Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)




  80. It sounds a bit like the Whips.
  (Ms Coles) Yes.

Ann Clwyd

  81. Is it your belief that DG Development might disappear in a future round of reforms, ought to disappear in a future round of reforms, or stay as it is?
  (Ms O'Connell) This is the big political issue really. It is interesting that in the UK before 1997 there was the ODA, the former DFID which was part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and one of the things that this Government did when it came into office in 1997 was to separate out the development ministry and give it a Cabinet position separate from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That I think has been a very positive initiative in putting development much more clearly on the agenda, making it an important position within the Cabinet. Obviously you do need to work across Whitehall where there are very good connections between the Treasury and the Foreign Office and DFID. That is a good experience. Taking that across to the EU, when the Commission was reformed and restructured and it had a triumvirate—and it is a triumvirate, I am afraid—of the External Relations Commissioner, who is Chris Patten, and Development, which is Mr Nielson, and Trade, and they work together as a triangle, the wider foreign policy agenda is the top of the triangle. That does not necessarily need to be a bad thing if development is strong and the trade agenda clearly is always strong. EuropeAid is a slightly bizarre structure in so far as the Commissioner for Development is the managing director but there is a board which includes the External Relations Commissioner, the Trade Commissioner, the Enlargement Commissioner and others. Some of the current structure is to do with personalities but some of it is to do with the wider political agenda of how important is development. We would be very worried if in the future DG Development disappeared because we would not be confident that development would remain high on the agenda. What we are most concerned with is issues around poverty elimination. It is very important that you have that coherence between foreign policy, trade and development, but development needs to be a very important agenda, otherwise it will be lost. You can see that reflected in the budget, to go back to the pie chart that we looked at at the beginning, where development overall is a small amount of the EU's budget and within the development budget the poorest countries and poverty elimination are a small percentage. That reflects the kind of power structures there are and it is really up to Member States and this Committee and others to give greater emphasis to development, to give political support to DG Development, and at the same time push forward the reforms and making high demands for change. It does need that political support, otherwise I fear and as NGOs we fear that the EU's potential to contribute significantly to poverty reduction and to achieving the millennium development goals will not be fulfilled.

  82. Has the setting up of EuropeAid had any effect on the speed of the disbursements?
  (Ms O'Connell) Yes, it has, dramatically.

  83. Can you point to any examples?
  (Ms de Toma) I can give you broader examples and Ruth can cover the more specific NGO related examples. We put some figures in our submission to you. I am not a financial expert but they say that they have decreased old and dormant commitments. The definition of old and dormant commitments is that dormant commitments are pre-1995 and old-commitments are post 1995, from the past two years. They have decreased those by 52 per cent in terms of old commitments and a third in terms of dormant commitments. Overall it is something that we have noticed. It has had an impact on our relations with EuropeAid because overall NGOs have had positive feedback from our members on that. It was I think their top priority when they set up EuropeAid because obviously they had been previously criticised by the Development Assistance Committee in the peer review and the gap, for instance, between the commitments and disbursements was a main criticism of the management of ODA. Overall that has improved. Our general concern with that, and Ruth will go into that more, is that the speed of disbursements might impact on the quality of the projects that they are approving and we have seen negative effects over this incredible speed of delivery on the quality of the projects that are now being either rejected or approved just on niggly technical grounds.
  (Ms Coles) Certainly the reports coming back from Europe are that disbursements are now made fairly promptly after submission of interim reports. This is seen as very positive because this was a problem previously. There are still delays on things like the calls for proposals. It has taken a very long time for the contracts for projects and block grants to be issued this year. The call was completed last November and the contracts are only just coming out now. The 2002 call for proposals has only just been issued.

Mr Robathan

  84. That is in the year, is it?
  (Ms Coles) That is the year after application. That is between application and actual contract issue. That does not take into account the preliminary preparation period with our southern partners. Overall you are looking at about 18 months to two years between discussing a project and implementing it, which is beginning to cause problems with some organisations in dealing with their southern partners, explaining the delays. That is a point of concern across Europe, how we pass that information on to southern partners and do not raise expectations that are not going to be able to be fulfilled for 24 months. The call for proposals for 2002 has only just been issued for development education and we are still waiting for the call for projects. It was originally promised in June but it has been rolled back to January 2002, so that has been a delay of over six months. That has been discussed with EuropeAid in the Development Finance Group meeting in Brussels and is constantly at the top of the agenda.

  85. In your list of recommendations at the back of your submission you say that there is a need for the highest quality and expertise of EuropeAid staff, "particularly in the areas of gender, governance and participatory development". Is that a criticism of the existing staff?
  (Ms O'Connell) I am afraid it is, yes. Things are improving. For example, taking the case of gender because it is a useful example for looking at the other issues as well, the EU has quite a strong policy on promoting equality between women and men. This policy was first of all set up in 1995 but even then they had very few staff with expertise. The gender desks, as they are called, at the European Commission then were and still are staffed largely by detached national officials, officials sent from the Member States to Brussels to fill a contract for two or three years. These officials come, they do their best, but they do not know the system as well as, say, full time staff would. Quite often they get frustrated and they go home early and then there is a gap until the next one comes. This has been the history of gender mainstreaming in the Commission for as long as I have been looking at it which is almost 15 years now. In addition to these experts who come from Member States there are individuals within the Commission who, through their own interest, said that they would take on a monitoring role and a promotion role on gender equality. These were called focal points within the different offices of the Commission. People were taking on the responsibility of promoting gender equality on top of their full time jobs and at best they were probably allowed to work on it about a quarter of the day a week. Now the Commission has produced, and the EU has agreed, a new strategy about mainstreaming gender throughout. The theory is that all staff would be trained, they would receive awareness raising so that they will be able to integrate issues of gender and assess how any particular initiative impacts on men and women. They will be able to do that right throughout their work, whether it is sanitation programmes or road building or support to budgets, health care, whatever. The reality is that that is far from happening. The same could be said across the wider issues of social analysis. The Commission is very lacking in expertise when it comes to having enough staff with social analysis. If you look, for example, at DFID, they have over 50 people in their Social Development Department, which includes their gender expertise. The equivalent sections within the Commission are under five or six people. They have little policy units. On gender alone there are about three people right now. It is impossible seriously to implement the commitments that they have made to poverty elimination, to promoting equality between men and women, to promoting respect for human rights, unless they seriously step up the quality of their staff and expand the training to all the other staff. What happens within the Commission is that quite often somebody who was working on fisheries yesterday becomes a person working on health today, and that is the way the structure has worked and that is the way that the staffing has worked. While there may be advantages in people being able to move through the system there is a clear need for expertise and for specialists who know their subject who can advise others on how to do their jobs better.

Mr Colman

  86. We have plainly been talking all the way through about the European Commission and EC-NGO relations, and it is paragraphs 17-19 of your memorandum. Would you tell us more about the new general conditions? You say here that you applauded them coming and bringing new life into the EC-NGO funding relations but you are saying it has been fairly disappointing in terms of how they have been implemented. Could you explain more generally what are the new general conditions, what was their introduction intended to achieve and what impacts have they and the reforms more generally had on relations?
  (Ms Coles) General conditions are the conditions that govern the eligibility of organisations, networks and consortia to apply to the co-financing budget line. It also governs the eligibility of particular costs within the application. It was produced in January 2000 and given out to NGOs in May. There has been much discussion on it in the various groups. One of the things that has come up which caused a great deal of interest within the NGO sector was the idea of producing programme contracts which would be effectively very large grants to a number of organisations that would allow them to run similar projects across a range of countries or perhaps a range of projects in a particular geographical area. Initially applications were asked for but what has happened is that the applications exceeded the total of the budget line allocation anyway and the European Commission has stepped back and decided that it is not in a fit state at the moment or it is not ready to run the programme contracts. This has caused some problems. It is an issue that is coming up in the Development Finance Group meetings in Brussels because quite a number of NGOs saw this as a very good way to take larger projects forward and to have more impact on a longer term basis. If you look at the general conditions and look at what happened it has become clear that there are some very interesting ideas in the conditions and they are ones that we all subscribe to. We feel very much that the European Commission has emphasised the role of NGOs. Unfortunately there is a difference between what the conditions say and what has happened in practice. The conditions have committed themselves perhaps to things that EuropeAid is unable to fulfil at the moment although it is talking about fulfilling them in the future and is looking into it.

  87. Could you let us have a copy of these?
  (Ms Coles) Yes, I can. At the moment I only have them in French but I will let you have a copy in English.[5]

  88. That would be very helpful. There originally were general conditions. There are now new general conditions and the only change is in the area that you have outlined?
  (Ms Coles) I was not familiar with the old general conditions. Luckily for me, I came in just as the new general conditions came in so I did not have to learn the old ones. From what I understand from others they clarify quite a number of scenarios. They have made it a lot easier to look at where the Commission was going and also to assess eligible projects.

  89. The example you give us in your memorandum is that there are two calls for proposals per year and a maximum limit of six months at EC to process applications. This has not been the case.
  (Ms Coles) No.

  90. That is in either of those situations?
  (Ms Coles) No. EuropeAid have actually come back and said that that was not a practical proposal. What they are now looking at is having one call for proposals every year and to disburse the monies from that call at the end of that year.

  91. If you can let us have the details before we go to Brussels in January that would be very helpful. Are NGOs informed of decisions relating to their proposals within a reasonable time frame and are the decisions based on transparent criteria, do you think?
  (Ms Coles) The first answer would have to be no. It takes a long time to be informed of notifications as to whether your application has been successful or not. The Brussels Development Finance Group has asked for organisations whose applications are not eligible or fail at the first hurdle to be notified earlier. EuropeAid have said they cannot do this for legal reasons because of the appeal process within the whole European Commission. Practically things are not being fulfilled. It has taken a very long time for the money to come through and for contracts to be agreed.

  92. Can you go into the appeal procedure? You mentioned that very briefly. Do NGOs have a right to appeal if your funding proposals are rejected and perhaps you can compare that to what right of appeal there is if DFID rejects a funding proposal?
  (Ms Coles) This was raised at the last Development Finance Group. I have never dealt with an NGO that has taken its application back on appeal.
  (Ms O'Connell) There is no appeal.

  93. But you were saying I think that EuropeAid were very concerned because they were concerned that you might take it to the appeals court, so clearly the mechanism is there.
  (Ms O'Connell) There must be a misunderstanding of something Ruth said. There is no process of appeal. The decisions are taken and that is it. It is the same for the fund which DFID is running. Again, the decisions are taken and that is the bottom line. I have never heard of a case where NGOs have been able to say, "We do not accept the decision. We want to discuss it with you." What people do is that they may revise and re-submit and then you may get funding.
  (Ms de Toma) Or do other budget lines as well.
  (Ms O'Connell) Yes. You asked about transparency. One of the issues for NGOs on the European Commission co-funding line is that there is no transparency. There are a certain amount of very clear guidelines written down but there seem to be other criteria that come into play which are not clear. One of them seems to be some kind of rough allocation between NGOs in the 15 Member States and the NGOs and the 15 Member States, and some kind of notional divide of what would be a fair share. Because Britain has more NGOs than most other EU Member States, in the past we have tended to get more than our "fair share" of the money. That is one criterion that is operating but it is not very transparent. We as British NGOs have decided to do an analysis of our own successes and failures in terms of EC funding over the last year and from that see what kind of informal criteria are being used. We suspect there are also criteria about sectors. The European Commission is moving towards a position where it is prioritising certain sectors within countries, say, like health in Mozambique, and therefore it would like the NGOs applications for work in Mozambique to be somehow complementary. That may seem very sensible. It may even be very sensible but it is not clear that that is happening. So we need a lot more transparency about what criteria are really being used and what kind of balancing is being done so that we can operate within that or lobby to change it if we do not think it is right.

  94. You deal with transparency in your paragraph 20 where you are saying that the Commission seems to increasingly view NGOs as "mere implementers rather than development actors in their own right", so you want to be part of setting the parameters as part of the transparency issue.
  (Ms O'Connell) We want our partners in the south in developing countries to have a very big role in setting the overall parameters of their countries and then we want as NGOs based in Europe to have a role in discussing development policy, discussing development priorities. We do not expect to be given the final say but we do think we have experience from our work in developing countries which we can share and we have views which we think should be listened to. Therefore, if sectors are being agreed for countries, whether it is health or education, we feel we should have a capacity to discuss that as a minimum. Also, one of the points we would like to make is that while we are happy to work within the broad sectors that the Commission may establish for a particular country we would also like the opportunity to do more innovative pilot work so we do not want to be just straitjacketed into only doing health or only doing education or only doing sanitation. We think that that flies in the face of what civil society is about, which is about innovation and about independence and autonomy in our work.
  (Ms Coles) This is in fact recognised by the general conditions and this is a very important part of the autonomy of NGOs and also the right of initiative on the co-financing budget line is enshrined in the general conditions but not necessarily brought through in practice.

Tony Worthington

  95. You mentioned a minute or two ago about your relationship with southern NGOs. How do they come into the influencing of policy? What are the links between those southern NGOs, yourselves and the Commission itself? Is there any mechanism for their views to be taken into account?
  (Ms O'Connell) There is no formal mechanism but there are many informal mechanisms. There are a number of ways of answering this. I will just give you a few examples and others may want to add to those. With regard to the new Country Strategy Paper that we mentioned earlier that the EU is writing with developing countries, it is very clear within the new Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the Africa Caribbean Pacific countries that the EU delegation will facilitate consultation with civil society. It is not going to take the lead in it but it will facilitate it. It will encourage developing country governments to talk to its civil society and it will do that through making information available, through opening up channels for dialogue and discussion and funding, including offering funding both to civil society and to the governments to give them greater capacity to do this kind of dialoguing on policy. That is a good thing for the future. There are gradually emerging very good networks of southern organisations, for example, in southern Africa there is a very strong regional network called Mwengo which brings together NGO delegates from the different southern Africa countries. First of all they relate clearly to SADC, their own Africa Development Community structures within the region, but they also are able to relate to the EU and they do that through the auspices and the channels of our own EU network, so the networks talk to the networks and hopefully through that process get greater access. The Liaison Committee in Brussels usually invites a lot of southern NGO delegates to come and take part in its annual conference and speak face to face to policy makers in Brussels. As NGOs we do this quite a lot as well. For example, the organisation I work for invite several of our southern partners to come to Europe several times a year with the express purpose of talking to people here, talking to you, talking to people from DFID, talking to people in Brussels so that there is a face to face opportunity of southern voices being heard by policy makers. Also as NGOs we try quite hard to make sure that any information we have about policy decisions, about processes that are coming up within the EU or within the British Government, is passed on to our partners about so that they know what is happening. Also NGOs like my own and others, like Christian Aid, are involved in training programmes specifically to strengthen the advocacy and lobbying capacity of their partners so that they are better equipped to engage. I suppose overall there are lots of good things happening but it is a little bit patchy. There is no one clear channel and I cannot foresee in the short term there ever being one channel where southern NGOs or southern partners can feed directly into Brussels.

  96. But the key issue sounds as if it is once again the quality of the delegation of the European Community and the links between that delegation and Brussels as to what are the frameworks within which they have to fit.
  (Ms O'Connell) Yes, that is right. Our overall view is that the delegations have a huge role to play, but to do that they need the right staff, the right training. They also need a culture of listening rather than a culture of making decisions and then discussing it afterwards. Consultation is meaningless unless there is some real opportunity to influence what is being decided. That is at the end of the day about attitudes and culture and these are the hardest things to shift as we know in our own society in local government here, say, or service provision in Britain, but the delegations are at the centre of what could be very exciting work in the future if they can get it right.

Mr Khabra

  97. As you know, if the European Commission is serious about improving the effectiveness of its development assistance it must establish adequate procedures for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of its reforms. The European Parliament asked the Commission to include output targets in its annual report on external assistance, but the Commission has failed to do this. What are BOND's views about the evaluation activities of EuropeAid and European development assistance? Can an organisation be accountable if it does not monitor and report on progress towards output targets? Do NGOs use output targets to evaluate their activities?
  (Ms de Toma) Generally our view has been in favour of setting output targets. In fact we have strongly supported the work of the European Parliament in setting these output targets and we were very sad last year when they failed to do so. Their justification for failing to introduce output targets was that they just could not do so technically because they lacked an over-arching information management system which apparently we hear they are putting in place now and should be ready by the middle of next year. We hope to see that in the next annual report on the implementation of development policy. We see the annual report as a very valuable tool for precisely monitoring and evaluating what has been done, not just on reforms but overall implementation of the development policy. The first annual report was not very exciting, we thought, but then again it just covered the period from the end of 1999 to the end of 2000 so it was pre-reform. In terms of evaluation we feel, as we said in our submission, that there is still a lot of work to be done on developing performance indicators of achievement. We feel that the Commission has a long way to go on that. They still have not developed such indicators that could then be incorporated into the annual report to evaluate their work. Obviously the European Parliament is trying to prod the Commission to work on this and to get people from Member States, civil society and the Commission to work together on generating such indicators. The quality support group is doing a lot of work on this. You have heard about the quality support group which is supposed to assess the quality specifically of the country strategy papers that we have talked so much about today. That is definitely an improvement and they are supposed to produce a report on the first batch of country strategy papers at the end of this year. We hope to see a draft report by the beginning of next year. In terms of accountability, again yes, we feel that performance indicators are key and we look to this information management system and the output targets to give us a clearer framework. The latest situation on these output targets that were so ardently debated at the Parliament and Council were the subject of an emergency conciliation procedure because they could not come to a compromise on them. They eventually did and the situation now is that they have agreed to earmark 35 per cent of the funds under the regional budgets for social infrastructure with an emphasis on education and health. It is not what we have gone for because we wanted a clearer sectoral breakdown. We could not get that. We hope that in the future they will have that, but obviously we need indicators because if you just have output targets it does not really do the job because they are input targets and we do not what impact the funding and the policies are actually having on the alleviation of poverty. It is the two together and the annual report should be the vehicle that assesses the achievement of the implementation of the policy.

  98. What about the previous difficulties NGOs were facing in evaluating their activities?
  (Ms de Toma) We do have targets and indicators and obviously that is always part of a project proposal. We have very strict frameworks to define what we are going to do with the funds that we are receiving and how we will assess what impact these have had. Obviously, in terms of service delivery, say, in the field of health or education, these might be easier to gauge, but in terms of, for instance, advocacy work which Helen mentioned earlier and that we are working with our partners on, a separate series of indicators for instance would have to be developed to gauge the impact of advocacy work at the local level. There are different types of indicators but we feel that they are fundamental to our work because if not we just do not know what progress we have made. Another important thing is that obviously we always start with a base line study because if not you will not have a starting point and you will not know whether you have improved or made the situation worse in any way.
  (Ms O'Connell) Just to add one point to that, most NGOs now would be involved in doing more participative evaluation, meaning that you evaluate the programme or the project that you are funding with the participants and with the citizens in the developing country who are benefiting from it, so you have a more open and transparent evaluation of how the project has gone, how they feel it has gone, how the local people who were supposed to benefit think about it as well as what you think about it. That will be done side by side maybe with, for larger programmes, external consultants either from other developing countries or from here who would go in and run an evaluation. Particularly as a lot of NGOs use institutional money, say, from the British Government or from the European Commission, evaluations are essential. You have to do them as part of the reporting process and there is a long and well established body of good practice which most NGOs certainly are following. Development at the end of the day is very long term. It is not always easy just to say, "We have done that; let us do the next thing." A very long term and integrated approach is needed. If you are working on health you have to also look at the other issues around education, around decision making, around local governance. Sometimes the issues get broader and broader and it is not easy always just to say we have done that and that was 100 per cent successful.

Hugh Bayley

  99. Each OECD member reports on its development assistance according to the DAC criteria. It seems to me that the reason why there is such concern about the lack of transparency of the EU's budget, which is huge compared to any individual national spend, is that they do not. To what extent will the protocols which the European Parliament has drawn up enable reporting on EU development assistance to take place on the same basis as each of the Member States, because until we get that we simply will not be able to compare like with like. We will not know how much money they are spending on health programmes as a proportion overall, or how much on education, or how much on poverty alleviation measures. Is that not the absolutely fundamental thing in terms of transparency to get a common system of reporting for the EU programme and each of the Member States?
  (Ms de Toma) You are absolutely right. They started the work on reorganising budget lines according to the DAC categories last year and that was part of the thought process behind output targets because output targets were obviously arranged along the DAC criteria. I would say that they are halfway there because, as I said, budget lines have been reorganised and the rationalisation of budget lines has followed somewhat the DAC sectoral criteria. However, the most recent compromise on output targets only covers social infrastructure and does not cover the sectoral breakdown which we had advocated and which reflected DAC criteria, so yes, they are improving on rationalisation but they are still not able to report. I would repeat what I said earlier about their information management system, this CRIS system I think it is going to be called, that should be implemented next year. We hope to see improvement on the DAC reporting by then.

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