Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 140 - 159)



Mr Khabra

  140. What is the Committee's view of the institutional structures which govern European Development Assistance? Is there sufficient clarity as regards the roles and responsibilities of the various DGs and EuropeAid? Is the assignment of roles and responsibilities a sensible one?
  (Mrs Kinnock) The changes have been very traumatic, particularly for Commission staff and particularly for DG Development staff. You have seen a massive movement of people out of DG Development into DG Trade where all the trade work is now being done, including on Cotonou, WTO; everything is now concentrated in that one DG. Also, of course, a lot of their expert staff have gone to EuropeAid and also a lot of their staff have gone out to the delegations as part of this deconcentration which is going on. That has created a difficulty and has affected moral in DG Development very seriously indeed. There is a sense in other DGs, particularly RELEX, the external DG, which Chris Patten is the Commissiner responsible for, that that is more important and is creeping into all kinds of areas of power which Development is not managing to hold on to. It was the case as far as EuropeAid was concerned. Chris Patten is the chair, and Nielson is the chief executive, so clearly there was a sensitivity there and maybe you can explore these things with Nielson; I think you are seeing Poul Nielson later today. I think that is important. There is a sense in Development that there is this marginalisation, certainly in relation to CFSP, to where we sit on Common Foreign Security Policy initiatives. Those are areas we have to be very conscious of following. My view is after the next European elections and the next Commission is put in place, I do not think we will see the same structures as we see now. I do not know how they will do it but I think there is a momentum now behind pulling Development and other External Relations people together, maybe with some kind of division but pulling the whole thing together, because now it is not coherent, it is not working that well, and the areas of responsibility are not properly defined. If Poul Nielson goes to the Balkans to look at development policy issues, he is perfectly entitled to do that, but that creates some tension, and when Chris Patten goes to Latin America or India, that also creates tension. I suppose you have the same thing with the Foreign Office and DFID, it is not an unknown experience in the UK either. I am relatively familiar with that. I spent all day Friday in DFID and the Foreign Office, and I am very well aware that this treading-on-toes subject is one they touch upon with someone neutral like me perhaps more than they do with some of you, I do not know. It is an element in how things operate here. I also see the possibility of EuropeAid becoming perhaps more as something you think of as an agency, a funding, financing agency.

  141. What assessment or monitoring, if any, will be done?
  (Mrs Kinnock) That is much improved now. We have the quality support group who are monitoring very carefully what is going on, there is constant evaluation both in EuropeAid and elsewhere. It still might not be as adequate as we would like, but I think the commitment is there to ensure the quality of the work, the efficiency of the work, is improved.

Mr Colman

  142. Can I take you back to financial matters, you talked about Poul Nielson going to the Balkans and, of course, Chris Patten was in Tokyo discussing Afghanistan yesterday. Is there any prospect of the current financial perspective being amended to take account of unexpected spending? Is there going to be a sort of dive into the reserves to deal with these matters, or is the amount of money spent, for instance, on Africa, going to have to go down to take account of these huge areas? Two years ago it was the Balkans, last night it was Afghanistan. Where is the money coming from for these big things? Is there an amendable situation as there is within the UK budget, which I assume is what the current financial perspective is?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Every year we challenge the financial perspective, and every year it never changes. In terms of the aid flows, we will see in the European Union the same as we are seeing from all donors, and particularly now with the prospect of recession, and I think it is highly unlikely we will see the financial ceiling raised here.

  143. So where does this extra money come from then?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Things like the Moroccan Fishing Agreement. They look for money. They took for the Global Health Fund, which was another initiative which many of us in the Development Committee were very sceptical about, not about the need to be involved in it, but how again we were going to pay for it. There are always these declarations, and these funds get set up and then people say, "Where will we go for it? We will go to the European Union for it." Although the UK and others have put in bilateral funding, it was also expected that the EU should. For that, as well as for instance the debt initiative, part of it came from the under-spent EDF, and, okay, that is fair enough, but on both occasions the ACP were never asked whether the funds which were meant for them, although not spent, were available in their view. Also they were very keen, and in fact we did win this one, that the debt relief money under the HIPC arrangements coming from the EDF would go to ACP countries. But that was not the initial view. I did have a long discussion with Gordon Brown about this and about how there are sensitivities which ACP countries have, that it is not their fault—well, it might be partly their fault—but there ought to be far more awareness of their response in situations when it is said, "Dive into EDF if you need a few extra bob for something".

  144. Does your Committee have any monitoring process, any ordering process, any voting, if you like, when money is taken away from one fund or one country and suddenly given to another?
  (Mrs Kinnock) We do make adjustments and we do resist some of the things they suggest. Certainly we do not allow money to come from the lines we consider to be absolutely critical and need funding. For instance, one of the suggestions for the Global Health Fund was that it came from our health and reproductive health rights line, which did not make a blind bit of sense because if there is one thing we do reasonably well it is health, so to take money from there, where it is working very well, and put it into something where we still do not know how effective it is going to be, we could not justify. So we do resist and we do seriously win battles. Richard Howitt would be more au fait with all the intricacies of each line he fought on, but we do not get any extra money. The Moroccan Fisheries Agreement partly paid for the Global Health Fund because it was just lying there and the money was not being used, although the Spaniards kicked up a hell of a fuss because they did not want this fishing agreement to have any money taken out of it even though there was not an agreement to use the money, as I understand it.

  145. Do you believe any progress has been made in reducing the gap between commitments and payments in the sphere of European development assistance? We are told it is happening, do you believe it is happening?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Yes, I do believe it is happening. I do follow specific budget lines and many of us do, and I go to EuropeAid quite often. As I think I mentioned last night, I know the human rights budget lines are now all properly committed, and they are not just throwing the money at big infrastructure projects—which you cannot do necessarily anyway—but that I am very satisfied with, and certainly the health lines as well. It is not ideal, I am not suggesting that, but I think the movement is in the right direction. I can assure you that the Development Committee is following very closely all these budget lines, and we will be even more assiduous now that this system is in place because we can ask for the evidence. The very difficult negotiations we had with the Commission over this budget, when the Parliament was pressing very hard for what I personally considered to be impossible things for them to deliver, resulted in them putting in place very firm systems which hopefully will mean we can see what is going on. We cannot ask them to do more here than is happening elsewhere, and I think people were beginning to ask for more recording and inputs and outputs, and I do not think that was a feasible request.

Mr Robathan

  146. I have several questions and one relates to the Country Strategy Papers. Where are they written? They take input from the in-country and the civil society there.
  (Mrs Kinnock) Yes.

  147. Who actually is responsible for writing them, because there seems to be some confusion, certainly in the answers we have had?
  (Mrs Kinnock) My understanding very clearly is that the countries are in the driving seat, and that was the whole intention of this process. One of the things I have been following is how involved civil society has been, because that is an essential element, and I think that is patchy. Some places have been much better at that. For instance, in the Caribbean there has been quite rigorous consultation with civil society, certainly in most countries there. In Southern Africa, the Horn of Africa for instance I know is not very good at all. That is not the fault of the Commission of course, because governments in many countries are resistant to involving civil society and NGOs, and it would be the countries you would expect who are the ones where there is not a lot of evidence of that having happened. My understanding is that it is the delegations who are responsible.

  148. It is the delegations, which will be under EuropeAid, will they? They are responsible here to EuropeAid?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Yes, responsible to the Commission directly, yes.

  149. But through EuropeAid or not?
  (Mrs Kinnock) No, they would be responsible to DG Development and to Nielson directly. I rang Nielson's cabinet this morning to find out how many papers there were and when they were getting on the website, because they are very keen to get them on quite soon, so you will be able to see these papers quite soon. There are ten completely finished, which is seven more than when I called about a week ago.

  150. We have been discussing this before, and that was where the confusion came in.
  (Mrs Kinnock) There are lots of them almost ready, so by September they should be all ready.

  151. Could I turn to your memo which, amongst other things, talks about the staffing; if we are going to have larger delegations we need more staffing. I can see that. We did have a discussion here today with EuropeAid and I got the impression certainly that one of the problems with staffing was that people based in Brussels were not very keen to go out into the wide blue yonder and it was difficult to get people with correct qualifications to man the delegations. What is your impression?
  (Mrs Kinnock) I think the quantity of staffing is important. In here I wrote about Sudan because I had just come back from there, and it was appalling what the delegate there was trying to manage. He was brilliant, a very committed man, and he was trying to deal with going down into the south to follow up things there, to go to Nairobi to be part of the EGAT talks, and to manage all of this with just one extra member of staff, apart from the technical assistants and stagiaires, was just totally unsatisfactory. I think it has improved now, I think we kicked up a hell of a fuss when we came back and I think he has at least one more member of staff now. But it is quality of staff too. One of the issues I have followed closely is conflict prevention and that is very important in ACP countries, particularly in Africa, and we do not have enough people with that kind of expertise, so it is the quality of staff that is important. If we are going to be decentralised, deconcentrated, to the delegations, we have to make sure we have people with the right expertise there who can make the right decisions they will have the responsibility to make. I think those things are important. Again it is historic. In the past it was agronomists and economists and the Commission was full of those people, and now the whole emphasis has changed to social and welfare objectives, health and education, and we just do not have enough people with that expertise to put out in the delegations or indeed to have here. I have not heard a lot of people saying they do not want to go to the delegations, I think quite a lot of people have been keen to go out to delegations, and a lot of very good staff that I know of and miss a lot in Brussels have now gone out to work in delegations. Again, if they had the right staff, the right expertise, and the willingness just to open up a bit—they are a bit nervous of these new rules I think—it would help. What you could do is to look at the South African delegation, which I am following because that is the pilot for all of this, and if you go there and see them or get some information from them, you will see this whole deconcentration in South Africa is working really well because I think they are still the only ones who are on full-blown deconcentration. That is really impressive and a very good delegation. You see the money going out and all the emphasis is right. We had an excellent delegate there, a guy called Michael Laidler who was in Zimbabwe before, and he just made that delegation work, and it can be done if that kind of commitment and expert guidance is there. We have another Brit there now and he is also doing a very, very good job. It would be worth looking at that and perhaps asking them for their opinion on how deconcentration is working for them, because they would be the best ones to tell you.

Tony Worthington

  152. Just following what Andrew was saying, you say very strongly you have to look at the costs of deconcentration and make sure it is funded properly and so on, are we moving to a situation where if you join DG Development it is going to be like a Foreign Office career? I was reading somewhere that instead of having an annual contract you could now have a contract for up to five years. In the Foreign Office you would expect to spend some time in London and then expect to be posted overseas. Are we moving towards where, to make this work, you cannot do it on a coming-in-and-out basis, there has to be a career structure?
  (Mrs Kinnock) I think so, I think that is the direction it is going in. You would have to talk to Neil about that probably because that is the kind of thinking they are currently having in terms of how, not just in the ACP or Development, the European Union's External Relations are better managed outside of Brussels, because that link has not really been that well managed in the past, and these out-posts have tended to be places where you put someone who is due for retirement, and that has not been satisfactory really, but now that is very different. You go and see far more people who have worked here who are dynamic. People do now come in and out of Brussels but it is very difficult to know what to do with people when they have done that. They have not got that right, I do not think, and people who come back from delegations often do not know what they are going to get given, and there is uncertainty and a lack of proper sensitivity about how to deal with them, and it is maybe not as good as we would expect from the Foreign Office. I do not know, maybe the people in the Foreign Office experience that too.

  153. I thought one of the most dubious things about the previous set-up was the technical assistance consultancies and the way money went into those. With the staffing now, the work that goes out must have been reduced very, very considerably to those bodies who were doing the technical assistance before. We were hearing earlier that the best people in those TAS were not coming into DG Development or EuropeAid because they cannot afford the salaries and so on. What is happening there in terms of being able to get the best people and keep them?
  (Mrs Kinnock) The technical assistants just come in and out. One thing which has improved now that the new system is in place is that the contracts and tendering for work is perhaps better than it was. I never understood how it operated, I do not know that I do now, or who knows exactly how these things are allocated, but one of the reasons for the reform was a concern about the proliferation of technical assistants which was seemingly out of control. We still have a big dependence on them because we still have nowhere near enough of them. If we are going to deliver these big projects, it is not possible to do it unless you bring in the people. DFID is the same, DFID cannot possibly manage to evaluate on the ground what needs to be done on a particular project or initiative. We will continue to do that, but the main thing is to make sure that the contracts are properly managed, the tendering is properly done, and also that we use more local people, which is something that developing countries and governments criticise us for, that we are always importing ex-pats who drive around in Landrovers. We all do it, DFID does it as well, the UN does it, so maybe it is unavoidable but it needs to be very, very well managed, and perhaps we will not be quite so guilty of those criticisms as before.

Mr Battle

  154. Could I ask about a little part of the budget, the Humanitarian Aid Office, which a lot of people think is the aid budget, which is there for the natural disasters. It was cut in half last year and it is supposed to have headings in for special emergencies but you still get driven back within the budget to the ordinary development programmes. What is your view on humanitarian aid? We have not yet been to the Office to ask them about it. What is your general view? Has that budget been residualised when most of the events in the world, ie Congo, are going to make even more demands upon it, I would imagine?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Yes, Congo is still waiting. I think ECHO gets a very bad press, or indeed no press at all, despite the fact that the EU is the biggest donor of humanitarian aid, apart from when Bonino was there, when she waved the flag a lot. Even our own citizens are not aware that the WFP, the Red Cross, Oxfam and others are receiving funding from ECHO for their work, and others' resistance here to that. They talk a lot about visibility. Maybe if people were more aware of what ECHO does, there would be more willingness to give it a fixed and firm place in the budget. It is large amounts of money and as the emergencies continue then I think they panic about how on earth they are going to manage to acquire the money they need. One of the things, for instance, on Afghanistan, is that the Director is very good, she is very reasonable and sensible, and she has made it very clear that she cannot pour limitless money into Afghanistan because we are trying to deal with so many other emergencies and there is a danger that we simply will not be able to cope because the EU is expected to move in fast. I remember about 18 months ago when there was some threat of food shortages in Ethiopia, Geldof immediately had a go at the EU, which was totally unfair because there were already efforts being made to get food in through the ports and so on. As well in Afghanistan, ECHO has been working in Afghanistan over the last ten years, unlike most other donors there has always been an involvement in Afghanistan over those years. It is one of the areas of work where we could give more information and be better at informing people about some of the essential and good emergency work that happens. It is slow, as always, and we are criticised for being slow, but they are aware of that and Nielson, since he is responsible directly for it, is very keen not to be criticised on it and will sign off things more quickly than predecessors in the past.

Hugh Bayley

  155. When we have talked to NGOs they have complained to us about the bureaucracy and lack of transparency on their applications for co-financing from the EU. Do you share their concerns and what has been done to tackle this problem?
  (Mrs Kinnock) About a year ago, when Tim Clarke was responsible for NGOs—he is now in EuropeAid—he took the whole issue of financing NGOs by the scruff of the neck and it caused massive delays because he was sorting out a much better way in his view of dealing with it. They do complain but the applications run into thousands and thousands—you can imagine from all the NGOs all over the European Union—and NGOs are pretty good at complaining. I think they are right that things were slow. I do not know if you are aware but last year there was an enormous tension with the NGO Liaison Group in Brussels, where they also had not been transparent about the management of funds and so on. There was a very difficult time between the Commission and the NGOs when Nielson was extremely cross, and in fact the Liaison Office, as it was, ended and they are now having to put themselves together and fund themselves in different ways because the Commission was not happy. That was one of the things which happened as a result of this reform process, and it was because there was a big shake-up. But that is not to say that bona fide applications should not be dealt with more quickly. People like me get a lot of letters from NGOs and we always push the Commission to assist them more quickly.

Mr Robathan

  156. We have talked a bit about evaluation, and of course EuropeAid has only been up and running for a year, do you think it is a good idea in the structure to have the evaluation unit as part of EuropeAid?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Yes, I do. I think the more evaluation units you can have, the better. I think it would be good to have more evaluation of other places, particularly of other programmes perhaps. You are not raising MEDA programmes here at all but maybe concerns ought to be raised much more about those programmes, and the monitoring and evaluation of civil society, or of NGO involvement, governance, human rights criteria, and all those things are much weaker in those programmes than they are, for instance, in Cotonou. I would like to see more evaluation. We did have in the old DG VIII a very good evaluation unit which was actually headed by a guy called Sean Doyle, who is now the delegate for Morocco, so he has gone and all his experience and expertise has gone with him. I think it is good to have evaluation in EuropeAid but I would also like to see much more of it in other parts of the Commission's work.

Tony Worthington

  157. Just going back to ECHO for a moment, do you not think in the past the criticism was justified but there has been a very considerable improvement?
  (Mrs Kinnock) Yes.

  158. In the past, you used to get declarations that money was going but not be able to trace where it had gone.
  (Mrs Kinnock) That is right.

  159. In Afghanistan, just looking at the website and being able to trace it through, they have solved that and it is much, much better now.
  (Mrs Kinnock) Much better and much faster. Because we had a toe-hold there we were able to react because we had the contacts and so on. One of the issues I am raising with everyone is the issue of gender in the programmes, particularly in humanitarian aid, and it is certainly the case in Afghanistan that they are still not really recognising that. A lot of lip service gets paid to it but those kind of things tend to get lost in the process, so many of us are pressing on the importance of them understanding the gender priority and the priority they should give to women.

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