does this funding responsibility sit uneasily within DFID, Baroness Symons sympathised with the view that one of the guiding principles in the administration of the Dependent Territories "ought to be that those who have to take the decisions also have the money with which to implement them".[159] She described the problem as a "separation of responsibility", giving an example of the FCO being responsible for Montserrat civil servants but DFID deciding on their pay increases.[160]

99.  We should also note that a continuing commitment of significant sums from the DFID bilateral budget to Montserrat will seriously affect the Department's ability to meet its other bilateral commitments. We have already pointed out that this year Montserrat will be the second largest recipient of United Kingdom aid.

100.  For all these reasons we recommend that funds for the development of Montserrat should come from a United Kingdom government department other than DFID. This particular recommendation is in no sense a reflection on the quality of DFID's work. It is simply a recognition that responsibility and resources should go together, and that the bilateral budget should be safeguarded for its primary purpose.

101.  We recommend that the source of future funding be considered within the current review of the administration of the Dependent Territories. Funds might come from the Foreign Office or from another specified department with dependent territory responsibilities. The important point is that responsibility and resources for the Dependent Territories should be in the same department. We do not believe that the reasonable assistance needs of the Dependent Territories should be a first call on the development programme. Our responsibilities to Dependent Territory citizens are of a greater and different order to our more general humanitarian responsibilities to the developing world and involve different priorities. That should be recognised in the structure of administration and funding.

155   Evidence p. 10.. Back

156   Q.110. Back

157   Q.766. Back

158   'Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century': White Paper on International Development p. 40. Back

159   Q.770. Back

160   QQ.775-6. Back

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Prepared 27 November 1997