DFID's Assistance to Zimbabwe - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 100-119)


23 FEBRUARY 2010

  Q100  Mr Evans: Another health subject is HIV/AIDS, which you have already touched on. We all had an opportunity to see some of the projects involved with that and I think we were all impressed with what we saw. It is tremendous if one considers that in parts of Zimbabwe some of the aid is somewhat thin. Certainly where we were in Bulawayo and Harare we saw some tremendous projects, so I was very pleased with that, but still last year 140,000 people died in Zimbabwe of AIDS. Compared to other countries, Zambia for instance, where the amount of money spent is way above, I think it is US$187 per person as opposed to Zimbabwe where it is $4, why is there such a staggering disparity?

  Mr Thomas: I think often the disparity, frankly, relates to the political situation in Zimbabwe and the ability for the international community to spend money effectively to tackle HIV/AIDS. With our programmes on the health sector we have wanted to get to a stage where other players in the international donor community would support it. The Global Fund are now funding the health workers' support programme. As I say, I think as the economic situation stabilises there will be more opportunities to do more on healthcare, of which HIV/AIDS will continue to be a priority for ministers. Nevertheless, I think the UK can take some pride in the success that there has been, notwithstanding the significant levels of death because of AIDS that there is in Zimbabwe, for the fact that it has not been even higher. HIV prevalence has come down, it has halved over the last 10 years, and our aid into the sector over that period has been absolutely pivotal to helping those who wanted to make a difference in this area in Zimbabwe be able to do so.

  Q101  Mr Evans: I have got no doubts about that whatsoever. We went to see one of the hospitals there where the storeroom had eight months' worth of supply whereas two years ago they would have had nothing.

  Mr Thomas: That is right.

  Q102  Mr Evans: Getting the capacity and getting those drugs out into the villages and into the more rural areas is clearly something that needs to be done. Within the infrastructure that exists there, are we able to target some of the high risk groups like sex workers, children and, indeed, gays and lesbians?

  Mr Thomas: We have a behaviour change communications programme which is run by an organisation, Population Services International, who are very well established in this field who are doing hugely important work in terms of getting those prevention messages out on AIDS. There is a whole programme of work around voluntary counselling and testing which has also been very important in making a difference. I am sure the Committee will be familiar with the way in which those who have migrated from Zimbabwe potentially would not get access to information about how to avoid becoming HIV positive, but through funding we give to the International Organisation on Migration we have been able to provide support for them to get help and information to those migrating from Zimbabwe to avoid the obvious risks at transit points, et cetera. One of the keys in terms of preventing the spread of AIDS and HIV infection is making sure there is good access to condoms and that is something we have continued to be in the lead on in the provision in Zimbabwe.

  Q103  Mr Evans: One other area which helps greatly is male circumcision which apparently improves the rate of protection to 60%. The target is to circumcise 80% of the males within Zimbabwe as soon as they possibly can. Apparently the cost of that will be around $140 million but they will save over $3 billion if that could be achieved. We visited one of the clinics and talked to a couple of people who had gone through it, so they were acting as peers to encourage other males to go through the procedure. Do you envisage upping the amount of money that we will be directing towards male circumcision within Zimbabwe over the coming months?

  Mr Thomas: Rather than just focusing on one specific intervention in response to one specific disease, however important that disease is, and I have a longstanding interest in HIV/AIDS, I think the challenge for us, both in DFID and the wider donor community, is how do we get more support more generally into the health sector in Zimbabwe and get a clear coordinated plan that looks at maternal health, that looks at HIV/AIDS, that looks at a range of other diseases too. Many of the responses that you need to tackle HIV/AIDS or to tackle maternal health are common across the piece in terms of having good health workers and good infrastructure in place. The challenge is to continue that process of coordination under good leadership from the government of Zimbabwe to get a series of clear health priorities in place which the international community could get behind. That is certainly what our ambition would be to support. Whether it has to be just DFID upping our funding levels on healthcare or whether there are other players in the international community, such as the Global Fund, who can take up that extra financial need is something that we need to continue to review. Health is certainly one of the areas that we watch very closely.

  Q104  Mr Evans: Clearly all the donor organisations talk to one another anyway and that is important to make sure there is no duplication or people working against one another. When we visited the clinics we saw a number of posters with famous Zimbabwean footballers who were saying that they were getting this procedure and encouraging others to do so. It does seem to me to be economic commonsense, never mind humane commonsense, to ensure that as many people as possible have this particular procedure to better protect the nation, particularly when you look at the colossal number of deaths. This is a bit of a lobbying plea really. All I would ask is that you look at this again and make absolutely certain that not for the want of directing the money there, which as I say will pay dividends in the short and medium-term, we support this procedure as much as we possibly can.

  Mr Thomas: I recognise both the lobbying plea and I fear one of the specific recommendations that will emerge from your report, and we will obviously respond to the report in the usual way and no doubt faster than we would normally.

  Q105  Chairman: I think it might be the next government that has to deal with that.

  Mr Thomas: Mr Evans, I think your point in general about support for HIV/AIDS is well made, not only in the context of Zimbabwe but actually in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa more generally. We are five years on from Gleneagles where that commitment to try to deliver universal access to anti-retroviral drugs was one of the pivotal elements of the Gleneagles Agreement. We are probably two-thirds of the way towards achieving that commitment, so massive progress has been made but the target has not yet been reached. One of the issues that ministers in DFID are looking at is how we can use the international meetings that are taking place this year to refocus attention on that commitment to universal access, to look at what has worked in Sub-Saharan Africa, what has not worked perhaps, and what else the donor community needs to do. There will be an international meeting that takes place in London very shortly that looks at the Zanu-PF question.

  Q106  Mr Evans: Hopefully when President Zuma comes as well on South Africa, maybe pushing him a little bit more on that area.

  Mr Thomas: I hear your message, Mr Evans.

  Q107  Richard Burden: One of the other major health areas, and you have alluded to it yourself, is the issue of water and sanitation. Six million people still have not got access to clean water and sanitation and obviously there was the bad cholera outbreak just a little while ago. When we met the Mayor of Bulawayo during our visit, if there was one priority that he wanted to identify it was the issue of the water system in the city. He said it was close to collapse and that was not unique in Bulawayo and his plea was for donors to concentrate on trying to address that as an issue. Where would you see the issue of investing in the water and sanitation infrastructure to rank compared to other priorities in terms of health and so on?

  Mr Thomas: That is a very difficult question to answer. In the longer term there is no doubt that for a series of economic and social reasons as well as health reasons we need to see more investment in water and sanitation in Zimbabwe. That is absolutely clear. Through some of the programmes that we already have, not least the Protracted Relief Programme, there is work taking place on water and sanitation, but I would not want to give you the sense that there is a clear long-term sector-wide plan on water and sanitation which we are leading. This is one of the issues where as the humanitarian situation stabilises and as hopefully too we see progress on the politics in Zimbabwe the donor community with the government can start to put together a plan for beginning to see much longer-term, more sustained investment in water and sanitation going forward. It might be one of the areas potentially that the Multi-Donor Fund that we are in the process of trying to establish under the leadership of the World Bank can look at. In the same way that water and sanitation is a key long-term issue, so is investment in the road network in Zimbabwe and investment in access to electricity. These are long-term issues which we will have to address. However, given the humanitarian need that still exists, and I think will exist for at least another couple of years, the balance of our programme focusing on the delivery of basic services plus, where we can, targeted assistance to support reforms in key ministries is broadly right for the moment, but we have got to keep in view those longer term issues like the Mayor of Bulawayo has identified, I think that is absolutely right.

  Q108  Richard Burden: When you mention the Multi-Donor Trust Fund, are you saying that this is an issue they could look at?

  Mr Thomas: Possibly, yes.

  Q109  Richard Burden: Or that they are looking at?

  Mr Thomas: The Multi-Donor Fund is not up and running yet, there is still a series of preparatory meetings that are taking place to sort out how the fund will operate and what it will focus on. Exactly what it does we are still in discussion on, but it certainly could look at water and sanitation issues. Frankly, if you are looking at a series of other longer term issues, such as infrastructure, roads, et cetera, you have got to think about water and sanitation issues to some extent anyway.

  Q110  Hugh Bayley: Could I come in on the issue of the diaspora before we move on to a different subject. There are many thousands of Zimbabweans in this country and they tend to be relatively better educated because the better educated migrants migrate longer distances. They are very committed to their country and because of human rights abuses or political or economic pressures they do not want to be there at the moment, but might well return if there was political change. When the Government is talking next week to President Zuma, will you be talking about the issue of a right to vote given particularly that South African citizens in this country are entitled to vote in South African elections?

  Mr Thomas: I think the point you make about the issue of the right to vote for the diaspora has been recognised as one of the issues that the Electoral Commission when it gets on to do its work will have to address. We all want to see progress on those political parts of the GPA where progress has been much slower. I think the big ticket items are getting the Electoral Commission established so that it is in a position to do its work, of which looking at the voter roll and the issues around the diaspora is one of a series of issues that are key to getting free and fair elections to take place.

  Q111  Hugh Bayley: One other thing I wanted to raise that affects the diaspora is this: there are circumstances, as you are acutely aware, where money from the UK may appear politically tainted in Zimbabwe. The diaspora traditionally sent a lot of money back through remittances which has played a vitally important part in allowing Zimbabwe to survive an economic collapse. When I met the International Organisation for Migration's (IDM) director of programmes in Zimbabwe, she talked about imaginative schemes that operate in other countries of the world whereby the government of the country in question from which the migrants have migrated and donors match dollar for dollar, pound for pound remittances that are sent back. Given that remittances tend to be spent locally, not by government agencies but by families on essential services, would your Department look at the feasibility of setting up a scheme both to encourage Zimbabwean citizens living in this country to remit money and to find a good channel for transmitting money from your Department? Is that something you would examine?

  Mr Thomas: I am not sure we would want to look at a programme that matches exactly what one particular Zimbabwean living in the UK or elsewhere donates to his or her family as such. There are a whole series of obvious technical difficulties with such a scheme. We certainly do want to make it easier for remittances to get back. I would go along with the director-general of IOM in this regard: there are a whole series of innovative programmes around remittances and the use of technology making it easier and cheaper for people to get remittances back which are being deployed in other countries. One thinks of Kenya's M-PESA programme, for example, where remittances are being sent using mobile phones from a whole series of countries, as I understand it, to the individual recipient in-country. We are looking at a programme of work to try and spread the benefits of that technological innovation around remittances. I would hope Zimbabwe would be a beneficiary in that regard. As you may be aware, we have tried to get much more information into the public sphere about the different rates of interest and different types of financial product that are available for people who want to remit money to be able to do so to try and create much greater competition and, as a result, drive the administrative costs, commissions, down for those sending money back.

  Q112  Andrew Stunell: Children have certainly been victims of the current difficulties and it could be said probably that Zimbabwe used to have the best educational system in southern Africa, and it has now probably got the worst, yet DFID is still only contributing about 2% of aid to education. I wondered if you could give us some account of how that priority was set and whether you feel it should be a greater contribution in the future.

  Mr Thomas: We have a couple of programmes that are supporting the education sector. One is a programme of support to orphans and vulnerable children, which is managed by UNICEF which helps to pay the school fees of a number of the most vulnerable children in Zimbabwe. We estimate that we have helped almost 250,000 schoolchildren through that process and we are hoping that the programme will expand this year to reach almost 600,000 children directly. Some of the other benefits of that programme include better access to nutrition, to healthcare, to welfare and to psychosocial support services for those young people so that in turn they can benefit better from the education that is available to them. The other source of funding for the education sector is an Education Transition Fund which we launched the idea of back in June last year and pledged £1 million to it. Our interest has generated pledges now worth a total of $50 million and we are in the process of sorting out the procurement process to enable the purchase of substantial textbooks for schools in Zimbabwe. One of the problems in the education sector, as I suspect you will have seen, is as a result of the political instability there has been a substantial loss of good quality materials for teachers to use. We hope that this fund will be one opportunity to begin to restore that damage.

  Mr Lowcock: Can I just clarify the point on your 2% figure, which I suspect we gave you.

  Q113  Andrew Stunell: You did, yes.

  Mr Lowcock: I think that refers to the £1 million towards the wider Multi-Donor Fund programme the Minister has just described for textbooks in particular. Probably what we should also have explained is that the programme of support for orphans and vulnerable children, which again the Minister has described, is also that education dimension, so to give a fair overall summary of how much we are putting into education we should include that as well. I apologise that we did not do that the first time. I just wanted to correct that on the record.

  Q114  Chairman: How much is that?

  Mr Lowcock: I will have to calculate that for you, Chairman. It is significant, and we can do it quickly.

  Q115  Andrew Stunell: Can I just pull out a couple of points from your two replies, if I may. The underlying problem is that a lot of schools have been lost to use and a lot of teachers have emigrated or fled from the country. Are there any specific plans that DFID is developing or working with the Zimbabwean government on to get the restoration of school buildings and bringing back teachers?

  Mr Thomas: One of the things that the Inclusive Government did when they came to power was to offer a $100 allowance to all civil servants, including teachers, which has helped to see a series of teachers returning to post and in that sense has made a difference.

  Mr Lowcock: The biggest issue in our opinion is teachers. I am afraid it is going to be a significant challenge for Zimbabwe to attract back many of the best teachers who have left the country. The thing that will attract them back over time is an improvement in the political and economic situation and confidence in the future of their country, so it all turns back on what the Minister was describing about the overall political situation. Clearly there is also a school infrastructure problem and textbook issue, but we think first teachers, second textbooks and probably third infrastructure would be the order of priorities.

  Q116  Andrew Stunell: Can I just ask a question about textbooks? I asked a number of questions in Zimbabwe and we received representations from some of the witnesses there. My impression was that we had gone for a big bang solution to getting textbooks which was leading to a substantial delay in getting any textbooks in, when it might have been better or more appropriate to have gone for a small-scale solution with more rapid results. We were told by an official from the Department of Education, I think, that they were still waiting for textbooks which were supposed to have been ready at the beginning of the school year. I would be interested in your commentary on that situation and for some assurance about how the textbook programme, for which we appear to have set aside funds, is actually going to be delivered to a sensible timetable.

  Mr Thomas: I think the first thing is that our initial interest back in June in making money available for the supply of textbooks has sparked considerable interest from the wider donor community, perhaps more than certainly I had expected. What we are trying to do is to make sure that money collectively is well spent by having a central procurement programme. We believe that will deliver substantial economies of scale. There has been a process by which the Zimbabwe Ministry of Education has been looking at trying to prioritise a particular core set of textbooks to be delivered across the country. I recognise the appetite inevitably for teachers to want to have access to those books, but it is right that we get the procurement process right and it is right that we try to deliver economies of scale. Given the size of the pot and the increase in the size of the pot it has clearly taken some time to get that right, but we hope we are close to achieving that and getting the textbooks out.

  Mr Lowcock: I would, if I may, like to answer the question we promised you a subsequent answer to, which is the share if we had included the programme of support in our total programme in education. It would be about 6%, about £2.4 million going into education through the programme of support and then £1 million this year through the Education Transition Fund. As the Minister said, we were trading off speed with efficiency and value for money. We have got a much cheaper deal and, therefore, can buy many more textbooks in the way we have done the procurement, but I take the point you have made about needing to think carefully about that trade-off between speed and efficiency.

  Q117  Andrew Stunell: So when do we now expect those books to be available to schools, bearing in mind the money was allocated back in July, August last year?

  Mr Lowcock: We will need to check when we expect the first deliveries, but the procurement process is advanced now.

  Q118  Andrew Stunell: And the schools have no books.

  Mr Lowcock: Well, most schools have some books. Clearly, yes, there is an issue and that was the trade-off we were trying to manage. I will find out for you exactly when we expect the first deliveries.

  Q119  Mr Lancaster: The Committee went to see some projects directed at orphans and vulnerable children and the Department estimates that more than 90% of the country's orphans have been absorbed by the extended family. Indeed, 40% of households in rural areas actually care for orphans and vulnerable children but they have almost no financial assistance, so how do you feel that external donors can help in this process and support them?

  Mr Thomas: There are a number of programmes that we contribute to which have an impact on orphans and vulnerable children and the financial needs either of the individual children themselves or those who are looking after them. I described the programme of support to orphans and vulnerable children in answer to Mr Stunell. Paying for education fees of the most vulnerable children is one obvious way in which we can help. The second is through the Protracted Relief Programme which we talked about in answer to questions from Mr Battle. That also provides support often to some of the young people of Zimbabwe who have lost parents and who perhaps head up households themselves because of the loss of parents. Many of those people who have taken in orphans and vulnerable children are beneficiaries of the Protracted Relief Programme and in that sense get support from the international community. As a Department we do not pick the individual recipients, that is done through the NGOs who, if you like, deliver the process and the support on the ground.

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