Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 95-99)


2 JUNE 2008

  Q95 Chairman: Good afternoon, Minister, and welcome to this session of the International Development Committee. It is the first time you have appeared in front of us as a Minister; I know you have replied to debates in Westminster Hall, answering our questions, but welcome. I wonder if just for the record you could introduce your team.

  Mr Malik: Of course. On my right is Bella Bird from Nepal—not originally but at the moment—to her right is Mike Hammond, whom you met in Ghana, and on my left is Sarah Cooke who works on aid effectiveness here. I am Shahid Malik.

  Q96  Chairman: As you know, this is the final oral evidence session on this. We did visit Ghana, looking at co-ordination on the ground in a developing country and we also did a tour of Europe—we were in Rome, Berlin and Copenhagen—looking at different approaches, and I would say fairly radically different approaches, to international development and co-ordination. At this stage we obviously want to draw those threads together and check DFID's role in promoting co-ordination, but perhaps we could pick up on the (DAC) Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which, while they gave DFID a generally positive report on co-ordination, did say that there was an element of DFID promoting its own model rather than leading and encouraging complementary donor action; in other words we are in favour of co-ordination as long as you agree with us. First of all, do you accept that that is the case, and if it is the case is it because you believe the DFID model is one that we need to sell to other people because it is a positive, proactive strategy, or is it just because you are the biggest kid on the block?

  Mr Malik: Chairman, I certainly accept that it is a perception and in some cases it evidently is the case that DFID is seen as the lead body in international development. The Easterly bit of research that was done by New York University just a few months ago put DFID out there as number one, but it is really not that relevant comparing ourselves to other aid agencies; what is most relevant is ensuring that year on year we have improvements. On occasions we may well have been a bit more confident perhaps than we ought to be about some of the models and the mechanisms that we use, but we are a learning organisation and we are keen, where we believe that aid is being used effectively, in actually trying to influence other donors and the like. I suppose our response would really be that by building the evidence base of what is effective through the DAC and joint working groups we can make a real difference and get a more objective way of thinking about these things. What I would like to do if I may, Mr Bruce, is perhaps just outline the approach that we advocate and then perhaps come more specifically to the peer review question.

  Q97  Chairman: I might stop you on that because we have got quite a lot of questions and you will get the opportunity to bring those points out. I do not want to inhibit you, but at this stage if you can bring the points in as you answer the questions that would probably be helpful. I just have one follow-through on the basis of the evidence we had. We met the German agency GTZ and their comment was that they felt DFID was "too ideological" in its approach and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a mixed response, "the big boy in the class, the one we tend to defer to", but on occasions implying that "we are expected to defer to". These are two significant and important donors and if DFID, perfectly reasonably, is the largest donor in the whole of Europe it has justification for taking a leadership role but it is equally important that those kinds of donors feel comfortable with that and that implies they do not entirely. Do you accept that that is a point of issue?

  Mr Malik: Again, I accept that that is a perception. It tells us that it is something we have got to work on and it is crucial that other donor partners are actually working with us in an environment that is comfortable for them. I would like to think that we try to influence where we think aid is being used effectively but also we are willing to listen and to learn from others. In terms of leadership there are many examples in country where we are happy to defer and allow other people to lead who are better suited to lead. There is no doubt that DFID is seen as top of the class by many; I hope that there is not some arrogance that has crept in with that but we are constantly looking at ourselves to learn as an organisation.

  Q98  Chairman: Finally on that, do you feel that proactively as DFID there are occasions when you do actually want to promote your approach? That is not necessarily unreasonable when you are very well-respected, and there is no doubt about it, you are seen as a leader, you are a big player, so all those things are true. Is there a conscious, proactive case where it is actually an occasion to say we are wanting to sell our approach, promote our approach?

  Mr Malik: In all honesty there are occasions when we are confident that our approach is perhaps the best approach and on those occasions it is our job to try to influence others who might have a contrary opinion. I can speak about Nepal, for example.

  Chairman: We have a division so do that when we come back.

The Committee suspended from 4.09 pm to 4.19 pm for a division in the House.

  Chairman: Mr Malik, you were in full flow but I am going to ask Marsha Singh to carry on with his question. You will be able to bring in your examples of Nepal, I promise you.

  Q99  Mr Singh: Minister, the memorandum that DFID sent to us says on this topic that "DFID has performed above average compared to other donors on aid effectiveness, having either met or being on track to meet all the 2010 targets in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness." However, the ODI (Overseas Development Institute) said that DFID ranks "comparatively low" or "little better than average" on key alignment and harmonisation indicators. How do you explain that? Secondly, what does average mean in this context, is the average very low or is the average very high and what targets have we met and what targets are we on track to meet?

  Mr Malik: I would firstly say that we recognise the Paris Declaration monitoring survey as being the most rigorous and internationally-recognised measure of aid effectiveness, and I am very pleased actually that you have pointed out that we have either met or are on track to meet our commitments by 2010. I have to say in terms of the areas where we perhaps are not performing as well as we would like, we are really looking to some of those countries—they are Nordic countries in the main—looking at working with them to get a better understanding of why they are ahead of us in terms of some of those targets. We will shortly learn from some forthcoming case studies of individual donors as part of the Paris Declaration evaluation and this we think will give us a valuable insight as to why some of the Nordic Plus group in particular seem to be quite advanced in terms of some of the indicators. In terms of specifically which ones we have met and which ones we need to improve upon, I might just defer for a second to Sarah.

  Ms Cooke: The three targets where although we are on track to meet we are performing less strongly are aid on budget, predictability and programme-based approaches, so although all the other targets we have already met, those are the three where we are on track to meet the targets but obviously they are not due to be met until 2010. Those are three areas, therefore, where our performance is strong but we feel we could do more, and we have put in place quite challenging targets in these three areas in our business planning round for the next three years to ensure that we are having an even stronger performance over the next few years on those three particular areas.

  Mr Malik: Just to add really, it is quite complex, aid on budget. For example, some of this on occasions is due to the poor capture of data behind partner governments and we are actually looking to work with partner governments to identify some of the bottlenecks to capturing the data which prevents it being included within the budget itself. The Paris Declaration is something that we have mainstreamed throughout the organisation as part of our planning processes now; as well as teams in country having access to training we have a monthly aid effectiveness newsletter that goes out as well, so we are very much committed to the Paris Declaration but we are equally very confident that by 2010 despite, on some of the targets, not being as advanced as we would like to be, we will actually meet all the targets.

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