DFID's Assistance to Zimbabwe - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 120-135)


23 FEBRUARY 2010

  Q120  Mr Lancaster: I accept the answer, but I suppose what I am really pushing for is given the sheer scale and how a relatively small percentage are being reached given limited resources from the Department, how can we move forward perhaps in greater collaboration with others. That is really what I am asking.

  Mr Thomas: I think the Protracted Relief Programme is expanding. It has gone from the first phase when it was largely just the UK funding it to a much bigger programme which is allowing us to reach many more people, including orphans directly or those who are looking after orphans. Similarly, the expansion of the number of children who will get support through the OVCS programme up from about 250,000 so far to, we hope, 600,000 this year is an example of the way in which we are trying to expand the numbers that we can access. As we have discussed, in the end it does come back to the economic and political situation in the country moving forward and donors being willing to do more as a result and, frankly, more resources being able to be generated in-country.

  Q121  John Battle: If I could just go back to the issue of food security. I think the UN at one point said five million people would be food insecure and the Crop and Supply Assessment Mission estimated around 2.8 million might need humanitarian assistance before the next harvest, which is this April. Some of the reports are suggesting that the weather has not been all that good and the harvest might not be that good. What is your latest prediction for food aid requirements that are coming up in the next year from April?

  Mr Thomas: In terms of prediction in terms of hard numbers, I am not sure I can give you that specifically now. We share the analysis that you employed that there are some early indications that this year's harvest is not going to be as good as in previous years. As I said, notwithstanding that sense of what this year's harvest is going to be, I think we will have to provide humanitarian assistance anyway at least for the next two years.

  Q122  John Battle: The next two years.

  Mr Thomas: In recent years there has always been a substantial humanitarian component of our aid programme at different times, almost 50% or more. We work very closely with organisations such as the World Food Programme who deliver that food aid and humanitarian assistance. Frankly, the development of the Protracted Relief Programme is not only an attempt to meet the immediate food needs of those affected but is trying to get at some of the deeper roots of that humanitarian crisis. As well as giving the seeds and fertiliser programme direct support, we are also giving support to NGOs so that they can give actual guidance to people as to how to use those seeds and fertilisers to increase the yields that they do get.

  Mr Lowcock: I was going to add a point on when we will have a better sense of this year's harvest. It will be March-time probably. Most people think that it will be better than 2008 and possibly less good than 2009, so the numbers requiring emergency assistance will be in that range that you described.

  Q123  John Battle: Can I thank you for the way in which you gave the answer on the longer term rather than immediate relief. Forgive me, I am not sure I clearly understand this. You provided £9 million to the World Food Programme in 2009 and that aid was mainly for food relief programmes. I wonder whether the World Food Programme itself has that longer term food programme development as well as relief. It is that distinction between your work on the programmes I referred to earlier that are getting sustainable agriculture again, but are you working with the World Food Programme itself on getting those longer term programmes in as opposed to just dishing out food aid, frankly?

  Mr Thomas: We are, but it is important to recognise that the World Food Programme has particular expertise at getting food aid to those who need it instantly, who are hungry now in that sense. We are looking as a donor community, which includes WFP, at a cash transfer programme, in a sense, which helps people both to plan for a slightly longer term process as well as meeting their immediate needs now.

  Q124  John Battle: If I could follow through from Mark Lowcock's comment. When will the figures be available? We are in March next week, are we not, so is there a chance that an assessment could be included in our report? Have we got time to get that far?

  Mr Lowcock: Normally it is sensible in Zimbabwe to make an assessment of the harvest level by late March. We will give you any update we can at the point at which you want to go to press, but late March is probably the earliest at which we can say something resembling an authoritative answer.

  Q125  John Battle: If I can be absolutely clear, that is two things: one to get on to those longer term food development programmes, both our own and working with the World Food Programme, and the other is to look to cash transfers to stimulate that rather than going to handouts. Have I got that right?

  Mr Thomas: That is effectively where we are now. Obviously if the harvest is better than anticipated then we can move further up that particular long-term process earlier.

  Q126  John Battle: Also not to lose, and sometimes it is lost, may I say, and criticism is made of the UN and the World Food Programme sometimes. People standing in queues and just getting it dished out to them does not always encourage community participation, whereas other methods might include that engagement of development with the people at the local level, which is where I am hoping our programmes are geared towards now.

  Mr Thomas: You have to use a range of ways of getting help to people and you have to look at the reality on the ground and adjust what you do to reflect that reality.

  John Battle: The direction of the overall programme is very clear from that answer, thank you.

  Q127  Richard Burden: Could we move on to the question of internally displaced people, which is clearly a very, very big issue. Estimates vary of IDPs making up between just over 4% of the population and 7.5% of the population. Yet there is also difficulty, there is quite a lot of evidence, a lot of concern being voiced that as far as the Zimbabwean Government is concerned, because they take the view that IDPs do not exist, IDPs are being fairly systematically excluded from a number of relief and humanitarian programmes. Some of the NGOs are saying that really the UN as an institution is not tackling this head on and that it needs to be a lot more assertive around the question of IDPs, both in terms of Zimbabwe's own obligation under UN obligations but also from a straight humanitarian point of view; aid is not getting to where it should be getting. What is your response to that?

  Mr Thomas: I think that was a situation that was certainly true of the previous Government. I think the Inclusive Government has been better at recognising both the existence of IDPs and their needs, but I would not want to downplay the challenges that still remain. I think many of our existing programmes upon which we have touched are also giving assistance to those who are internally displaced within Zimbabwe but who are perhaps living with other families or who are vulnerable in some other way. Clearly there is more we need to do, as we have described, across the range, but I do believe that our programmes and those of others in the international community, are helping to get aid to those who are internally displaced, albeit there is clearly a lot more that could happen.

  Q128  Richard Burden: Certainly the impression we got was that a number of NGOs and others were saying that yes, whilst things may have improved since the formation of the Inclusive Government, the issue is still very much there as far as IDPs are concerned. Partly because of the nature of some of the security ministries, it is quite easy to get in the way of aid programmes where necessary.

  Mr Thomas: In that sense, absolutely, I would agree with that. There is a huge problem in terms of the ability of IDPs to move around in terms of particular locations and the level of need that we have described in terms of humanitarian issues, in terms of children or young people, if they have been internally displaced, it is particularly acute in that sense. What I would want to avoid the Committee having the impression is that none of our programme is thinking through issues around IDPs; they very much are. However, as NGOs have described to you, certainly there are real difficulties for IDPs in terms of the security situation.

  Q129  Chairman: The aid programme to Zimbabwe has more than doubled in the last four years. You said in a press release last August that the Department was willing to re-engage and support recovery in Zimbabwe provided the new Government can demonstrate: its commitment to sound economic management; the democratic process and respect for human rights; the rule of law; full and equal access to humanitarian assistance; and a timely election held to international standards. I would suggest none of those things is what is happening on the ground. The serious point behind that is, nevertheless, you have increased it. What capacity is there for increasing it further or perhaps, putting it the other way round, how do you assess your ability to deliver and whether you should do more or less? What is the process that goes round the Department in evaluating this?

  Mr Thomas: We do look firstly at the humanitarian situation on the ground and we would provide humanitarian aid almost regardless of the political situation, and it is clearly right that we do get help to people who are in desperate need, despite the particular governments that they have. In terms of long-term development assistance, you are right, we will have to look at the political and economic conditions that are operating and are on the ground before we can make big decisions about be it substantial increases in aid or substantial changes in the nature of our programmes. I think there has been progress in Zimbabwe, in particular in terms of the economics of the country. Clearly the political progress in Zimbabwe has been much, much slower, and that certainly affects our ability to do more and more quickly; there is no question of that. If we were to see faster political progress, then there is no question that we could do more, and more quickly, and I am sure that others in the international community would probably see things in the same way.

  Q130  Chairman: We were told, and indeed we saw for ourselves, that in spite of the migration of some of the brightest and best people from Zimbabwe, the administrative capacity to deliver services was one of the best in Africa. Even now we saw effective delivery. Do you envisage a situation, if the political background were transformed, where government support or sector support would be a possibility? Obviously it is not today but can you see a scenario where it would and how would you judge that? Is that something you could even incentivise?

  Mr Thomas: I think it is a long way off. I would hope that we could get to a situation where the politics of Zimbabwe had moved so radically forward that we could have confidence in government systems or in the particular sector plans of particular ministries. I think we are a long way off from having confidence that the Government's financial systems are strong enough and robust enough and would be free from political interference. Having said that, there are ministries that are committed to reform and who are starting to try and give direction to what should happen in their particular sectors, and where we have confidence in the plans of those ministries, then we are trying to align our support as a donor community behind those plans. I think moving down the route of sector support or budget support is a long way off. The first stage is what we are embarked on, which is where we have confidence in the plans of a particular ministry thinking through how, without going through government systems, we can support those plans and move forward.

  Q131  Chairman: And if you were increasing the funding further, how would you allocate that between multilateral or donor partnerships as opposed to the bilateral work that the NGOs are doing, which, to be honest, is mostly what we were looking at, which was extremely good, but the question is whether it is best to expand that or would it be best to expand it through multilaterals or would it be a parallel process?

  Mr Thomas: I do not think we have a fixed view, frankly, in that sense. We would want to spend money in a way that was going to have most impact most quickly and for which we can properly account. Whether that is through UN organisations or through civil society, I think in reality it will be through a mixture and quite what the balance of that mixture would be going forward, I do not think we are yet in a position to say. It does depend on how particular programmes work. I think the Protracted Relief Programme is a programme, for example, that has a mixture of a whole series of civil society organisations and is making a significant difference. If the humanitarian situation were to deteriorate, clearly using organisations like the World Food Programme would make a huge amount of sense, but they, too, use civil society organisations, as I understand it, so it is not a question of either/or. I think it will simply come down to a hard decision as to which particular organisations are going to get money on the ground where it is needed fastest.

  Q132  Chairman: In spite of the very heavy anti-British rhetoric, the general dynamic on the ground in the attitude between the Zimbabwean and British people is quite positive in terms of that underlying trend. It was suggested to us that Zimbabwe ought to be one of the overriding priorities for the UK, in other words one of the three or four countries in which we do most, not because of that particular British interest, which is just stated as a positive underlying fact, but because it would have such a dynamic effect on the whole dynamic of Southern Africa if it could be turned around. Do you accept that as a possible analysis and, if you do, what could DFID do more that would reflect that priority, taking on board entirely that it is complicated and unpredictable but the argument that so long as you were working in the right direction it justified that kind of prioritisation?

  Mr Thomas: Zimbabwe takes up a significant amount of both ministerial and very senior official time in both Departments in that sense, so it is accorded a high level of priority. I think the analysis about the importance of Zimbabwe to sub-Saharan Africa is absolutely right. There is no doubt that if we were to see further economic stability and progress and further political progress, Zimbabwe's recovery could help to drive progress towards the Millennium Development Goals across the whole of the region. I have a particular interest in regional integration and in the transport infrastructure that helps to drive, if you will forgive the pun, that integration, Zimbabwe has a pivotal place in the north-south corridor, a network of key roads, and therefore the investment, or lack of investment, that Zimbabwe puts into its road network has a fundamental impact on the capacity of sub-Saharan Africa to trade between the countries in that area. I think the analysis is spot on and that is why I hope that we will see the type of economic progress and political progress that I suspect all of us would want.

  Q133  Chairman: Thank you very much. The Committee would want to repeat the thanks that have already been made to the DFID staff for the visit they organised. All eight members of the Committee who went on the visit came away with a much more positive impression of what is going on than we had anticipated, although I would hasten to add we are not naive enough not to realise the huge political difficulties and underlying tensions and threats that could blow it all away. We understood that. What we saw was impressive. Our report has to focus on the development agenda rather than the political agenda, but, again, you cannot deliver the one without the other. Our intention is to complete the report in advance of an Election unless we are ambushed.

  Mr Thomas: With that in mind, I wonder if I can ask Mr Lowcock to give you the answer on the textbook delivery timescale. I think we have that information.

  Q134  Chairman: Anything you have now and anything you do not have now if you can think days rather than anything else.

  Mr Lowcock: Could I preface the answer to Mr Stunell's question by saying that of course we are not in complete control of this because we are a tiny part of the financing. We have to get all the other players into place as well. The answer to the question is that the contract will be let in the next few weeks and the first books will be delivered from about eight weeks from then, so about 12 weeks from now the first books will be delivered.

  Q135  Chairman: The Committee will watch with interest the developments which obviously go through convolutions almost daily. Perhaps the one positive thing which was said was that whilst nobody knows where it might head, the feeling was that things had got to the point where going back to a situation where there was no space was perhaps unthinkable unless the situation deteriorated beyond all hope. If I may say so, there were comments and compliments about DFID's role, and indeed the Foreign Office's role because it is important to recognise this is a joint operation, in doing that. I think it was the Dutch development representative who said specifically that he wanted to put on record his appreciation of the leadership role that was being provided by DFID in Zimbabwe and how important it was, both politically and in terms of development. I am happy to put that on the record and say that we appreciate it and we appreciate that the team there are doing really good work in difficult and challenging situations, but at the moment not unrewarding because there is something coming back for it. Can I thank you very much indeed for your evidence. I genuinely hope that our report is something that will make a useful contribution to both your work and a wider understanding of what we are trying to do.

  Mr Thomas: Thank you, Mr Bruce.

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