DFID's Assistance to Zimbabwe - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 80-99)


23 FEBRUARY 2010

  Q80  Chairman: We agreed, anyway, that, whilst we would refer to the land issue, it was not going to be central to our report because it is such a major issue, but I think Mr Bayley has put his finger on some of the background to it. You just mentioned about effective DFID programmes. Indeed, DFID is doing a lot of the co-ordination on the ground and that seems to be welcomed by a number of the NGOs and charities. Two things were said to us: one was that if things improve a lot more donors are likely to come in and it is important that co-ordination is established in advance, otherwise it could get chaotic. That, on the other hand, may be too optimistic in terms of what is likely to happen. But you cannot give the funding directly to the government in most cases. Does that make it much more difficult to co-ordinate? Clearly other donors may not be very keen to hand it over to one lead donor, so what mechanisms do you need to have in place, or what could you do to ensure that the relationship between donors and the government is more direct than it is now? What are the criteria that would need to be met?

  Mr Thomas: We are a long way away from having confidence in the systems of the government of Zimbabwe, so it is a long way off before we would want to be putting money directly into the government of Zimbabwe's budget. Nevertheless, there are a number of ministries which are developing plans which are pro-poor, which are designed to help all communities across Zimbabwe and behind which we feel we can align some of our support, so there are discussions with government about their future plans and we are trying, as you say, to work with other donors where we have confidence in those plans or in the merits of those plans to put our financial assistance to support the achievement of those plans. In terms of the broader issue about donor co-ordination, you are right that donors are co-ordinating in general fairly well, particularly those which are traditional OECD Development Assistance Committee donors. There could still be better co-ordination with the World Bank and others within the UN system. In the longer term, if we can draw some of the non-traditional donors into the donor co-ordination process, players like China, like South Africa, like Brazil, that would clearly be an aspiration that we would want to have, not just in the Zimbabwe context but in a whole series of other developing country contexts too. Also, the donor co-ordination mechanisms are relatively informal at the moment. As you say, if conditions continue to improve and other donors were to come in, then we would need perhaps to formalise some of the donor co-ordination structures that are there at the moment, but, in general, relations between the main donors are very positive, as you describe.

  Q81  Chairman: You have increased the programme in recent years in difficult situations. If you were going to put more money in, are you satisfied that the mechanisms you have in place would be effective, or would you need to find different or better ways of delivering it?

  Mr Thomas: We are comfortable that the mechanisms we have available at the moment are strong enough and robust enough to ensure that the money that we are spending in Zimbabwe is going to where it should go. Clearly, if you increase your aid programme into a country, you have to think through what implications that has for the particular funding instruments that you use. We work, as you know, with UN agencies and NGOs but also with a number of private sector organisations which manage particular programmes of aid for us. As I say, we have a strong process for monitoring how our money operates. Thus far, we are confident that we have managed to make a significant difference with our money. If we were to increase funding substantially, then clearly we would look at the mechanisms we had available to us.

  Chairman: If we are moving on to that, I will bring in John Battle.

  Q82  John Battle: In a sense, the real issue is governance, from my experience of the visit we did, in particular the field visits. I would like to express gratitude to the staff at DFID who took us out of Harare to Bulawayo. I went with some of our colleagues to Tsholotsho and I was very encouraged and impressed by work on the ground, not least around the Protracted Relief Programme (PRP). All these things have great titles, but I found a programme there to reach to people who were poor, the poorest of the poor, the people who were landless, to try to get back their livelihoods, with a whole range of activities from home care right the way through. I was very, very impressed by that programme. I just want to ask you a couple of questions about it. If that has gone in the right direction, can it be amplified and done elsewhere? The programme has two phases, as I understand it, and we have just entered Phase II. Phase I was going for a few years. I am lost at the scale of it. As I stood in a field in Tsholotsho with those older women, trying out new cultivation techniques for getting more water into their plants so that their fields of maize and cowpeas would look rather healthier than the ones across the way, I asked whether there was just one field or thousands of fields like that. In the DFID evidence it says that the programme is reaching over two million poor and vulnerable people, but the plan for Phase II is to reach two million people, and sometimes we include the two million that we have not quite yet reached. I want to know the extent of the programme. Is it really being disseminated across the country? Do you have just one field in Tsholotsho or do you have programmes elsewhere in the country? Can it be scaled up? I know the programme is working with other donors as well, but is the scaling up happening and is it possible for it to happen? Can you find the land? Can the people respond to it? Can it be a much more mobile programme than just one or two little pivotal projects?

  Mr Thomas: I will bring in Mr Lowcock in just a minute, but, first, thank you for your comments about DFID staff in Zimbabwe. If I may, I will put on record my appreciation for the work they do. They have had to operate in some extremely difficult circumstances in the past.

  Q83  John Battle: Indeed.

  Mr Thomas: As Members will recognise, we have some of our most talented staff deployed in Zimbabwe, given the importance of the work we are doing there. The Protracted Relief Programme has expanded. It is not just that one field that you were sent to, but let me bring Mr Lowcock in to amplify on that.

  Mr Lowcock: It is a long time since I have been in Tsholotsho, so I am glad to hear that particular report. The programme covers 300,000 households, which is about two million people, which is probably 20% of the total population.

  Q84  John Battle: At present?

  Mr Lowcock: At present, yes.

  Q85  John Battle: The target for Phase II was to reach two million people.

  Mr Lowcock: I think that is the current coverage.

  Q86  John Battle: So you are already well ahead.

  Mr Lowcock: I think that is the case, Mr Battle, yes.

  Q87  John Battle: Good. What about the range of activities? Many of the NGOs praise the programme for its innovation in reaching from home care, and quite personal support, to innovative agricultural techniques, including community participation. While we sometimes focus on, as I said, governance at the government level, community engagement of the people is the real innovative work that DFID and other NGOs are leading internationally. Is that integration being extended? Is that development of those kinds of participatory tools able to take place? I felt the local officials were not resisting it at the local level, which augured well for the future of Zimbabwe if it could be scaled up from the bottom. Is that the view of the Department in the work that is going on at field level, at floor level?

  Mr Thomas: Absolutely. We would want to continue to see that programme scaled up. There is a series of developing countries—and I think of Afghanistan—where we have similar grassroots programmes. We are particularly fortunate in Zimbabwe to have very many committed civil society organisations which are playing, as you describe, a crucial role in helping to identify who most needs the support that the PRP programme can give in communities. As you say, the range of support we are able to give is a particularly important feature of the programme, from the very direct assistance, be it seeds and fertilizers or home care, to some of the more technical assistance, to help NGOs help the individual farmers understand what they have to do to increase their yields. As you say, it is an innovative programme and we have been encouraged by the international community's response to that programme. As you know, Phase I was very much a programme that DFID initiated. Phase II has had much broader donor support and in that sense has become a proper multi-donor programme.

  Q88  John Battle: What struck me as well was that perhaps with the word "farmer" in English we think of some strapping young man who is ultra-fit out there in the fields, but there were women who were older than I am and what impressed me immensely was they have not had the benefit of my education but their knowledge of agriculture and agricultural techniques was incredible. I was quite excited by this new conservation agriculture method and I wonder whether your Department is able to feed that into DFID and some of the climate change discussions and see if those methods can be tested out elsewhere in Africa and South East Asia so that the learning from innovation can be passed on? I thought as well as the process of engagement with the people there may be some good agricultural science in there that could be very helpful as well.

  Mr Thomas: Far be it from me to suggest recommendations to the Committee but drawing that particular point out would certainly help us continue to spread some of the lessons from the Zimbabwe programme across our other country programmes. As you quite rightly said, the lessons in terms of climate change, in terms of the particular farming environment, if you like, in which our programme operates does potentially give information that would be useful in a whole series of other developing countries—Sedex—particularly in the climate change context. As you know, one of the priorities that the Secretary of State set out in last year's White Paper was for us to do more on climate change in developing countries. Learning the lessons from successful programmes such as the PRP where there is a climate element is exactly the type of thing that we need to continue to spread across the Department.

  Q89  John Battle: It was noticeable that we were speaking directly with the women, the farmers themselves, not through an intermediary, an agent, the NGO's leader or even the DFID person. DFID is actually involved in the programming. If I can put it to you this way: I understand DFID now uses managing agents and some of the conversations suggest that using agents can become bureaucratic and can tie up resources of the partner NGOs having to fill in analyses and sometimes the direct link with DFID is not quite there, as it were. Although we had the experience of talking to someone in the field, when the process is taking place on a daily programme basis is the use of managing agents causing delays in the transaction between DFID and the work on the ground? Is it sometimes holding up the provision of DFID support?

  Mr Thomas: We need to recognise that there was a substantial difference between Phase 1 of the PRP and Phase 2. Phase 2 is inevitably much more ambitious and involves a series of other donors. In a sense, what you want from your staff is that they make things happen on the ground in terms of developing countries. Our staff initiated this programme and as others come onboard the pressures on those staff and their ability to do other things would inevitably have been much more constricted if they had continued to run the programme direct, so we took the decision to bring in a private sector operator and there was an international tender, as I understand. Inevitably, when you have that sort of change there are one or two bumps along the process. What the head of the DFID office in Zimbabwe is making sure happens is that there are regular, I believe quarterly, meetings with the heads of civil society groups in Zimbabwe to make sure that we continue to have good coordination with civil society. That will clearly be of importance, not just in terms of the PRP programme but also in terms of the other programmes that we have.

  Q90  John Battle: I will pass to Andrew in a second. It was expressed to us that there could be a distancing built in. What would worry me is that what seems to be really radical—to use a word, I think it is connected to the word "roots"—about DFID's work is that ability to reconnect at the ground floor level and get the pro-poor development going on there and then feed it back up through. If you build a layer in that cuts them off again it could undermine some of the good work that has been done. I think Andrew wanted to follow through on this.

  Mr Thomas: May I just pick that point up and bring Mr Lowcock in in a second. I think if there was not regular communication with civil society then, you are right, that would be a concern. In order specifically to avoid any suggestion that we are getting remote we wanted to set up a proper process for communicating with key players in civil society, and that is what we have now initiated.

  Mr Lowcock: I would just like to put on the record that we have three members of staff in the Harare office who still work primarily on this programme and they are spending less of their time on the routine administration and more of it on the strategic dialogue and, indeed, at least once a month going out to regions like Tsholotsho and seeing what is happening. In terms of the objectives of making sure we stay in touch with the goals and the delivery of those goals, the way we have organised the work is an improvement on the past arrangement.

  Q91  Andrew Stunell: If I could just pick up where John finished. First of all I want to say that we saw some excellent on the ground projects which will be the anecdotes and illustrations of my presentation about the work the Department does for a long time. They were very good projects.

  Mr Thomas: But.

  Q92  Andrew Stunell: The "but" is that there are so many levels between the money going in from the office in Harare to the wheelchair-bound lady with her four chickens in the compound outside Bulawayo that we have paid for. There is the managing agent, there is the Zimbabwe-wide NGO and there is civic society. When we pour £100 in at the top in Harare, how much goes out and buys chickens at the bottom, where does the other money stop on the way and what is the value of that other money on the way in terms of the investment in civic society and so on?

  Mr Thomas: I would have to get you the exact breakdown in terms of the portion of what we put into the PRP programme that is taken up, if you like, as administration costs. We need to be careful and to recognise that those different layers, as you have described them, also play a key function in helping us to account for how the money is spent, making sure that money goes to the most needy people in Zimbabwe but also that we have proper accounting processes in place. I can see that as the programme has got bigger certainly one or two people have raised concerns, but I do think it is important that we have that administration element in there so that we do have proper checks and balances. We will very happily provide for the Committee, Mr Stunell, a more detailed explanation of what portion of the PRP programme goes as administrative costs if that would be helpful.

  Mr Lowcock: May I make an additional point? As well as the cost of delivering the programme we need to think about what the returns and benefits of the programme are. It costs about $70 per household to provide the assistance we provide under the PRP and the value of the production that is generated by that $70 is about $140, it is a very high rate of return. The alternative to providing some of the inputs that we have provided would be in many cases to provide food aid which would cost us between $700 and $1,000. The opportunity saving of this programme is very high and the rate of return on the programme is also very high. The numbers I have given you reflect the administration costs as well as the costs of the inputs. We honestly think that in terms of value for money this is a very effective programme.

  Q93  Chairman: I think it is a very important question that Mr Stunell is asking. As you will know, Minister, we are up against rather tight timetables. The constitutional requirements tell us that we have to have this report done in a very short space of time, so if you are able to give us that breakdown we need it very soon. I think it would be very helpful.

  Mr Thomas: Okay. We will see if we can do that.

  Q94  Andrew Stunell: I just want to underline that point. To give us real confidence that Mr Lowcock's presentation is resilient, it would be helpful to have an additional report and note from you.

  Mr Thomas: Okay. We will get that to you even quicker than usual.[2]

  Q95  Richard Burden: This is really on the same subject. From what we saw, I think we do understand why managing agents are used and the good pressures that lead DFID to go down that road. It is also fair to say that in terms of the projects we saw in Tsholotsho and the engagement with the women by GRM[3] there it appeared to be good. However, I think the uncertainty that some of us still feel is whether we will get to a stage where the tail starts to wag the dog. If the need to have those managing agents is because of their expertise and they get such expertise that they are used not just by DFID but other partners as well, the danger is that they could then become intermediaries that start determining what happens rather than intermediaries that do what is required from the grassroots or reflecting policy. I do not think we are saying that is what is happening but we see there is a danger that could happen. The question really is, is it right that could be a danger and, if so, how do you guard against it?

  Mr Thomas: Let me bring Mr Lowcock in in a second. When we take a decision that we want to contract out, if you like, the management of a particular programme there are a whole series of well-established processes which we follow. We are very happy to provide some further information to the Committee if that is what you need to give you some confidence that the tail will not wag the dog in this particular context. There is good donor coordination in Zimbabwe and, as I say, we have some very experienced staff operating in our office, so I do not believe, if you like, the worst case scenario that you are posing would happen. Let me bring Mr Lowcock in to give you some further detail.

  Mr Lowcock: I think you are exactly right, Mr Burden, that in principle the problem you have described could be one we face. We have tried to describe how we are mitigating it in this case. The Committee knows very well the staff of the Department is quite stretched. If we had more staff available to us in Zimbabwe my own view would be that are other things I would rather they did next before more administration and more detailed monitoring and engagement on the PRP. I am satisfied with the approach that we have to the management of the PRP at the moment.

  Mr Thomas: Just one other point to make. It is not just us as one donor who plays a role in this, there are a series of other donors who also are funders of the PRP. In a sense, it is a shared process for looking at the administrative cost element and taking decisions about tenders, et cetera, which in that sense I hope gives further confidence and further checks into the system.

  Q96  Andrew Stunell: I would like to hear from Mr Lowcock that if he did have those extra staff and it is not what Mr Burden was postulating, what would it be that the extra staff would be dedicated to?

  Mr Lowcock: One of the issues that came up in discussions yesterday with the Finance Minister in Harare was follow-up to a discussion he had in Washington last week when the board of the IMF restored Zimbabwe's voting rights. He had some discussions with the staff of the IMF about what it would take for Zimbabwe to move towards fuller normalisation of its relations with the international financial institutions, including potentially debt relief. We have a very good economist, who I am sure you met, in our office in Harare, who is one of a rather small number—I think I could count them on my fingers, excluding the thumb, of one hand—of international macroeconomists in Harare at the moment. That is a big prize for Zimbabwe to normalise its relations to that degree, an awful lot has to be done to secure that prize, but that would certainly be an area where it would be worth putting additional professional resources in. We will find ways to do that. That is one example I would give in answer to your question.

  Q97  Mr Lancaster: We will move on to health, if we may. The Committee visited two hospitals, the Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo and a hospital in Harare. We saw the maternity unit and we saw programmes associated with HIV/AIDS which Mr Evans will ask questions about in a moment. What we saw was very good. One of the key points that was put across to us, and perhaps we should not be surprised at this given the diaspora and the migration, was that there is a real shortage of skilled health workers, many of whom have gone abroad. For example, in the hospital in Bulawayo they had only recruited approximately 50% of midwives, although there is a midwife shortage in the UK so perhaps that is a bad example. What are we doing to try and recruit and retain health specialist staff in Zimbabwe?

  Mr Thomas: One of the things, as I suspect the Committee will be aware of, that has, if you like, continued to focus our attention on the health sector was the cholera crisis in 2008-09 where the crisis was sparked by a long-term lack of investment in water and sanitation, but also the substantial deterioration in the health sector which was caused by many health workers wanting to migrate or simply not coming into work because they were not being paid. What we have done is to ensure that there is an allowance paid directly into health workers' bank accounts to provide that direct incentive for them to turn up to work and to go about their business. We can provide direct assistance in that way, but in the end there has got to be further economic stabilisation and a further reduction in the political instability that exists in Zimbabwe. We can make a difference in terms of public services, but to get anything like the type of public services that we would recognise here in the UK those broader economic and political changes are going to have to happen. As I say, we are making a difference in terms of the allowances we fund directly into health workers' bank accounts which has helped recruitment to pick up. We are also helping to fund the supply of crucial drugs. If you look at the government of Zimbabwe's budget, they simply cannot afford to pay all the salaries of health workers that are required or all the needs for drugs, so it is the donor community which has to plug that gap. It is not just us, it is a number of other donors too that are playing a role.

  Q98  Mr Lancaster: You say the government cannot really afford to pay the wages, so given that we have strikes at the moment in Zimbabwe, and I think they are currently paid $200 a month and they are demanding $500, is that realistic? What effect would that have? What can we do?

  Mr Thomas: One of the things we can do is not to get involved in what is a conversation that has to take place between those workers themselves with their own government. What we can do, as I have said, is to respond to the requests that we have had from the government, the Inclusive Government, to provide support to the health sector, and through the continuation of these allowances that is what we are doing and by making further money available to target, for example, maternal health and to continue our different aid programmes.

  Q99  Mr Lancaster: Workers' pay and drugs to one side, I suppose the other key element to try to improve the health structure in Zimbabwe will be infrastructure. I know that we are investing in six hospitals in Zimbabwe at the moment. Can you perhaps outline what the aims of that programme are and whether or not you intend to increase it, or how you see it us moving forward in that area?

  Mr Thomas: Obviously we want to move from, if you like, the crisis phase of the health support to getting a longer term plan in place for the health sector, one that can tackle all the different health challenges that the people of Zimbabwe face. I would not want to underestimate to you the scale of the challenge that there still is, we are still in a situation where I think substantial humanitarian assistance will have to be provided for Zimbabwe. The scope to dramatically expand our health programme, whilst I think it is there, is perhaps more limited than we would like. You are right, we have to continue to invest in infrastructure but continue to make sure there are health workers in place and that those health workers are being paid and, crucially, that the basic drugs and other supplies that they need to go about their business are in place. If you like, the next ambition that we have is to try to reduce maternal and child mortality where there has been a substantial deterioration in Zimbabwe more recently. We have recently committed some £25 million over the next five years to help people continue to get better access to family planning services, to antenatal care, to obstetric services and newborn care services.[4] If you like, that is the next iteration of our support to the health sector.

2   Ev 94 Back

3   The managing agents for the PRP. Back

4   This programme has been running since 2006. DFID are preparing to renew and extend the programme when it is scheduled to come to an end in 2011. Back

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