|International Development Bill
Dr. Tonge: I was about to say that good governance depends on many other factors that the hon. Lady has not mentioned, such as education, for example. There cannot be good governance without education, so why has no amendment on education been tabled? There cannot be a high level of education in a country unless there is good health care, and that cannot happen unless there is clean water. Where are those amendments?
Mrs. Gillan: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Dr. Tonge: No. I shall not give way again. To single out only three factors from all those that contribute to poverty is nave in the extreme.
It is a bit rich for the Conservative party to talk about conflict prevention when we consider what went on under the previous Government. Selling arms to Saddam Hussein springs to mind. Was that preventing conflict? What about mines in the Falkland Islands? I remember trouble there during the previous Government's term of office.
Mr. Robathan: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?
Dr. Tonge: No. I get tired of the hypocrisy of the official Opposition. We had 18 years of Conservative Government, and it is now someone else's turn. Let them have a go to see whether they can do better. The Conservative Government made an abysmal mess of the world.
The causes of poverty are multifactoral. Where is an amendment to cover the AIDS epidemic, which is the scourge of developing countries at present, and which will spread to the west if we are not careful? Where is an amendment calling for money to be ploughed into a vaccine for AIDS? What about saying that education is more important than ever in the AIDS epidemic? What about promoting the position of women? We know that educating women does more for the economic progress of a country than any other factor, so where is an amendment to cover that? What about the trade agreements that are skewed against developing countries all the time? I could go on.
Let us not single out three factors that contribute to poverty. If we do that, it looks as if the others are not as important, which is an extremely dangerous thing to do.
Mr. Rowe: I rise to support the amendments, and shall start with amendment No. 1. It is vital that we do not, either intentionally or inadvertently, create problems. For example, a country may make considerable progress, and be within discernible distance of becoming independent of development systems. It would, by definition, not be among the poorest of the poor, so it would be extraordinary to withdraw international assistance just at the point when it was likely to become a success. I hope that the Minister will reassure me that there is nothing in the Bill that will prevent the continuation of a programme of assistance to make a country self-sustaining when it ceases to be among the poorest of the poor.
It is not clear whose poverty we are talking about. Let me give an extreme example of a scholarship for one young man or woman. That would ensure the training required to become immensely successful, thereby reducing the person's poverty, but it might do nothing for the country from which the person came.
I know how the Secretary of State feels about that situation. I think that she goes too far and undermines higher education in countries that desperately need it by her insistence that it is only for the elite. I have seen the university in Rwanda, and believe that it is a mistake that it should be allowed to continue in that state because it is believed that only the elite enjoy such services in a corrupt society. Students are desperate to learn agricultural and other skills. Nevertheless, we need to look carefully at whose poverty we are talking about.
Some of my colleagues on the Select Committee and I went to a Cambodian village. We were taken there by an NGO, which was operating an excellent project, the main thrust of which was to help peasant families with very poor land and too little land to sustain a family to make more of what they had. It came as a rude shock to discover that about 44 per cent. of those living in that village had no land at all. The development assistance was well targeted and effectively implemented not to the poorest of the poor, but to the stratum above. That is an important issue.
We must make it clear that under amendment No. 1, which would insert the words ``directly or indirectly'', indirect assistance would include helping NGOs, but we should be much tougher and insist that they provide evidence that they are giving senior positions to people from the countries concerned. Some NGOs are good at that, but some are not. Some of the countries that shame us with the amount of assistance that they give--for example, some of the Scandinavian countries--are poor at involving indigenous people, and a huge proportion of the aid provided by northern countries to southern countries is returned to their nationals in salaries, and so on. That is an improper use of money and long out of date.
A colleague on a project in Zimbabwe, who was once an ex-pat in Ethiopia, told me that when he was working on a Scandinavian project--it could have been a British project--in Ethiopia, an ex-pat specialist would fly in for a fortnight to provide the benefit of his advice. The Scandinavian ex-pat treated my colleague as if he too were an Ethiopian illiterate who required assistance, when he was an ex-pat working for an NGO because of his own expertise.We must give serious consideration to channelling our aid through people who live in the countries concerned and not just through ex-pats.
I said on Second Reading that we should have an effective accounting mechanism to examine progress. I have no doubt that there is an accounting mechanism. DFID has been good at monitoring whether money is being wasted, so I am sure that that is well accounted for, but how do we determine whether the money is effectively spent? Some client countries of DFID have made nugatory progress over the years. They may be good reasons for that, but is it wise to pump money into countries where very little progress can be demonstrated when the same amount of money given to another country might achieve a great reduction in poverty? Those are difficult issues.
The Bill implies that money should not be ineffectively spent, but should be spent in places where poverty can be reduced. That raises questions, to which I am sure the Minister will refer when he responds, concerning the other pressures on development assistance. In addition to the poor, there is also the question of political and humanitarian pressures. Should one continue to pour money into, say, Nepal, where there is little evidence of serious success, or should one invest in a country for which the statistics are improving sharply, even though to do so would be difficult politically?
Good government is central to, among other things, the new sector-wide approach. As the International Development Committee Chairman powerfully argued, if we do not take care we shall swiftly return to the bad old days of giving money to Governments. Such a newcomer am I to this field that it was not until I visited the World Bank with the Select Committee that I understood the remarkable concept of fungibility, which I now feel as if I have known for my entire life. The idea is simple: if one provides a Government with money to buy, say, a brand new hospital, money is freed up to buy machine guns or fast cars for Cabinet Ministers. In other words, although UK taxpayers' money in theory buys a hospital, it can be argued that in practice it buys six Alfa Romeos.
Mr. Robathan: While my hon. Friend was temporarily absent from the Room, the hon. Member for Richmond Park said that the Government should not dictate the rating of good governance in countries to which we give aid. However, we must ensure that aid is directed in a manner of which we approveindeed, that is surely the point of the Bill. We must therefore have some say not in the structure of government in a particular country, but in the way in which the money is spent through good governance. The case of Malawi, to which my hon. Friend alludes, is particularly pertinent, but it is replicated in a dozen different countries.
Mr. Rowe: There is a balance to be struck. It is vital that we do not try to tell Governments how to run their affairs, but it is reasonable to tell them that British taxpayers expect transparency in the handling of their money.
Dr. Tonge: The trouble with singling out good governancewhich I did not in fact mentionis that it implies that aid should not be distributed to a country that is not governed well. That is a very dangerous concept. In many cases, aid is for the alleviation of poverty, regardless of the Government in question.
Mr. Rowe: That goes to the heart of the new sector-wide approach. Until now, the programme has by and large been project-based. When implementing such a programme, it is easy to believe that one is directly affecting the lives of those for whom the project was developed, that that is a good thing to do, and that it does not matter terribly what the Government in question are doing while one is providing, say, drinking water or irrigation for a particular cluster of villages. Indeed, that has proved a reassuring way in which to deliver aid. However, as I understand it, the new approach adopted by DFID and the Secretary of State is to say that that is all very well, but at the end of the day it only puts sticking plaster over the situation. They argue that we must engage the Government in the expenditure of our assistance so that their practice improves and they begin to see the leverage that our money can effect on their central programmes.
When that stage is reached there is the serious philosophical problem whether one can continue to deliver aid to a Government who are manifestly non-transparent, incompetent, corrupt and showing few signs of improvement. That is one paradox of moving to a sector-wide approach. During the next 20 years we shall find ourselves soldiering on with a project-based approach in countries where we shall be frightened of abandoning some of the poorest people on earth because their leaders are corrupt.
We must ensure that good governance is delivered from the bottom up and the top downeverybody believes and repeats that like a mantra, but it does not always happen. It is important to assist countries to improve their customs and excise services, to increase their capacity to collect taxes and to stamp out corruption. However, that takes a long time and is vulnerable to shifts in the political climate. In country after country, organisations such as Transparency International have demonstrated that the poor are the main victims of corruption and they want to get rid of it. When we discuss good government, we must ensure that we work with such organisations to strengthen the eradication of corruption at the commune level, which is the bottom level of society.
When I visited a village in Cambodia, I was distressed to find that many peasants had sold their land for ridiculous sums such as $200. A Chinese entrepreneur, who was wondering whether to build a factory, had bought the land. The peasants would have been better off if he had built a factory, but he showed no signs of doing any such thing. I discovered that the head man of the village had probably taken his cut. Good government starts at that level as well as at the top.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 13 March 2001|