Examination of Witness (Questions 83-120)
Q83 Chair: Welcome
to the Committee. I wonder, slightly formally, if you could just
introduce yourself for the record. Then we can proceed.
My name is Claire Curtis-Thomas, and I am Chief Executive of
the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers, a former Member
of the House of Commons, and Chairman of the Construction and
Development Partnership, which is doing extensive work in West
Q84 Chair: You
and I had a conversation. You came to see me because of some
frustrations you had in the last Parliament. Hugh was also aware
of this. It was obviously on the basis of that conversation that
we thought it would be helpful to have your views, given that
you are a former Member of Parliament but also an engineer with
real interest, activity and engagement in development activities.
We are genuinely interested to hear your views. You have made
a number of forthright comments in your evidence and elsewhere.
Perhaps as a starting point, what can be done to improve the
engineering capacity and quality in lowincome countriesin
other words to enable them to deliver their own infrastructure?
In that context, what do you think donors and the private sector
should do, both separately and perhaps together?
The development of infrastructure within any nation depends on
two factors, particularly in fragile, postfragile or conflict
states. I will limit my remarks to countries of that kind, because
that is where my experience lies. Infrastructure development
in those countries is at the behest of the donor nations who are
supporting those countries, because infrastructure projects are
well beyond the means of very poor countries that are focusing
on the Millennium Development Goals rather than infrastructure
projects. They know that the infrastructure projects are crucial
to the longterm development of the country, but they lack
the money to provide them, and also the skill necessary to deliver
them. They look to external donors to provide that infrastructure
capacity. The external donors will typically include the World
Bank, the EU and other nations. The UK is a particular lead nation
in a number of developing countries, and therefore the bulk of
funding, and also the articulation for further funding, will possibly
come from the United Kingdom.
Once that fund is realised, the control and implementation
of that funding is directed by the donor nation. As far as I
am able to ascertain and determine, there is not much discussion
between the donor nation, the organisation charged with delivery
of the infrastructure project, and also the recipient nation.
There is just not a connection there, and that connection is
not there for a number of reasons. I have covered the donors.
Let's talk about the private
Q85 Chair: But
you said there is not the capacity.
No, there is not.
Q86 Chair: The
point is, should donors be helping to develop capacity, or is
that a distraction?
No, it is not. It most certainly is not, Chairman. If we look
at the overarching agenda for most donor nations in fragile or
conflict states, it is about achieving peace and stability. The
natural focus for DFID in those areas is to focus on army, court,
police, anything really to do with the legislative infrastructure
as well as finance. Sorting out the finances and the treasury
infrastructure in the nation is crucial, because frequently, of
course, major donors like the World Bank and the EU will not donate
where there is no financial transparency or credibility. DFID
will be involved and will put a lot of money and expertise into
this area. They will look for sources of good practice from the
UK and other parts of the world. They will passport that into
the nation. Sometimes it will be a forced offering, where they
do not attempt to partner with the Government, they merely wish
to impose standards into Government, which are then accepted as
a mean. They do incredibly well in that area.
When it comes to looking at development of infrastructure,
however, they are not similarly minded to provide any technical
advice or, in fact, embed support directly into Governments.
Whilst they appreciate the need to do that for sustainability
reasons around legislation and treasurybased activities,
they do not come to the table when it comes to infrastructure
development. The primary reason for that is that they do not
speak the language. They just do not speak the language. If
you speak to diplomatsI have visited many, in lots of African
countriesthey speak the language of Parliament. They understand
about money, because the Millennium Development Goals have made
them focus on that, and also our budgetary requirementsmaking
sure that our funds are spent well in any country and we are accountable
for those. They understand that. They understand security.
They understand police and army, but they do not understand engineering.
They do not understand what you need to do in order to develop
a nation. That requires the involvement of engineers. There
are no engineers within DFID. They do not exist as a breed of
Q87 Chair: I
will finish this and bring colleagues in. Does that mean that
DFID should be employing engineers and/or, alternatively, that
private sector engineering companies should be doing that, possibly
in conjunction with DFID? Indeed, if you take your experience
in Sierra Leone, is any of that happening?
There are a number of routes here. I would say that DFID needs
to employ engineers. Where, and what do they do? If we stick
to the current regime of infrastructure projects, the DFID funding
for infrastructure projects is never hitting the country budget,
but going directly to our partner organisations for them to spend
on our behalf. That is where the bulk of the money is going currently,
Q88 Chair: You
mean the World Bank or the African Bank?
Yes. It goes straight off there. It goes straight to them.
I have spent many years trying to track the funds coming out
of DFID and into those budgets. Where does that money end up?
Who is left within the United Kingdom, within DFID, to ensure
that that money is being spent on that particular project, and
it is being spent well? From what I can determine, in that context,
"spent well" is the same as "spent". We are
happy if the money is spent and we can see something on the ground.
If you had an engineer working within the DFID office or somebody
with whom you could directly relate, you could say, "Has
the money been spent well?" That is my issue at the moment,
because we have third-party agencies that effectively take this
funding from DFID and spend it on our behalf. Their interpretation
of money well spent is a long, long, long, long way away from
my definition of money well spent.
I have not been able to speak to an engineer who
actually scrutinises the quality of the work that is delivered
on our behalf. I have scrutinised the work that we have had done
on our behalf, and it fails engineering standards. I am a Fellow
of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a Fellow of the Institution
of Electrical Engineers. I am also a Fellow of the City &
Guilds of London Institute. Those Fellowships confer to me an
expertise in these matters. I am more than capable of making
judgments about the technical suitability of infrastructure projects
and their compliance with international regulations. They fall
well short. We have a requirement for engineering capacity within
DFID when they seek to put infrastructure projects into the third-party
sector for delivery. We lack that. We have assumed that that
is embedded within the contract: "We give you the money,
and you do the job." That is an abdication of responsibility,
because where I have inspected the job, it has failed in terms
of its engineering compliance.
Q89 Hugh Bayley:
Can you perhaps give us an example of an infrastructure project
you have looked at that you feel has been badly constructed, and
explain to us why?
I have seen quite a number. I want to talk to you about infrastructure
in terms of two examples. Let's look at housing, which is critical
for the country's objectives, and then let's look at roads. I
will use examples in Sierra Leone. After the war was finished
in Sierra Leone, DFID gave incountry DFID funding for the
development of accommodation for army members. That was absolutely
crucial, because as you know, within that civil war defections
from the army were felt to contribute to the rebels' cause. Providing
housing, a significant number of housing, and also new police
headquarters up and down the country, was felt to be critical,
and it is critical. It is extremely important.
I visited those particular developments when they
were literally blocks off the ground. The main slabs had been
constructed for major police headquarters, and they were maybe
a couple of feet off the ground. The site was swarming with individuals,
all paid, I have to say, with no training element associated with
that development at all. For me, that is a seriously wasted opportunity.
What you have done is let the contract to an incountry
contractor. That incountry contractor has not been obliged
to train anybody as a consequence of our investment. We have
a serious lost opportunity. Moreover, the contractor that has
been nominated has not been technically audited. They are on
a list that the High Commissioner has, and he has been told that
these are very good construction companies. At no point, however,
have any of those companies been audited for technical competence.
I go on site knowing all of that. The site is being
constructed by one of the two leading construction companies in
the country. I have audited them all, and I know that. The first
thing I do is to touch a concrete block. I know concrete blocks
intimately, and I can tell you everything there is to know about
a concrete block just by touching it. I will just share that
with you now, so that you will know, when you ever come to touch
a concrete block, whether or not it is fit for purpose. A concrete
block is supposed to be extremely tough. It is made from cement,
sand, and water. Those are the basic requirements: cement, sand
and water. If it is made well, it is as hard as nails. You can
put a building up on it and it will stand for at least a centurya
good platform, a concrete block, and away you go. It does not
look pretty, but it is very cheap and it can be made in situ.
It is excellent.
This concrete block was easily eroded by me just
rubbing the surface. It is friable. It is friable because contaminated
water has been used in the production of the block. It was salty
water, actually. You can know that, because the next thing you
do is to lick it. You can taste the salt yourself. It is very
cheap, and very simple, but if you can taste salt, that block
is made from salty water. Once you put salty water into a block,
imagine what happens when it rains. The salt, of course, dissolves
in the rain, and with that the whole infrastructure that supports
that block just collapses. You will see blocks being eroded with
each rainy season. There are tremendous rains in most of the
countries that I deal with in Africa. They cannot cope with a
friable block. When you speak to the site manager and say to
him, "Look, the quality of your block falls well below standard,"
he says, "DFID has said we have to make it to this mixture.
We have made it to this mixture. We have made it five parts
sand, one part cement, and water to mix." They did not put
that the water should not be salty, and the man in charge of the
job did not know that salty water condemns his block to being
virtually useless over a period of time.
Q90 Hugh Bayley:
That is a very good example.
It is very simple, isn't it?
Q91 Hugh Bayley:
What was the road example, Claire?
The road example was an EUfunded project that linked Sierra
Leone with Guinea. It was an absolutely fantastic project. It
was imposed on the country, let to an Italian company in the first
instance that failed. If you look at that particular specification,
they were going to have a block. Everybody was really delighted.
The President was delighted. "We will have a lovely road
to take us to Guinea. It is absolutely super. Really, really
super." There is no highways engineer in the country. You
can build it. That is absolutely great. Who will be responsible
for the maintenance of that road in the longer term? Who is responsible
for integrating that highway into secondary roads that will flow
off that highway? Who understands how to repair that road when
it is built? Was there any attempt to go to the Government and
say: "We are introducing this infrastructure into your country.
It is a fantastic investment in terms of hardware alone, but
in terms of intellectual activity and the opportunity to train
people in your country with very little experience of public-sector
investment, this is a firstclass opportunity."
Think of a road. It will not be magicked up like
this. It flows through communities. Therefore there has been
an absolute failure to say: "This is not only an investment
in delivering some of the country's objectives around development.
We should also see it as a major platform for the development
of people." Ultimately we have to develop the capacity in
those countries to manage and specify these jobs for themselves.
They are rendered impotent by the current arrangements. They
are just people who benefit from and are not engaged in. I cannot
countenance such a waste of investment. It is so shortsighted,
and what it tells me is that the people specifying the contract
are not aware of the greater objectives and the purposes of that
development in the country. If they were, they would take people
Q92 Hugh Bayley:
I would like to come back in a moment to DFID, but if I take
you back to the Commission for Africa Report, one of the key recommendations
and new things that it said was that donors, in general, have
lost the plot on infrastructure.
Q93 Hugh Bayley:
Since 2005I think it was 2005has there been a step
change in the amount of development funding for infrastructure?
I do not mean through DFID, but through the multilateral agencies.
Q94 Hugh Bayley:
There has been. DFID has argued in the past that we should not
do everything: you cannot be topquality in everything.
We should in effect delegate or give the job of infrastructure,
roads, ports and so on to the EU or to the World Bank. That does
not mean to say that they do not need any engineering expertise.
Let's come back to the expertise that they need in a minute.
But does it make sense for DFID to say, "Let's empower with
money those who are experts in infrastructure"?
I have no problem with that at all. But what they have done
is sequestered that activity to a third party and said, "Thank
you ever so much."
Q95 Hugh Bayley:
Do they need this in DFID headquarters or in the field?
They need it in both areas.
Q96 Hugh Bayley:
In both areas. What sort of people? They need engineers, you
have made that clear. Do they need other professionals who are
Yes, they do.
Q97 Hugh Bayley:
Who? What professions?
If we say yes to the third-party involvement and delivery, then
you need at home in DFID an engineering capacity capable of scrutinising
the execution of the contract.
Q98 Hugh Bayley:
By the EU, for example?
By the EU. We need to have somebody who is watching them so
that we can feel comfortable with the fact that they are delivering
the project that is fundamental to this nation. In the nation
we need two types of capacity within the DFID office. First of
all we need engineering capacity that is primarily there to keep
a watching eye on the developments within that particular country.
Does it satisfy European standards, which also embrace British
standards, and in fact US standards as well? That is extremely
important, simply because that primary infrastructure may be subsequently
built upon. You want to make sure that it complies with those
standards so that it is capable of being built upon. That is
You should then also look to employ an educationalist
within that DFID officesomebody who is fundamentally interested
in training and helping the nation access good training opportunities.
This should be somebody who is working with the education ministry,
and saying to the education ministry, "We know that you need
assistance in the technical training and development of a whole
cadre of young people coming out of school, or in school. How
do we utilise our investment in your country to help you deliver
on those objectives?" These countries are making significant
investment in education, but when I speak to the Education Ministers,
they say: "Despite our investment, our young people are coming
out of school and they are not industryready." They
are not industryready simply because the industrial opportunities
that exist in the country are not connected to the education providers.
Q99 Hugh Bayley:
Could I ask one last question? Let's suppose that you were hired
by DFID as Chief Engineer, or asked to advise. What size team
of people, and what professional specialties, would you want an
Engineering Advisory Team or Engineering Project Management Team
at DFID headquarters to consist of?
They have a massive infrastructure budget. In terms of setting
the priorities, and the architecture through which you could report
on those priorities, you would need quite a small team. We would
probably be looking at a team of about six people. In addition
to that I would build an Expert Advisory Panel. You touched on
it earlier on, Chairman, and I did not answer your question directly
about the involvement of British companies that are actually also
developing or seeking development opportunities in a whole myriad
of very poor states. I would set up an Expert Panel, which would
be populated by engineers drawn from those companies. That is
Within my own team, you would have to look at a civil
engineer with specific expertise in terms of highways development,
and a structural engineer really to look at the development of
largescale projects such as hospitals, airports and emergency
facilities. Emergency facilities could be police or fire authorities.
You would need structural expertise. A town and country planner
would be absolutely essential. Sierra Leone does not possess
even one. An infrastructure project is foisted on the country,
but there is no plan that the country can argue for support for.
The head of planning within the ministry in Sierra Leone is an
extraordinary, fantastic Sierra Leonean. He got the maps for
his country from Google. He does the planning from Google. That
is the level: the same maps as us. That was the first time he
saw his country. It is really at that sort of level.
I would have town and country planning, a civil and
structural engineer, and you would have to look at a mechanical
engineer, water treatment and power. Roads are not just highways
for cars to run on, but they also hide the distributive infrastructure
for power, water, and sewage disposal. You would have to have
a team. You would say to them, "We are going to deliver
a road. What added value can we deliver to that infrastructure
project to make it community ready? It is just sitting there
waiting for that community either to be brought on stream in terms
of power or water." Frequently that is bolted on afterwards,
doubling the cost. If it was built into the system in the first
place, you have a training potential associated with that, you
involve more people from the country, because it is their areas
of specialism, and you deliver something that is far more than
it appears to be for that community.
Hugh Bayley: Your point
is very well made.
Q100 Mr Gyimah:
You have touched on what support DFID could give. It would be
quite interesting to understand what recommendations you would
make for multilateral organisations and their involvement as far
as infrastructure development in developing countries is concerned.
For me, bearing in mind what I said earlier, I had tremendous
difficulty finding out who, within the various multilateral donors,
was executing projects. It was very difficult. I raised significant
numbers of Parliamentary questions to find out who I needed to
speak to in order to determine how that particular contract or
investment was being handled. Judging by the quality of the product
on the ground, and having met, for instance, World Bank and EU
representatives in some of these countries, they were not engineers.
They were ambassadors for their organisation, and again the project
that was being delivered in the country was something that was
being done to them, rather than involving them.
I argued for engineering capacity within DFID, to
provide oversight to the multilaterals. I would argue then for
engineering input into the multilaterals to have rooted country
experience. That is not flying over one day a week, one day a
year, or one day a month. It is not that. It is about somebody
being there, and going to the site and understanding enough about
that particular project to be able to scrutinise the construction
capacity. You are letting this contract to a contractor who has
put in the bid. The assumption is that they understand and can
deliver a quality project. It is the wrong assumption to make.
Q101 Mr Gyimah:
You are arguing for engineering capacity in the multilateral
organisations as well?
Yes, I am.
Q102 Mr Gyimah:
Right. How do you think DFID can use its influence with multilateral
development banks to improve infrastructure outputs in general?
They can ask for it. At the moment I am not aware, in any contract,
of a need for the multilateral donors to demonstrate that there
is compliance with international standards in structure and infrastructure
projects. That is not being asked for, because when the contracts
are set, I do not think you have informed engineering capacity
participating in the description of that contract. What you have
is the multilaterals saying, "There is an agreement that
we will develop infrastructure projects in the following nations.
Your contribution to that, Mr UK, is as follows. We give you
the money and that is it. You get on with it."
Q103 Mr Gyimah:
The question is: how specifically can DFID use its influence
to make sure that outputs are improved?
You can specify it. You could say, "Coupled with this donation,
you need to satisfy us that this infrastructure programme is being
developed with specific reference to international building standards.
You must be able to demonstrate to us that you can deliver on
those standards." This investment is so expensive. We have
to make sure it lasts. One of the things that I am absolutely
appalled by is that I visit all sorts of countries, and I meet
the project engineer on site, who says, "I do not know why
you are worrying about those standards. This is good enough for
here." It is not good enough. It is secondrate.
I do not think there should be any difference between the value
we get for money in the UK in terms of investment, and the value
we get elsewhere. In Africa and the countries that I have been
to, it is absolutely imperative that we meet the very best international
The other thing that we should be specifying is that
we make the investment and we have to look for a training premium.
For every £1 invested on our behalf, we have to say: "What
is the training premium associated with that? How many engineers
do we have from that country participating in this scheme, so
that we share this valuable knowledge?" I am not happy with
the knowledge being vested in a contractor in that country. The
contractor keeps the knowledge to himself and does not share with
the broader community. Therefore the opportunity for the broader
community to eventually assume responsibility for that project
is lost. It is not acceptable. The situation as it stands is
a waste of our money.
Q104 Mr Gyimah:
One final question. What about the issue of corruption? How
effective do you think multilateral organisations are at dealing
with the issue of corruption in the construction sector? That
is surely an issue as well.
Oh, it is. It is not my area of expertise. I can tell youmy
point earlier on about the British investmentDFID has been
responsible for the development of anticorruption commissions
around British investment in the countries that have been identified
by the World Bank as having a significant predisposition to corruption.
These have normally been imposed upon the nation, much to the
relief, I think, of most of the Presidents, because they are completely
independent of Parliament. They have their own mandate, and what
they have done, and are demonstrating at this moment in time,
is that they are prepared to take action against corrupt officials,
whether they are officials within the Civil Service or Ministers
themselves. One can only hope that that statutory body delivers
on its objectives.
I have done a lot of work in these countries. I
have worked with very good British companies who are very keen
not to be involved in any corrupt practices at all, and explicitly
state that as part of their involvement. Because you are overt
in your position on corruption, corruption does not exist in the
organisations that I work for, simply because it would not be
tolerated. I realise that it goes on, but it is not part of my
Q105 Jeremy Lefroy:
Picking up on one or two of the points that you have been discussing
on the basis of Sam's questions, how do you see the current emphasis
on value for money and results as having an impact on the assessment
of infrastructure? From my experience of living in Tanzania for
many years, when I first went the roads that were used a lot and
were still in reasonable condition had been built in the 1950s.
They had obviously been built to a very high standard.
By the British.
Q106 Jeremy Lefroy:
By the British or the Italians, interestingly enough.
Q107 Jeremy Lefroy:
The replacement road lasted five years before it started to deteriorate.
Q108 Jeremy Lefroy:
Again, built by a successor Italian company, I think to the first
one. There are two points. One is: how do we learn from the
mistakes, and learn from good experience? Infrastructure projects,
by their nature, are decades rather than years.
Yes, they are.
Q109 Jeremy Lefroy:
Is that experience being fed into current decisions? Secondly,
for instance, the Government is talking about educating 11,000,000
children, which is absolutely fine. I 100% agree with that.
If you were to set a target of, say, for infrastructure: "We
will build 10,000km of roads," it does not have a quality
measure in that. It does not have a training measure in that.
No, it does not.
Q110 Jeremy Lefroy:
If you are looking at value for money, training and quality may
be the things that go out of the door, because the 10,000km is
the most important measure. How do we overcome that?
You made a very valid point, which is that the second road that
was built has failed. You have to do a stress analysis. When
you look at the funding and expenditure, you carry out a stress
analysis associated with that funding. Where are the stress points
for that investment? The stress point for that investment was
not during its construction, or immediately after its construction.
It was five years down the line. You say, "This infrastructure
project, this structure, should have a life expectancy with reasonable
maintenance of 30 years before we have to completely overhaul
it, if we are looking at normal travel arrangements." Those
are the criteria that you would have to put into the contract,
and then you would have to inspect postcompletion, to see
whether you have compliance with that.
I have asked, and recently a colleague of mine has
placed a number of questions before Parliament about scrutinising
contracts, which I was very grateful for, looking at the reports
on infrastructure projects. Clearly there is a need to look at
those reports on those infrastructure projects to determine whether
or not there has been any quality assessment of the work, and
to see, if that has been done, what the remedial actions placed
on the contractor were. I have not been able to find those reports
yet. Maybe, because there is this third party control over the
funds they get on with the job, and we say, "Thank you ever
so much for getting on with the job. Just show us the road."
That is exactly what we get. We are only shown the road. In
terms of your argument, on training and quality, to go back to
the concrete block that I mentioned earlier on, the amount of
time and effort that you have to put into constructing a concrete
block that fails is exactly the same amount that you have to put
into a concrete block that succeeds. The failure was a technical
understanding about what constitutes good material investment
in a concrete block. It was as simple as that.
Q111 Mr Gyimah:
Or just shoddy work.
It does not cost any more to produce good quality. I would argue
in the long term, and sometimes I can demonstrate in the short
term, it costs less over the lifetime of a project. We are not
building for today. We are building for generations. I am associated
with infrastructure projects, and I say to people, "This
will stand 100 years from now, and it will not look any different.
If things go well, it will stand for 1,000 years." That
is all that I am interested in doing: will it stand the test of
In terms of the training benefit, you could say that
any construction company worth its while needs to have a training
capacity within that organisation. That is absolutely primarily
a good basic requirement of a company that wants to do well.
If they do not have that training capacity then it will cost you
more, but ultimately it will cost you less, because we have several
budgets going into these nations. We have a budget for infrastructure
and we also have a budget for education. One of the big problems
facing fragilestate countries is youth unemployment. They
recognise that failure to engage huge numbers of youthslooking
at Sierra Leone, youth unemployment is running at 90%it
is massive. The only opportunity is to work in the public sector.
Youth unemployment is a big, big problem. We put money into
infrastructure and money into education, but we do not think very
cleverly about using this to support that. If we reaped more
as a consequence of infrastructure development as a benefit to
education, we would have a better outcome for education in the
short, medium and long term. It is absolutely crucial.
All of the work that I am involved in and our charity
is involved in now is to say: "We want to build this, but
there is an absolute prerequisite placed on any community that
they provide 20 young people in that community, whom they can
select themselves, who will come and work on that project."
They will not be working just at digging ditches and laying concrete
slabs, but they will be working alongside the project engineer.
We take every cadre of young person: those who want to work with
their hands, fantastically vocational people, those who are deemed
to have intellectual capacity, and those who might go on to be
team leaders. We take every one, and say to every person that
we put on the site who is qualified: "You will partner with
I still reel from the fact that when I used to go
into DFID offices around the world, they did not have one trainee
in those offices. Why did they not have any trainees sitting
right next door to the DFID people? DFID is there to try to support
the Government. They sit there and make fantastic plans. They
have really clever people, but they have not said to the Government,
"For every important person that we have in this office,
we would like to second either a graduate, postgraduate, member
of your ministry, or Member of Parliament. We would like to offer
these opportunities." It is a significant investment that
we are making, but we do not reap the training value of that investment.
It is absolutely crucial. Every one of those people that I see
I think: "You could be doing more to allow us to deliver
our objectives, instead of pulling in all these consultants, who
come and go and have no real love of the country that they are
working in. They are just an opportunity to make money."
The marvellous people that we have working in DFID and the FCO
in these countries are really committed, by and large, to the
people and their welfare. We should be taking all that good heart
and positive value and saying, "How do we maximise it? How
do we make sure that the skills you have developed as a consequence
of an expensive education system and a wellfurnished Government
are shared with the people in this country to enable them to do
better?" For me that is not a difficult concept to understand.
It is easy.
Q112 Jeremy Lefroy:
It is not. There are organisations in the UK that are doing
that and specifying that in their construction contracts. I know
one or two in my own area in Staffordshire that do it. I very
much agree with that. I just want to talk a little bit about
Sierra Leone, a country in which I too have a little bit of an
interest. What in your view is the impact of Chinese investment
on infrastructure there?
Gosh, it is fantastic. It is fantastic all over Africa. It
is absolutely fantastic. Let me share with you a geeky concern.
Bear with me while I go through this. I talked in my evidence,
Mr Chairman, about standards. Embedding your own standard in
a developing nation is absolutely essential. If we look at roads,
are they complying with metric requirements or British requirements?
If they are metric, who is supplying the parts? I talked earlier
on about adding value to infrastructure. If we look then at distributed
power and water, who is supplying the pipework, and to what standard?
If we follow this through, the pipework, invariably, will connect
to equipment. If you have pipework that is Chinese and not a
European standard, then when you start arguing for coupling that
pipework to delivery mechanisms, whether power or water, what
you are essentially saying is: "It has to be Chinese. It
has to be Chinese, because it is already Chinese. We do not want
to add value and add cost into this project by now having two
systems running together." It is the main reason the Europeans
have never cracked the US market, because the US market has a
US manufacturing standard. It dictates the description of the
screw. It dictates the seals. It dictates the blades within
a turbine. It influences everything. Once you have laid your
marker in the sand for that sort of equipment, you are more or
less bound to it forever.
The investment is fantastic. The Chinese offer countries
quick opportunities for infrastructure. It is not infrastructure
for infrastructure's sake. There are normally significant benefits
attached to it. It may be extraction benefits. It may be developing
closer relationships with the developing Governments so that,
when there are opportunities to invest, the Chinese are there,
sitting at that table and able to take advantage of that knowledge.
The Chinese are making huge investments in terms of roads, mining
capacity and hotel development, but it is all done at pretty mean
prices, and I have not seen any Chinese project that involves
indigenous populations in its execution. Let me qualify that:
I think there may be one that I have just heard about, but I have
not seen it for myself, so I do not know whether that is reality.
I do not know whether local people are being used just for labour,
or in fact being involved in the intellectual activity of the
execution of that project. What matters to me is that they are
involved in the intellectual activity of the project, with a view
to assuming the development and direction of those projects in
the longer term in those countries. The Chinese are really very
good investors, doing it for strategically political reasons in
the longer term. But also from a manufacturing point of view
and as an opportunity to export manufacturing goods into those
countries in the longer term, it is absolutely fantastic.
Q113 Jeremy Lefroy:
How do you think we can encourage the Chinese to involve themselves
more in training local capacity?
They are not of our nation. I am very fortunate to know the
Education Ministers in a number of African countries, and I am
encouraging them to articulate the need for training opportunities
as a direct result of infrastructure. I have said, "You
have to ask for it. It will not put these people off. You just
have to ask for it, and if they say no, you have to try to realise
that in a different way, but please ask for this." Now I
am dealing with educationalists who are also not engineers. You
must ask for this. They say, "It will put people off, Claire."
"Do not worry about that. Just ask in the first place."
When I speak to Presidents, I say: "When they come along,
and the prospect is so tempting that you cannot say no, because
your need is so great, say to them: 'While you are about it, I
would like you to train members of my offices, members of my Government,
and members of my ministries, and the undergraduates and postgraduates
coming out of our universities. They will add value. It will
not cost you anything. If the very least you do is give them
the opportunity to stand next to a trained person, that is it.
You might not have to do anything else, but just give them that
exposure.' Just ask."
Q114 Chair: Claire,
thank you very much. You obviously have very strong and very
helpful views in terms of the specifics of engineering. Maybe
as a final point, do you think DFID has the capacity to work with
the private sector to deliver these things?
No, not at all. It is a disaster. It is an absolute disaster.
It really is. It is so regrettable, but it is. I regret to
say that it is the Clare Short approach: "No aid and trade.
Do not mix the two. This is aid, and we are not interested in
trade." That absolute paradigm of function has wiped working
with the private sector totally out of the DNA of DFID. It is
such a lost opportunity. I can tell you now that, if DFID wanted
to pull together a panel of expert engineering advisors for every
country in the world, they could do so by going to the private
sector in the UK.
Watch this as an opportunity. If you were to go
to the Chief Executive of any British companyI work in
the energy sector, and you could go to any of my colleagues in
the energy sectorand say, "We would like you to consider
seconding a member of your staff to DFID in this particular country
for six months." Think of the value of that as a workbased
opportunity for individuals who may well go on to lead British
companies. It is fantastic. It is absolutely fantastic. It
is beyond a value that we could place on that. You could do that
in every sector. You could go to oil, gas, coal, power, finance:
there is not a sector that would not respond to that request.
"We would like you, in these 30 countries, to field a member
of your staff on a rolling basis for the next five years."
They would bite your hand off. When I have been to speak to
DFID officials, I am persona non grata. I have been summarily
dismissed by DFID officials: firstly because I was a Member of
Parliament, I suppose, and sometimes an intrusion, and secondly
because engineering, the development of work, the acquisition
of money, making money, is an anathema to DFID officials currently.
But there is huge scope.
Q115 Chair: As
you will know, the present Government has said it wants to expand
private-sector engagement and promote private-sector development
in a whole variety of areas, of which India is one we are concerned
with. What you have just said is on the record, and may be something
that we can discuss with DFID.
The opportunity is there. It is there, and people are just waiting
to be invited to the party.
Q116 Chair: Yes.
That, of course, gets around the headcount constraints that the
Department is under at the moment.
It most certainly does. It is about being creative and looking
for added value for these people. What you offer them is to say:
"You get an opportunity to work in this country," but
of course what they are doing is acquiring country intelligence.
They will come back and say: "This country has this sort
of rating, but when it comes to the practicalities, here are the
investment opportunities. Here are the weaknesses within the
country. Can we address these in the short, medium or long term?"
I know, because I have taken British companies to very poor countries,
and they can smell the opportunity before they get down the steps
of the plane. But there is no platform for engagement.
Q117 Jeremy Lefroy:
Just really a point: I think the need is also to engage particularly
with young engineers, engineering students. I speak as a father
of one who at the moment is going out on a project in Cameroon
with Engineers Without Borders.
Brilliant. Yes. Brilliant.
Q118 Jeremy Lefroy:
I do not know, and I should ask you: would you like to see this
kind of thing as part of the syllabuses of our major engineering
I would like to see them offer the opportunities to young people.
My daughter is doing engineering at Imperial in London. She
is also a member of Engineers Without Borders, and went out last
year to Tanzania to build a well, and absolutely loved it. Engineers,
by and large, want to be involved in projects that serve society
and improve society as a whole. Giving young people the opportunity
to be involved in infrastructure projects is great if we can do
it. We have not mentioned the role of the British Council here,
but I think there is a role for the British Council in arguing
for funding to make these opportunities available. Currently,
they partner schools, but I have been talking to them about partnering
technology colleges, because if they partner those, they could
call down pupils in both directions. That would support Engineers
Without Borders, and support that investment between young people
and institutions that are charged with the development of a nation.
Q119 Chair: Claire,
can I thank you very much? I am very glad that we have had the
opportunity to take evidence from you. Clearly you have both
a huge enthusiasm for the subject, and great expertise. You have
given us some very simple examples of things that could be done
at no great expense to improve the quality of our infrastructure
engagement. I want to say thank you very much indeed for coming
Chairman, can I just say that I was so thrilled to see that this
Committee was looking at this particular area. It is about as
interesting as a goneoff biscuit for most people, but it
is so vital.
Q120 Chair: I
am afraid that the benches behind you demonstrate that. The quality
is there, but not the numbers.
That is a fact, but it is such a huge amount of opportunity,
and such a great vehicle to deliver such good results for those
countries that we are investing in. I would commend you to the
task at hand. I do wish you well in terms of influencing opinion.
If you could get it to move just 1%, 1% would reap such rewards.
I would be delighted, and so would my engineering colleagues.
Thank you ever so much.
Chair: Thank you very