DFID's Assistance to Zimbabwe - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 50-59)


23 FEBRUARY 2010

  Q50  Chairman: Thank you, Minister, for coming to give evidence. This is the final session on our inquiry into the situation in Zimbabwe. Would you—for the record—introduce your team?

Mr Thomas: Mark Lowcock, who is the Director General for Country Programmes, is on my left, and on my right is John Dennis, who is the Head of the Zimbabwe Desk at the Foreign Office.

  Q51  Chairman: Thank you for that. As you know, we visited Zimbabwe a couple or so weeks ago. I will start by saying that we have an extract from an Economist article saying that, since we left, things have deteriorated including with strikes. It says things like: the unity government is "as good as dead" and that Harare is "abuzz" with talk of early elections and so forth. What is the political situation? Has it changed that dramatically in the last couple of weeks? Perhaps that would be the first question to ask, and then a couple more will arise from it.

  Mr Thomas: I do not think the political situation in Zimbabwe can ever have been described as easy. We have always expected that there would be difficult periods between the formation of the Inclusive Government and eventually free and fair elections taking place. You are obviously aware that there have been reports of both strike action over salaries and of other tensions within the Inclusive Government. Whether or not it leads to elections sooner rather than later, I am not in a position to make that judgment, frankly, and I do not think any of us are in a position to make that judgment. We knew that the period between the formation of the government and elections would be a protracted and difficult period, and events are bearing that out.

  Q52  Chairman: Have you seen this article from The Economist?

  Mr Thomas: I have not seen that article.

  Q53  Chairman: Is that an accurate reflection of the current situation? That is worse than the situation we would have observed three weeks ago. Saying things like the Government of National Unity is "as good as dead." and "Mr Zuma appears to agree that the unity government has become a sham" but that he does not want any trouble before the World Cup. It says that Mr Tsvangirai has given up all his demands, other than to try to see if he can get space for free and fair elections. There is then this "indigenisation" rule, saying that every company worth more than half a million dollars needs to provide a 51% stake to black Zimbabweans—which is a blatantly racist policy. That, even in relation to three weeks ago, appears to be a serious degradation of the situation.

  Mr Thomas: I have no sense that the President of South Africa has given up on the mediation process that SADC[1] have in place and have under way. Our sense, certainly, is that the key players in the Inclusive Government have not given up the sense of the work programme to which the government is committed. As I say, there are tensions at the heart of the Inclusive Government. As we all recognise, political power continues to be very contested. Inevitably, when you have a situation like that there are going to be moments of high tension as well as moments where tensions are relatively lessened. I think we are probably in one of the tenser periods at the moment.

  Q54  Chairman: We will explore this in more detail, but for the ordinary people, some of whom at least were getting access to education and health and other services, has the position changed significantly in the last few weeks? Or, in spite of those background difficulties and the strikes, are those services still being delivered?

  Mr Thomas: There has been an improvement in the delivery of basic services, as I think you had the chance to see for yourselves when you were in Zimbabwe. Having said that, there are huge challenges still in terms of the delivery of those services. The crisis in terms of access to healthcare which was at the heart of the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has not gone away, albeit there are more health workers in place. In terms of your specific question, our sense is that basic services are still in place, but they are very basic, and there is still a much longer transition to more recognisable, good quality health, education and other services to take place. The Department staff in Zimbabwe continue to look at what else we can do to improve the quality of those basic services, but that is very much a job in hand, as I suspect you will have seen for yourself when you were there.

  Q55  Chairman: The final political point: a call for early elections. That was in the air when we were there. The counter-argument was that you could not possibly have free and fair elections if they were early because the register does not exist—and to the extent that it does exist, it is completely stacked to the benefit of ZANU-PF. Is this call for early elections a realistic call? Is it achievable? Is it desirable?

  Mr Thomas: It is difficult to believe that free and fair elections would take place if they took place in the short term. As you say, there are substantial changes that are required, in terms of thinking through issues around voter education, constituency boundaries, the behaviour of the security forces, the role of the diaspora in getting the right to vote. It is difficult to see how free and fair elections could take place in the short term, certainly.

  Q56  Chairman: That would imply that you think more time is needed to get those issues straight.

  Mr Thomas: Certainly, our view is that what was included in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in terms of changes that were going to be needed has not happened as yet. The Electoral Commission is not up and functioning yet, albeit its head has been appointed—although not, I believe, formally confirmed. We would want to see the Electoral Commission being able to go about its work, completing the process of reform that everybody recognises is necessary if free and fair elections are going to take place.

  Q57  Chairman: Mr Dennis, do you want to add any comments?

  Mr Dennis: I have no comments to add, thank you.

  Q58  Richard Burden: One of the pots of support that DFID has been providing has been to the Office of the Prime Minister. We understand that the purpose of that funding is around enabling that as an office to fulfil its role under the GPA. When we met Prime Minister Tsvangirai over there, he felt that that DFID funding had been particularly useful in fulfilling the obligation to the GPA but he felt more could be done and extra support to his office would be well used, in particular, on the same sort of areas: helping the Prime Minister in his role to lead executive business in parliament and so on. Are there any plans to increase that support?

  Mr Thomas: Certainly, if further approaches for assistance were made to us, be it by the Prime Minister or indeed any other ministry that is committed to reform and to a pro-poor agenda, then we would look at them very sympathetically. As you say, our support is designed to enable the Office of the Prime Minister to carry out the sort of normal functions that a head of state's office would, including oversight of the budget, making sure that the different ministries are following through on the government's agreed work plan, and helping to resolve disputes between government departments were they to happen. Certainly, that has been the purpose behind granting the assistance that we have done. We also, as you may be aware, granted assistance to a number of other departments to help them carry out the basic functions of their ministries, not least the Ministry of Finance to help them with the budgeting process.

  Q59  Richard Burden: In terms of the level of that support, if a case were made that increases in that would be consistent with the objectives, would that be something that we would be prepared to look at?

  Mr Thomas: Absolutely. We have increased our aid programme to Zimbabwe over the last 12 months from £49 million to £60 million. Of course, we are looking for the measures that can have most impact most quickly in terms of helping the Zimbabweans get access to better services. Clearly, helping key ministries be better functioning so that they can drive that process, is sensible. When a prime minister or other key minister asks for assistance, of course we always look at that sympathetically. We would have to make a judgment about its relative merit as against other programme asks, but we certainly would not rule it out by any means.

1   South African Development Community Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 26 March 2010