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Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and, after a busy and somewhat sleepless parliamentary week, the report of the Commission for Africa has given us all extensive reading over the weekend.
We welcome the report. It is a quality document that provides a thorough, detailed and perceptive analysis of the problems that confront Africa and that inhibit economic growth and poverty reduction. I acknowledge the Prime Minister's initiative in establishing the commission and commend his fellow commissioners and the secretariat for their contribution to the end product.
Although, in total, there are more people in Asia and south America who subsist on less than a dollar a day, only in Africa is poverty increasing and life expectancy falling. The continent suffers from disease, poor governance and conflict.This report has covered the ground comprehensively. Its analysis is excellent, but it risks being more of an academic work than a programme for action. Both sides of the House share the
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common objective of wanting to tackle global poverty. Both major parties would spend the same amount on international development. Our policies, in many respects, overlap, and that is how it should be. Inasmuch as we differ, it is about how we spend our money on poverty reduction, not about how much we spend on it.
We can therefore endorse many of the commission's recommendations and share its objectives on issues such as trade reform, debt cancellation and setting up an advocacy fund. As an analysis, it gets very high marks indeed, but as a blueprint for the effective change and progress that we all want to see in Africa, it has some serious shortcomings. It describes and meticulously costs everything that we should do, but not so much what Africans should do. There is no implementation plan to show in comparable detail how the extra billions will be disbursed, how this disbursement will be monitored to ensure accountability and transparency, and what measures will ever be taken against errant Governments. The fundamental question I ask the Secretary of State, therefore, is: what mechanism will there be to monitor and secure the quality of governance that Africa so desperately needs?
For such a lengthy and detailed report, the coverage given to the African Governments' own obligations to fulfil their side of the project is disappointingly thin. For example, the chapter on governance states that
and that the process of fighting it will be assisted by "increased transparency" by African Governments, but it offers no methodology for achieving this. Instead, the blame for corruption is heaped on those who offer bribes, but not at all on those who solicit them.
African Governments have had 30 or 40 years of independence to increase transparency. That is more than a generation and, indeed, longer than the life expectancy of many of their citizens. In the early years of independence, corruption might indeed have been fuelled from outside, but today it is almost exclusively home grown. It is characterised by a total indifference of the corrupt to the welfare of their fellow citizens.
Reference is of course made to the NEPAD African peer review mechanism as a way of addressing the problems of governance and corruption, but the portents are not good. On 24 February, the second phase of the NEPAD review on Kenya was launched. It was formally welcomed by the Kenyan Government as the
That statement was made only 11 days after Kenya's anti-corruption chief, John Githongo, was forced out of his job and the country following threats to his life made by Ministers whose corruption he was investigating. Can we thus be confident that the peer review mechanism will bring the Kenyan Government to book and pressurise them to reform?
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That would suggest that neither Kenya nor Uganda, which is also to embark on the process, will be subject to much peer pressure at all. Does the Secretary of State thus agree with what we have been saying for months: the entire project will work only if all participant countries subscribe to a collective commitment to govern well? If so, by what effective mechanism will the likes of Robert Mugabe be certain to reach the high standards of government we seek?
A further disappointment is the report's recommendation that the majority of the funds to build or restore Africa's infrastructure should be channelled directly to Governments. Commissioner Anna Tibijuka made a telling comment in that respect when she described how the promise offered by Tanzania's independence was squandered after donor Governments spent a fortune on infrastructure projects that were either not completed because money was stolen, or wasted because they were irrelevant to the country's needs, such as a motorway that went from nowhere to nowhere. [Interruption.] Does the Secretary of State believe that the recommendation in our manifesto of channelling aid through non-governmental organisations and civic organisations, as well as Governments, would produce both greater accountability and the more cost-effective use of available funds? [Interruption.] To put it differently, if the Secretary of State believes that he is doing things well already, what will he do differently now that he has the benefit of the Commission for Africa report?
Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the Front-Bench spokesman that I have encouraged Ministers to cut down their contributions during these statements. The hon. Gentleman has now spoken for longer than the Minister did, and he has gone beyond the five minutes that the Select Committee asked Opposition spokesmen to take.
It is no good the Secretary of State saying that the choice is ours, because the choice is also theirs: we need to be reassured that African Governments will properly join us in creating a better future for their people, because otherwise this will be another opportunity missedalthough it is, by any measure, the best opportunity that we are ever likely to have.
Hilary Benn: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the report, its analysis and its recommendations, although he somewhat undid what he said at the beginning of his remarks with what came subsequently.
The hon. Gentleman raised several substantive issues. He asked how the increased aid will be distributed. The answer is that it is for each country that raises additional aid to ensure that it is used for the purpose for which it is intended. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, we work through the British aid programmehis right hon. and
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learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition has described it as "extremely effective"using a range of mechanisms, depending on our judgment of the country in which we are working. In some countries we work through Governments, who have the capacity and the ability to do the job on behalf of their people; in other countrieshe mentioned Zimbabwe, where we do not work with the Government because of the monumental failure of governance in that countrywe work through NGOs, in particular in our programme to fight HIV and AIDS.
Governance and corruption are important issues, but we have to recognise that we have moved on from the colonial era and that we must be careful about the way in which we respond. As I think the hon. Gentleman meant to say, the primary responsibility rests with the Governments of Africa themselves. The best mechanism for holding them to account are the peoples of the countries of Africa
Hilary Benn: It is all very well the hon. Lady saying that, but it is the peoples of Africa who will hold their Governments to account, who will ask questions about where the resources have gone and who will provide the pressure on Governments to crack down on corruption. All I would say about the African peer review mechanism is that time will tell whether it proves to be effective in holding the Governments of Africa to account. We should give it time to work and welcome the fact that the African Union created the APRM in the first place.
To be honest, I do not think that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) meant this, but giving money to NGOs is not the way to deal with Africa's infrastructure problems. A large number of projects are awaiting effective funding; some have not happened because of problems experienced by the African Development Bank in disbursing the money, and others have not happened because they involve more than one country and it is difficult to secure agreements.
Even though one cannot simply lay one map on top of the other, it is instructive to compare the transport infrastructure of India with that of Africa. India's transport infrastructure links the country, whereas Africa's was designed to take raw materials from the place where they were found to the coast and away from the continent as quickly as possible. That is why, for example, to get from one part of west Africa to another, business people often have to fly to Europe and back, because it is the quickest way. That is a good example of why Africa needs a more effective infrastructure.
As for NGOs generally, the hon. Gentleman knows that in our rising aid programme the Government are increasing the financial support that we give to NGOs. We will work with a wide range of partners to ensure that Africa has the chance of a better future, but in the end it is for Africa to take the decisions and for us to do what we can to help.
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