Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. These are all countries with very big programmes. Look at Malawi. It is a small country, two million or something of that order. A big programme. You have withdrawn budget support but it still has a much, much bigger programme than much, much bigger countries.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I think it is more than that; it is ten million in Malawi.

  41. Ten million people?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes. The withdrawal of budget support is not usually done by us alone. Do not forget there is a whole international system; it is a collective effort. Other people will also be doing similar things at the same time. That is quite a big signal to send to each of these countries, I think.


  42. Can I ask a question that follows on from that? At present sectoral programmes are driven by country teams. How appropriate is your staff skills mix in the country teams for monitoring the effectiveness of the direct budgetary support. As I think Tony was saying, DFID's project management skills are one of its main assets. What is going to happen to these people? Is the intention to shrink that resource at the time and what is going to be the nature of DFID's involvement in recipient countries given the shift of budgetary support. For example, in Ghana we met the minister of education; clearly DFID has given a lot of support for education in Ghana. Are you going to have someone in the country working with the minister of education to see if that programme is being delivered as you wish it to be delivered?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Yes, I think we will do that in each of the cases where we provide that sort of support. We will certainly be doing that. I think what it does is that it does not take away the sectoral knowledge that we need, the professional knowledge we need—whether it is education, health or other sectors—but it puts a much higher premium on a certain set of skills than previously which is around influencing, around the policy dialogue sort of skills. So our staff—all of us—are having to learn those skills. We have had to learn them within Whitehall in a sense to get ourselves established on the trade front and debt front and so on where we have had a dialogue with other departments. We are having to do that also now in country teams. I am sure when Mark was in Nairobi he was having to get involved in a dialogue in a way that when we were ODA we would not have done because he was getting at the heart of the budget, the composition of expenditure, things like that. So our people have to be slightly different in the way they think about things, in the way they behave, I think. Secondly, I think we have to be a bit more knowledgeable about the politics and history of the country, perhaps, and ask ourselves some questions as to whether what we sometimes describe as irrational decisions are not actually quite rational given the incentive framework which they were coming from. That may be wrong, but understanding better why decisions are made helps you also understand what you could do to try and make better decisions or help the country make better decisions. I think that sort of thought process is quite different from what we were used to in the past.
  (Mr Lowcock) Can I add one point on the skills mix. This is a really, really important issue for us. Putting money through budget does not mean that we are not interested in the sectoral outcomes. On the contrary. So the nature of the role of our education or health specialists is changing. What we are asking them to do is look at—for their sector or for the country as a whole—whether it is making progress towards the MDGs. What we are not asking them to do so much is to look at a relatively small project and whether that is effective. In that sense what we are doing is scaling up; we are trying to look to the horizon, not just in the little narrow thing that we are financing. So there is a long and productive future role for our sector specialists in this. Those are the areas where we are trying to achieve outcomes.

Mr Colman

  43. My question is about budgetary support, but in a sense is the opposite of Tony Worthington's question. He asked where, in fact, DFID had withdrawn. Can I ask where, in fact, DFID is providing direct budgetary support where other similar ministries from developed countries have refused to do so? Are there situations where we are going it alone in providing direct budgetary support?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I do not think we are providing direct budgetary support where other countries have refused to do so, but there is one interesting case which is in India in Andra Pradesh where we are providing budget support I think with the World Bank; we are the only two doing so. That is simply because other donors are in other states. That is the way the Indian government likes the relationship to be, so we have Andra Pradesh and we focus very strongly on that. We have to provide budgets for it with the World Bank. That is not because other donors have refused to.

  44. I have to press you slightly on that because that is quite controversial in terms of support for the agricultural programmes there. That is not for any other reason.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) No, this is to do with public sector reform, this budget support. It is not to do with the agricultural side of it all.
  (Mr Lowcock) Actually the Dutch Government are looking at contributing to that programme as well. There are a number of cases where budget support has been provided to countries initially by quite a small group and then the group has grown. Many of the African cases are like that, actually.

  45. Would you ever go it alone?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) It depends on the Government. I doubt it, myself, because it is going to be part of a collective process of discussion and the policy framework, the PRSP is collectively discussed. So it is pretty unlikely that one would get to that point I think.

Hugh Bayley

  46. Last October the DAC review team suggested that the Department could do better on monitoring, evaluation, and knowledge management. Does DFID accept those suggestions and if so what are you doing to change things, to address those issues?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) We do accept them on evaluation. I think we touched on one earlier and the plan is we have to do a lot more in this area than previously. On knowledge sharing, one of the things about DFID of course is that there is a lot of knowledge in the organisation. What we have probably been not as good at as we would like to be ourselves is actually sharing that knowledge round the department and the international system in a more effective manner. We are looking at what we can do to interact with the rest of the system and also internally how to get lessons learned around between regions and between groups. One of the things I am almost certainly going to do I think is create a new post which is for a director of information whose task will partly be to do this, to push this around the system. I think it is going to be a much higher objective in our hierarchy than before.

  47. How, though? That is the question. I can see there is a clear commitment to improve, but what sort of things might you do to improve and then make use of it?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) One of the things I found when I first came back last Autumn was when I went round the country offices and I found the same questions quite often being asked by the same country managers, I said, "Why is it that you cannot find the answers to this since you are all asking similar sorts of questions?" They found there was nothing on the system that allows them access. The way they get knowledge at the moment is through personal networks, retreats, things like that, where they can get together with other people who have similar questions. I want to use our IT system—and our IT system has a very important role in this because we are scattered over so many locations round the world—to try to produce knowledge products which are more easily accessible than some of our literature. Some of our literature has been a bit too theoretical and not enough about how you can actually do something on the ground. If you were a programme manager in Tanzania and you wanted to know what is the best practice in DFID about engaging the EC, for example, there is not something that tells you on the system at the moment. We are developing that. We have now written what is called a "How to" note which helps that programme manager and any others to go and get that immediately. We want to do more of that, I think. One of the tasks of this new director post will be to develop that system much more.

Chris McCafferty

  48. Are you aware that it is the view of many NGOs working in the reproductive health field that reproductive health has fallen off the DFID agenda? I wonder why you think they have that perception. Is it a fair comment? Is it a fair criticism?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I am a bit surprised they have that perception. I think I had better go and find out why they have that perception because it is a worrying one; it is not one we think is fair. The current Public Service Agreement has a target on maternal mortality. We use births attended by skilled attendants as a key indicator of that, that is an internationally accepted proxy. There is also a target on reproductive health using contraceptive prevalence as a key indicator. Although we are in discussion now with the Treasury about the new PSA so we do not know quite where we will come out, I am pretty certain that reproductive health, maternal mortality indicators will be part of the judgments by which we decide whether we have succeeded under the new PSA or not.
  (Mr Manning) It is possible that some of their concerns come from the fact that the Millennium Development Goals do not include an explicit goal for reproductive health, whereas the International Development Targets which the DAC produced in 1996 did do so. That comes down to the views put forward by a group of states including the United States and a number of other countries who objected at the Millennium Development Assembly to the inclusion of such a goal. As you will be well aware there has been a long history of international debate around this issue. We have made clear the fact that it is not a headline goal in the MDGs is neither here nor there as far as we are concerned and we will continue to take this as a very important part of the overall portfolio.

  49. I am interested in your comments because, according to MSI submissions that we had the 1999 to 2002 PSA on maternal mortality was not in fact met, even though it is, as you rightly say, a Millennium Development Goal (in fact I think it is number six, so it is quite high up). The submissions suggested that maternal mortality is not actually mentioned as an objective in the current PSA. Can you clarify that?
  (Mr Lowcock) It is the case, as we recorded in the annual report, that maternal mortality is one of the Millennium Development Goals that we are most concerned about for exactly the reason you give, that even in Asia where generally progress on the Millennium Development Goals has been good, on that particular one it has not been. Our team working in Asia has been thinking about what more we, as an organisation, ought to do there to address that issue. There are—as the NAO picked up when they looked at our set of PSA targets and indicators—some technical difficulties with the measurement of maternal mortality because the data tends to be available even more slowly than for many of the other indicators we have. It tends to be many years after an intervention where we actually see whether something has changed or not. That is the reason why this proxy of whether a high proportion of births are attended by skilled people has been developed by the International System. The purpose of that proxy is not intended to imply that we are not interested in maternal mortality; on the contrary, we are trying to find better ways of understanding what is going on in terms of maternal mortality. I think this is a dialogue, as Suma said, we should pursue with MSI.

  50. I do not think it is just MSI. I think there are many groups working in this area. I think they would be interested in having a dialogue with you on these issues.
  (Mr Lowcock) We would be very happy to.

  51. Going back to reproductive health and access, there are no specified targets for that. Is there a particular reason why that is the case?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I thought we had a specific target on reproductive health on contraceptive prevalence. I am pretty sure they do although I do not have them to hand.
  (Mr Lowcock) We certainly collect data on this and we have been measuring an increase in prevalence of contraception used. I think you are right, it is the case that we do not have PSA targets in this area at the moment.

  52. With respect, it is quite a different thing to be collecting data and actually having targets. I would suggest that it is such an important area in terms of sustainable development that access should be something that we do have targets for and I would like to think that the Department would look at that extremely carefully. Given the huge fall in donor funding of which we are all aware is quite enormous now—my understanding is that it has gone down from about $68 million to $40 million in the last couple of years—has DFID made an assessment of the need that there clearly must be? Further to that in your view is it possible for sustainable development and, indeed, the elimination of poverty if there is not an increase in funding and an expansion of reproductive health education in services, which takes me back to the specific targets because it would seem to me that it is very important that we do have those.
  (Mr Lowcock) The Department has done quite a bit of analysis around these topics. I am afraid I do not have this material with me. Would it be OK if we offered you a note on that?[13]

  53. I think members would all be appreciative of a note on what is clearly a very important area. Just to widen it a little bit would you agree that whilst DFID has strengthened the gender specific part of its gender mainstreaming programme, there does need to be much further progress in areas such as economics, engineering and rural livelihoods?
  (Mr Manning) Yes, I do not think that anyone can be at all complacent about this. We took the decision several years ago that rather than try and run a separate gender unit we would try and get this fully mainstreamed into our programmes and as we were reminded in a similar debate about the environment you have to keep working at it to enable us to achieve good results across the board. We are trying to monitor what is happening in PRSPs which are a very important part of this and we have worked with the World Bank and others to try and ensure that gender considerations are given their proper weight in the PRS framework. We are, of course, contributing to some of the key international agencies such as UNIFEM. We are, I must say, pleased with the way in which our cooperation with UNIFEM has developed over the years, although of course it remains a fairly modest programme.

Tony Worthington

  54. Turning to something Mr Manning said, where he said that good reproductive health was not explicit in the Millennium Development Goals. I would quarrel with that. I think they are absolutely explicit: reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS. Those are impossible to achieve without good reproductive health. Totally impossible.
  (Mr Manning) I certainly do not disagree with that at all. What I am saying is that in the list that the DAC invented in 1996 there was an explicit goal on reproductive health which we tried to get into the Millennium Development Goals but were unable to because of a coalition of forces against us.

  55. The facts are, as Chris McCafferty was saying, that in 1996 global assistance for reproductive health was $68 million. In 2000 it was $40 million. That is why people feel they are falling off the map.
  (Mr Manning) I think both those figures sound extraordinarily low to me. I think we will need to research them and come back to you with a note on that. Even $68 million in 1996 sounds surprisingly low.

  56. But there is a present crisis in this area and it is linked with the United States. I have just come back from the United States looking at what is happening there. The United States is easily the biggest donor to reproductive health, to maternal health measures. They are now holding up the disbursement of funds under what is called the Mexico City Policy. There are grave doubts about whether the $5 billion that Bush promised is going to go in an acceptable way to maternal health. We had to step in last year with extra supplies of condoms because of a shortage. I must say I am disappointed by the response of DFID in this area because we have targets that are nowhere near being met—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa—and where funding is decreasing there are great doubts about the future, but I get no sense of concern from this report about something that is absolutely fundamental to reduction of poverty.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) Can I just reiterate, chairman. We do have a target on maternal mortality in the current PSA. We talk about the skilled birth attendants being an internationally accepted proxy because of the difficulties of measuring otherwise. We do also have a specific target on reproductive health using contraceptive prevalence in the current PSA. The target is to increase the proportion of couples using contraception from a base line of 32 per cent. The latest figures are at 35 per cent so there is progress being made. That does not mean we do not think this is an important issue; we do. We will come back with a note on what we are doing and what the figures actually show. As Richard said, we ought to research the figures because I find those a bit low as well.[14]

   Chairman: I think that would be helpful and we can then come back to you. Piara, you had a question that you wanted to ask.

Mr Khabra

  57. Going back to the question of direct budgetary support, I am a bit sceptical about this policy because I consider that DFID will not be able to play a role in it and will not be able to monitor the allocation of funds for particular projects and how those projects will be monitored. Also, in view of the fact in a country like India—I know that particularly—the money is always used and directed towards projects and areas where there is no need at all, for political purposes. How will the Department be able to cope with this situation?
  (Mr Lowcock) In deciding whether in a particular country we should provide budget support or not—and at the moment, as has been said, there are 17 countries—we ask ourselves at the beginning a number of questions. Is this a poor country? Is there a credible strategy for reducing poverty? Are the fiduciary risks acceptable? In answering those questions we look very closely at the recent progress the country has made. In fact, in most of the countries where we are providing budget support it is the case that the Governments there have shown that they can deliver outcomes in the areas that we care particularly about (primary health, primary education, water and so on). We gave the example of Uganda earlier about how increases in aid and public spending had led to better outcomes. This is a policy that we are very keen to evaluate as we implement it. In fact, we have commissioned the Overseas Development Institute to conduct an evaluation for us—independently; it will be a published report—to test whether in fact the benefits we hope and expect will be available from budget support will come to fruition.
  (Mr Chakrabarti) On the India example, we very carefully selected four states which met those criteria, the first two of those criteria which were: Do they have lots of poor people in them? And, is the state government committed to change? The states we picked were based on that: Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. They have all moved in that direction; Andhra Pradesh is probably the leading reformer of the four. So we do apply these tests in quite a tough way, actually. We do not just go into any old Indian state unless it meets those tests.

Mr Robathan

  58. Could I turn to the reform of multilateral institutions. Multilateral aid is now over 50 per cent of the budget delivered through multilateral agencies. The Secretary of State in the past has been very forthright in her comments on the need for reform, particularly about the EU. We have recently looked at EU reform and we came to the conclusion that was going reasonably well. But in terms of the UN I know that there is a policy to push more money through UN institutions to bolster those institutions and to back their reform. Could I ask you first, are you doing anything to assist UN internal reform practically and are you happy with the progress there?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I could give you a blow by blow account of each UN agency but that would take hours. Maybe I could offer a note on that. Let me give you the highlights as I see them. DFID has produced what are known as Institutional Strategy Papers for the reform programmes that we are supporting immediately. These are public. What we are doing within those is providing technical assistance to each of the major UN agencies to try to get them to reform and become more effective. We have action plans which are not published because they contain details of how we might build coalitions with others to try to get reform. It is a very big initiative, a very big push to change the UN system. There are two highlights, I think, of what we are doing. The first one would be UN Development Group Office. This was created to try to get more coherence in the UN system and we all welcomed that. We have been supporting the UNDGO (as it is known) in a number of ways. I will give a couple of examples. We have helped provide a training and resource programme for UN country teams to make much quicker progress towards common services. They all do the same things but through different organisations. They actually try to get some economies of scale on the ground. We also provide training for UN staff, including the resident coordinators on the ground, to help strengthen poverty analysis in each country through what is known as the UN Development Assistance Framework. Again, that is to get some common approach within the UN system at country level. Those have been big efforts, I think. The other example I will give is UNDP because that, in many ways, sets the tone, if you like, for the rest of the UN system. I think there has been a serious reform effort here under Mark Malloch-Brown which we have been supporting. Two examples within that are that we, together with others, have pushed very hard for the thinning down on the number of sectors UNDP are in. Mark Malloch-Brown has been pushing in the same direction. He felt the UNDP were too widely spread, not focussing on their comparative advantage. We have also provided technical assistance to develop what are known as competency frameworks for resident representatives of UNDP. They have been, frankly, of very variable quality in many of the countries and therefore UNDP has not been as effective as it should have been, just part of the general dialogue. The UNDP is now trying to improve the quality of these resident representatives and we have helped in that process by working out the competency frameworks, by helping with the selection process and so on. This is quite a major shift in the way we engage with the UN compared with five or ten years ago.

  Chairman: It is very interesting because it is a huge area and I think you get an organisation like the World Food Programme which one feels is delivering well; on the other hand, there is a question mark on what actually was achieved at the FAO last week. Also, I think, how can we stop UN agencies putting forward more and more initiatives? My impression is that none of us are now holding our breath for anything to be happening at Jo'burg simply because there have been almost too many UN conferences this year. The capacity of sherpas and others to actually work out the policy for this is very difficult. In a sense one felt that now the policy has settled the Millennium Development Goals, we now look at the UN agencies delivering on that rather than everyone just rushing round the world having lots more conferences, dreaming up more and more targets and initiatives because it actually takes the focus off, so I think a paper might be very helpful.[15]

Mr Robathan

  59. Various NGOs have raised the issue that they are now going to the UN to get disbursement of funds rather than, as previously, to DFID. With mine clearances that has been dealt with through UNMAS. But it is wider than that, I hasten to add. What they complain about is that the UN system remains bureaucratic, cumbersome and very slow to disburse funds. Also, I think I am right in saying, they generally take 13 per cent administration fee on top, which is hugely expensive. First, what evaluation are you going to do of the disbursement of funds through UN agencies which is increasing under the Secretary of State's policy? Second, what would persuade you that it was not working and you should be diverting money back or reverting to the previous system, direct bilateral aid to India?
  (Mr Chakrabarti) I do not know. We have not thought through the criteria for what would persuade us to go back. At the end of the day, is this a more effective channel than the previous way of handling things and are the transaction costs lowered by working this way than through bilateral donors like ourselves?
  (Mr Manning) At the start of your intervention you described our policy in terms which I would not personally have described it. We do not have a policy of seeking to put more funds through the UN for its own sake. What we are seeking to do within the UN system and indeed more generally internationally is to make harder choices between the better and less well performing parts of the system. We should be ready to reward good performance, but equally we should take a hard-headed view if we do not see a good performance. That is the Secretary of State's general policy on that. We can have a discussion about the specifics of why we went down a particular route on mine clearing, but I do not think you should see that as part of a general policy of seeking to transfer previous bilateral activities through UN agencies as a matter of routine.

   Mr Robathan: That is certainly the impression the Secretary gave me and I would not dream of criticising her for not being hard-headed enough. But I certainly think that is what she said to me, actually.

13   Ev 27. Back

14   Ev 27. Back

15   Ev 32. Back

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