Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001
80. It sounds a bit like the Whips.
(Ms Coles) Yes.
81. Is it your belief that DG Development might
disappear in a future round of reforms, ought to disappear in
a future round of reforms, or stay as it is?
(Ms O'Connell) This is the big political issue really.
It is interesting that in the UK before 1997 there was the ODA,
the former DFID which was part of the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office, and one of the things that this Government did when it
came into office in 1997 was to separate out the development ministry
and give it a Cabinet position separate from the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office. That I think has been a very positive initiative in putting
development much more clearly on the agenda, making it an important
position within the Cabinet. Obviously you do need to work across
Whitehall where there are very good connections between the Treasury
and the Foreign Office and DFID. That is a good experience. Taking
that across to the EU, when the Commission was reformed and restructured
and it had a triumvirateand it is a triumvirate, I am afraidof
the External Relations Commissioner, who is Chris Patten, and
Development, which is Mr Nielson, and Trade, and they work together
as a triangle, the wider foreign policy agenda is the top of the
triangle. That does not necessarily need to be a bad thing if
development is strong and the trade agenda clearly is always strong.
EuropeAid is a slightly bizarre structure in so far as the Commissioner
for Development is the managing director but there is a board
which includes the External Relations Commissioner, the Trade
Commissioner, the Enlargement Commissioner and others. Some of
the current structure is to do with personalities but some of
it is to do with the wider political agenda of how important is
development. We would be very worried if in the future DG Development
disappeared because we would not be confident that development
would remain high on the agenda. What we are most concerned with
is issues around poverty elimination. It is very important that
you have that coherence between foreign policy, trade and development,
but development needs to be a very important agenda, otherwise
it will be lost. You can see that reflected in the budget, to
go back to the pie chart that we looked at at the beginning, where
development overall is a small amount of the EU's budget and within
the development budget the poorest countries and poverty elimination
are a small percentage. That reflects the kind of power structures
there are and it is really up to Member States and this Committee
and others to give greater emphasis to development, to give political
support to DG Development, and at the same time push forward the
reforms and making high demands for change. It does need that
political support, otherwise I fear and as NGOs we fear that the
EU's potential to contribute significantly to poverty reduction
and to achieving the millennium development goals will not be
82. Has the setting up of EuropeAid had any
effect on the speed of the disbursements?
(Ms O'Connell) Yes, it has, dramatically.
83. Can you point to any examples?
(Ms de Toma) I can give you broader examples and Ruth
can cover the more specific NGO related examples. We put some
figures in our submission to you. I am not a financial expert
but they say that they have decreased old and dormant commitments.
The definition of old and dormant commitments is that dormant
commitments are pre-1995 and old-commitments are post 1995, from
the past two years. They have decreased those by 52 per cent in
terms of old commitments and a third in terms of dormant commitments.
Overall it is something that we have noticed. It has had an impact
on our relations with EuropeAid because overall NGOs have had
positive feedback from our members on that. It was I think their
top priority when they set up EuropeAid because obviously they
had been previously criticised by the Development Assistance Committee
in the peer review and the gap, for instance, between the commitments
and disbursements was a main criticism of the management of ODA.
Overall that has improved. Our general concern with that, and
Ruth will go into that more, is that the speed of disbursements
might impact on the quality of the projects that they are approving
and we have seen negative effects over this incredible speed of
delivery on the quality of the projects that are now being either
rejected or approved just on niggly technical grounds.
(Ms Coles) Certainly the reports coming back from
Europe are that disbursements are now made fairly promptly after
submission of interim reports. This is seen as very positive because
this was a problem previously. There are still delays on things
like the calls for proposals. It has taken a very long time for
the contracts for projects and block grants to be issued this
year. The call was completed last November and the contracts are
only just coming out now. The 2002 call for proposals has only
just been issued.
84. That is in the year, is it?
(Ms Coles) That is the year after application. That
is between application and actual contract issue. That does not
take into account the preliminary preparation period with our
southern partners. Overall you are looking at about 18 months
to two years between discussing a project and implementing it,
which is beginning to cause problems with some organisations in
dealing with their southern partners, explaining the delays. That
is a point of concern across Europe, how we pass that information
on to southern partners and do not raise expectations that are
not going to be able to be fulfilled for 24 months. The call for
proposals for 2002 has only just been issued for development education
and we are still waiting for the call for projects. It was originally
promised in June but it has been rolled back to January 2002,
so that has been a delay of over six months. That has been discussed
with EuropeAid in the Development Finance Group meeting in Brussels
and is constantly at the top of the agenda.
85. In your list of recommendations at the back
of your submission you say that there is a need for the highest
quality and expertise of EuropeAid staff, "particularly in
the areas of gender, governance and participatory development".
Is that a criticism of the existing staff?
(Ms O'Connell) I am afraid it is, yes. Things are
improving. For example, taking the case of gender because it is
a useful example for looking at the other issues as well, the
EU has quite a strong policy on promoting equality between women
and men. This policy was first of all set up in 1995 but even
then they had very few staff with expertise. The gender desks,
as they are called, at the European Commission then were and still
are staffed largely by detached national officials, officials
sent from the Member States to Brussels to fill a contract for
two or three years. These officials come, they do their best,
but they do not know the system as well as, say, full time staff
would. Quite often they get frustrated and they go home early
and then there is a gap until the next one comes. This has been
the history of gender mainstreaming in the Commission for as long
as I have been looking at it which is almost 15 years now. In
addition to these experts who come from Member States there are
individuals within the Commission who, through their own interest,
said that they would take on a monitoring role and a promotion
role on gender equality. These were called focal points within
the different offices of the Commission. People were taking on
the responsibility of promoting gender equality on top of their
full time jobs and at best they were probably allowed to work
on it about a quarter of the day a week. Now the Commission has
produced, and the EU has agreed, a new strategy about mainstreaming
gender throughout. The theory is that all staff would be trained,
they would receive awareness raising so that they will be able
to integrate issues of gender and assess how any particular initiative
impacts on men and women. They will be able to do that right throughout
their work, whether it is sanitation programmes or road building
or support to budgets, health care, whatever. The reality is that
that is far from happening. The same could be said across the
wider issues of social analysis. The Commission is very lacking
in expertise when it comes to having enough staff with social
analysis. If you look, for example, at DFID, they have over 50
people in their Social Development Department, which includes
their gender expertise. The equivalent sections within the Commission
are under five or six people. They have little policy units. On
gender alone there are about three people right now. It is impossible
seriously to implement the commitments that they have made to
poverty elimination, to promoting equality between men and women,
to promoting respect for human rights, unless they seriously step
up the quality of their staff and expand the training to all the
other staff. What happens within the Commission is that quite
often somebody who was working on fisheries yesterday becomes
a person working on health today, and that is the way the structure
has worked and that is the way that the staffing has worked. While
there may be advantages in people being able to move through the
system there is a clear need for expertise and for specialists
who know their subject who can advise others on how to do their
86. We have plainly been talking all the way
through about the European Commission and EC-NGO relations, and
it is paragraphs 17-19 of your memorandum. Would you tell us more
about the new general conditions? You say here that you applauded
them coming and bringing new life into the EC-NGO funding relations
but you are saying it has been fairly disappointing in terms of
how they have been implemented. Could you explain more generally
what are the new general conditions, what was their introduction
intended to achieve and what impacts have they and the reforms
more generally had on relations?
(Ms Coles) General conditions are the conditions that
govern the eligibility of organisations, networks and consortia
to apply to the co-financing budget line. It also governs the
eligibility of particular costs within the application. It was
produced in January 2000 and given out to NGOs in May. There has
been much discussion on it in the various groups. One of the things
that has come up which caused a great deal of interest within
the NGO sector was the idea of producing programme contracts which
would be effectively very large grants to a number of organisations
that would allow them to run similar projects across a range of
countries or perhaps a range of projects in a particular geographical
area. Initially applications were asked for but what has happened
is that the applications exceeded the total of the budget line
allocation anyway and the European Commission has stepped back
and decided that it is not in a fit state at the moment or it
is not ready to run the programme contracts. This has caused some
problems. It is an issue that is coming up in the Development
Finance Group meetings in Brussels because quite a number of NGOs
saw this as a very good way to take larger projects forward and
to have more impact on a longer term basis. If you look at the
general conditions and look at what happened it has become clear
that there are some very interesting ideas in the conditions and
they are ones that we all subscribe to. We feel very much that
the European Commission has emphasised the role of NGOs. Unfortunately
there is a difference between what the conditions say and what
has happened in practice. The conditions have committed themselves
perhaps to things that EuropeAid is unable to fulfil at the moment
although it is talking about fulfilling them in the future and
is looking into it.
87. Could you let us have a copy of these?
(Ms Coles) Yes, I can. At the moment I only have them
in French but I will let you have a copy in English.
88. That would be very helpful. There originally
were general conditions. There are now new general conditions
and the only change is in the area that you have outlined?
(Ms Coles) I was not familiar with the old general
conditions. Luckily for me, I came in just as the new general
conditions came in so I did not have to learn the old ones. From
what I understand from others they clarify quite a number of scenarios.
They have made it a lot easier to look at where the Commission
was going and also to assess eligible projects.
89. The example you give us in your memorandum
is that there are two calls for proposals per year and a maximum
limit of six months at EC to process applications. This has not
been the case.
(Ms Coles) No.
90. That is in either of those situations?
(Ms Coles) No. EuropeAid have actually come back and
said that that was not a practical proposal. What they are now
looking at is having one call for proposals every year and to
disburse the monies from that call at the end of that year.
91. If you can let us have the details before
we go to Brussels in January that would be very helpful. Are NGOs
informed of decisions relating to their proposals within a reasonable
time frame and are the decisions based on transparent criteria,
do you think?
(Ms Coles) The first answer would have to be no. It
takes a long time to be informed of notifications as to whether
your application has been successful or not. The Brussels Development
Finance Group has asked for organisations whose applications are
not eligible or fail at the first hurdle to be notified earlier.
EuropeAid have said they cannot do this for legal reasons because
of the appeal process within the whole European Commission. Practically
things are not being fulfilled. It has taken a very long time
for the money to come through and for contracts to be agreed.
92. Can you go into the appeal procedure? You
mentioned that very briefly. Do NGOs have a right to appeal if
your funding proposals are rejected and perhaps you can compare
that to what right of appeal there is if DFID rejects a funding
(Ms Coles) This was raised at the last Development
Finance Group. I have never dealt with an NGO that has taken its
application back on appeal.
(Ms O'Connell) There is no appeal.
93. But you were saying I think that EuropeAid
were very concerned because they were concerned that you might
take it to the appeals court, so clearly the mechanism is there.
(Ms O'Connell) There must be a misunderstanding of
something Ruth said. There is no process of appeal. The decisions
are taken and that is it. It is the same for the fund which DFID
is running. Again, the decisions are taken and that is the bottom
line. I have never heard of a case where NGOs have been able to
say, "We do not accept the decision. We want to discuss it
with you." What people do is that they may revise and re-submit
and then you may get funding.
(Ms de Toma) Or do other budget lines as well.
(Ms O'Connell) Yes. You asked about transparency.
One of the issues for NGOs on the European Commission co-funding
line is that there is no transparency. There are a certain amount
of very clear guidelines written down but there seem to be other
criteria that come into play which are not clear. One of them
seems to be some kind of rough allocation between NGOs in the
15 Member States and the NGOs and the 15 Member States, and some
kind of notional divide of what would be a fair share. Because
Britain has more NGOs than most other EU Member States, in the
past we have tended to get more than our "fair share"
of the money. That is one criterion that is operating but it is
not very transparent. We as British NGOs have decided to do an
analysis of our own successes and failures in terms of EC funding
over the last year and from that see what kind of informal criteria
are being used. We suspect there are also criteria about sectors.
The European Commission is moving towards a position where it
is prioritising certain sectors within countries, say, like health
in Mozambique, and therefore it would like the NGOs applications
for work in Mozambique to be somehow complementary. That may seem
very sensible. It may even be very sensible but it is not clear
that that is happening. So we need a lot more transparency about
what criteria are really being used and what kind of balancing
is being done so that we can operate within that or lobby to change
it if we do not think it is right.
94. You deal with transparency in your paragraph
20 where you are saying that the Commission seems to increasingly
view NGOs as "mere implementers rather than development actors
in their own right", so you want to be part of setting the
parameters as part of the transparency issue.
(Ms O'Connell) We want our partners in the south in
developing countries to have a very big role in setting the overall
parameters of their countries and then we want as NGOs based in
Europe to have a role in discussing development policy, discussing
development priorities. We do not expect to be given the final
say but we do think we have experience from our work in developing
countries which we can share and we have views which we think
should be listened to. Therefore, if sectors are being agreed
for countries, whether it is health or education, we feel we should
have a capacity to discuss that as a minimum. Also, one of the
points we would like to make is that while we are happy to work
within the broad sectors that the Commission may establish for
a particular country we would also like the opportunity to do
more innovative pilot work so we do not want to be just straitjacketed
into only doing health or only doing education or only doing sanitation.
We think that that flies in the face of what civil society is
about, which is about innovation and about independence and autonomy
in our work.
(Ms Coles) This is in fact recognised by the general
conditions and this is a very important part of the autonomy of
NGOs and also the right of initiative on the co-financing budget
line is enshrined in the general conditions but not necessarily
brought through in practice.
95. You mentioned a minute or two ago about
your relationship with southern NGOs. How do they come into the
influencing of policy? What are the links between those southern
NGOs, yourselves and the Commission itself? Is there any mechanism
for their views to be taken into account?
(Ms O'Connell) There is no formal mechanism but there
are many informal mechanisms. There are a number of ways of answering
this. I will just give you a few examples and others may want
to add to those. With regard to the new Country Strategy Paper
that we mentioned earlier that the EU is writing with developing
countries, it is very clear within the new Cotonou Agreement between
the EU and the Africa Caribbean Pacific countries that the EU
delegation will facilitate consultation with civil society. It
is not going to take the lead in it but it will facilitate it.
It will encourage developing country governments to talk to its
civil society and it will do that through making information available,
through opening up channels for dialogue and discussion and funding,
including offering funding both to civil society and to the governments
to give them greater capacity to do this kind of dialoguing on
policy. That is a good thing for the future. There are gradually
emerging very good networks of southern organisations, for example,
in southern Africa there is a very strong regional network called
Mwengo which brings together NGO delegates from the different
southern Africa countries. First of all they relate clearly to
SADC, their own Africa Development Community structures within
the region, but they also are able to relate to the EU and they
do that through the auspices and the channels of our own EU network,
so the networks talk to the networks and hopefully through that
process get greater access. The Liaison Committee in Brussels
usually invites a lot of southern NGO delegates to come and take
part in its annual conference and speak face to face to policy
makers in Brussels. As NGOs we do this quite a lot as well. For
example, the organisation I work for invite several of our southern
partners to come to Europe several times a year with the express
purpose of talking to people here, talking to you, talking to
people from DFID, talking to people in Brussels so that there
is a face to face opportunity of southern voices being heard by
policy makers. Also as NGOs we try quite hard to make sure that
any information we have about policy decisions, about processes
that are coming up within the EU or within the British Government,
is passed on to our partners about so that they know what is happening.
Also NGOs like my own and others, like Christian Aid, are involved
in training programmes specifically to strengthen the advocacy
and lobbying capacity of their partners so that they are better
equipped to engage. I suppose overall there are lots of good things
happening but it is a little bit patchy. There is no one clear
channel and I cannot foresee in the short term there ever being
one channel where southern NGOs or southern partners can feed
directly into Brussels.
96. But the key issue sounds as if it is once
again the quality of the delegation of the European Community
and the links between that delegation and Brussels as to what
are the frameworks within which they have to fit.
(Ms O'Connell) Yes, that is right. Our overall view
is that the delegations have a huge role to play, but to do that
they need the right staff, the right training. They also need
a culture of listening rather than a culture of making decisions
and then discussing it afterwards. Consultation is meaningless
unless there is some real opportunity to influence what is being
decided. That is at the end of the day about attitudes and culture
and these are the hardest things to shift as we know in our own
society in local government here, say, or service provision in
Britain, but the delegations are at the centre of what could be
very exciting work in the future if they can get it right.
97. As you know, if the European Commission
is serious about improving the effectiveness of its development
assistance it must establish adequate procedures for monitoring
and evaluating the effectiveness of its reforms. The European
Parliament asked the Commission to include output targets in its
annual report on external assistance, but the Commission has failed
to do this. What are BOND's views about the evaluation activities
of EuropeAid and European development assistance? Can an organisation
be accountable if it does not monitor and report on progress towards
output targets? Do NGOs use output targets to evaluate their activities?
(Ms de Toma) Generally our view has been in favour
of setting output targets. In fact we have strongly supported
the work of the European Parliament in setting these output targets
and we were very sad last year when they failed to do so. Their
justification for failing to introduce output targets was that
they just could not do so technically because they lacked an over-arching
information management system which apparently we hear they are
putting in place now and should be ready by the middle of next
year. We hope to see that in the next annual report on the implementation
of development policy. We see the annual report as a very valuable
tool for precisely monitoring and evaluating what has been done,
not just on reforms but overall implementation of the development
policy. The first annual report was not very exciting, we thought,
but then again it just covered the period from the end of 1999
to the end of 2000 so it was pre-reform. In terms of evaluation
we feel, as we said in our submission, that there is still a lot
of work to be done on developing performance indicators of achievement.
We feel that the Commission has a long way to go on that. They
still have not developed such indicators that could then be incorporated
into the annual report to evaluate their work. Obviously the European
Parliament is trying to prod the Commission to work on this and
to get people from Member States, civil society and the Commission
to work together on generating such indicators. The quality support
group is doing a lot of work on this. You have heard about the
quality support group which is supposed to assess the quality
specifically of the country strategy papers that we have talked
so much about today. That is definitely an improvement and they
are supposed to produce a report on the first batch of country
strategy papers at the end of this year. We hope to see a draft
report by the beginning of next year. In terms of accountability,
again yes, we feel that performance indicators are key and we
look to this information management system and the output targets
to give us a clearer framework. The latest situation on these
output targets that were so ardently debated at the Parliament
and Council were the subject of an emergency conciliation procedure
because they could not come to a compromise on them. They eventually
did and the situation now is that they have agreed to earmark
35 per cent of the funds under the regional budgets for social
infrastructure with an emphasis on education and health. It is
not what we have gone for because we wanted a clearer sectoral
breakdown. We could not get that. We hope that in the future they
will have that, but obviously we need indicators because if you
just have output targets it does not really do the job because
they are input targets and we do not what impact the funding and
the policies are actually having on the alleviation of poverty.
It is the two together and the annual report should be the vehicle
that assesses the achievement of the implementation of the policy.
98. What about the previous difficulties NGOs
were facing in evaluating their activities?
(Ms de Toma) We do have targets and indicators and
obviously that is always part of a project proposal. We have very
strict frameworks to define what we are going to do with the funds
that we are receiving and how we will assess what impact these
have had. Obviously, in terms of service delivery, say, in the
field of health or education, these might be easier to gauge,
but in terms of, for instance, advocacy work which Helen mentioned
earlier and that we are working with our partners on, a separate
series of indicators for instance would have to be developed to
gauge the impact of advocacy work at the local level. There are
different types of indicators but we feel that they are fundamental
to our work because if not we just do not know what progress we
have made. Another important thing is that obviously we always
start with a base line study because if not you will not have
a starting point and you will not know whether you have improved
or made the situation worse in any way.
(Ms O'Connell) Just to add one point to that, most
NGOs now would be involved in doing more participative evaluation,
meaning that you evaluate the programme or the project that you
are funding with the participants and with the citizens in the
developing country who are benefiting from it, so you have a more
open and transparent evaluation of how the project has gone, how
they feel it has gone, how the local people who were supposed
to benefit think about it as well as what you think about it.
That will be done side by side maybe with, for larger programmes,
external consultants either from other developing countries or
from here who would go in and run an evaluation. Particularly
as a lot of NGOs use institutional money, say, from the British
Government or from the European Commission, evaluations are essential.
You have to do them as part of the reporting process and there
is a long and well established body of good practice which most
NGOs certainly are following. Development at the end of the day
is very long term. It is not always easy just to say, "We
have done that; let us do the next thing." A very long term
and integrated approach is needed. If you are working on health
you have to also look at the other issues around education, around
decision making, around local governance. Sometimes the issues
get broader and broader and it is not easy always just to say
we have done that and that was 100 per cent successful.
99. Each OECD member reports on its development
assistance according to the DAC criteria. It seems to me that
the reason why there is such concern about the lack of transparency
of the EU's budget, which is huge compared to any individual national
spend, is that they do not. To what extent will the protocols
which the European Parliament has drawn up enable reporting on
EU development assistance to take place on the same basis as each
of the Member States, because until we get that we simply will
not be able to compare like with like. We will not know how much
money they are spending on health programmes as a proportion overall,
or how much on education, or how much on poverty alleviation measures.
Is that not the absolutely fundamental thing in terms of transparency
to get a common system of reporting for the EU programme and each
of the Member States?
(Ms de Toma) You are absolutely right. They started
the work on reorganising budget lines according to the DAC categories
last year and that was part of the thought process behind output
targets because output targets were obviously arranged along the
DAC criteria. I would say that they are halfway there because,
as I said, budget lines have been reorganised and the rationalisation
of budget lines has followed somewhat the DAC sectoral criteria.
However, the most recent compromise on output targets only covers
social infrastructure and does not cover the sectoral breakdown
which we had advocated and which reflected DAC criteria, so yes,
they are improving on rationalisation but they are still not able
to report. I would repeat what I said earlier about their information
management system, this CRIS system I think it is going to be
called, that should be implemented next year. We hope to see improvement
on the DAC reporting by then.
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