Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 206 - 219)




  206.  Thank you for coming and for your splendid written report which tallies largely with our experience. Three members of the Sub-Committee, Lord Walpole, Lady Wilcox and I, and the Clerk and Specialist Adviser were in the Ukraine and Russia last week. To some extent, we hope to share impressions and experiences of our trip with you. However, we have a series of formal questions around which we can discuss what is happening there, what TACIS is doing and your experience of those interesting countries. Would you begin by telling us of your own experience of Russia and Ukraine?
  (Ms Golder)  I work for the World Wide Fund International whose secretariat is based in Switzerland. I work for that organisation in two capacities. I am the manager of the capacity-building programme for WWF International, which means that I develop the strategies for engagement with NGOs and partner organisations throughout our international programmes. I am principally involved in Latin America, Africa and the transitional countries. Because I am based in Brussels I am also responsible for the relationship between WWF International and the European Commission in terms of strategic relationships and funding for the environment, tropical forests and sustainable development initiatives. I come to you wearing two hats. More often than not, those two hats seem to transform into one because the two are very interlinked. As to the NIS, my experience lies in working with our own offices in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Mongolia. We have national organisations for WWF in each country staffed by nationals. A large part of my work and that of my colleagues over the past two years has been devoted to those offices to develop their capacity better to deliver and encourage conservation in those countries. As an adjunct to that I am currently responsible for the reformulation of our Baltic programme. I deal also with the Baltic states which have some degree of relevance to our work in NIS. I have also been engaged in running training programmes and strategic development programmes in Bulgaria and Ukraine with national NGOs in those countries.

  207.  We met a professor in St Petersburg who must be very involved with the WWF?

  A.  The Baltic Fund for Nature, yes.

  208.  On the environmental front, what do you see as the major problems facing Russia and Ukraine, quite apart from many other problems? How do you think that your organisation in particular can help?

  A.  That is obviously a question with which we as a conservation organisation have to struggle. In transitional economies and economies that are going from one political system to a new one often the protection of a species or preservation of wetlands is not a priority in people's minds. As a conservation organisation we have had to think very seriously about that. The key issue is to encourage the participation of civil society in decision-making processes that will influence how they manage their natural resources. A balance must be found between their need for economic development and the need to protect and preserve the natural resources that they depend upon. For us, awareness-raising, information-sharing and the development of partnerships to engage with a range of different stakeholders in those countries have been dominant features of our work over the past few years. Environmental education at all levels of the system, both formal and informal, and engagement with authorities responsible for national parks and with ministries of the environment has been a very important task. Those professionals require a whole new set of skills in order to engage with the local populations over issues such as what happens to certain stands of timber. Does one sell them off for exploitation or protect them? How does one develop one's community? What does one do in communities where mining has ground to a standstill since the break-up of the Soviet Union leaving people with no jobs and a polluted environment? A lot of it is about engaging with the people of those countries. That brings to the fore a lot of questions that we as a conservation organisation cannot answer alone. I think that the development of networks to try to understand and build trust is important. Building trust in those countries is one of the greatest challenges. There is a huge amount of suspicion about the west and international organisations like ours and institutions like the European Commission. A lot of it is about just engaging in dialogue and understanding issues and developing terms of reference within which we as a conservation organisation can work.

Baroness Wilcox

  209.  I want to ask about TACIS and its procedures and organisation. I would like you to expand on your comments in paragraph 2.1 about the lack of transparency and access to information.

  A.  Bear in mind that WWF International is the world's largest conservation organisation. We have a policy office comprising 15 to 20 people in Brussels and we are engaging with the European Commission all the time. Even for us the European Commission is a huge organisation and TACIS is a huge programme. Yet the TACIS programme itself has very few staff who have very little time. Our ability to engage them is probably better than most NGOs but we still find it extremely difficult. If particular issues and questions arise through our Russia programme about certain consultancies that have just come through concerned with research on particular species, or they are asked what they have been doing in particular areas, our Russia people in Brussels say that they want to know what TACIS is doing and what these consultants want. We find it very difficult to get that kind of information. We find it difficult to determine or understand how terms of reference for some of the contracts have been developed. As an environmental organisation with a decade of experience in this region we would hope to have something to contribute as do others in the region. Yet tenders for contracts or terms of reference suddenly emerge with no consultation and sharing of information at all. There are a lot of questions to be asked. Contracts have been let to consultancies where we could have provided all the information for nothing if only we had been asked. The lack of access to information and staff, largely because they do not have time, is a real barrier to the development of coherent programmes of high quality particularly in relation to the environment.

  210.  We found that the PHARE programme was terribly understaffed. That was one of the serious problems in Brussels, despite hearing rumours about bloated bureaucracies.

  A.  It is even difficult to get them to answer to e-mails. They literally do not have time, but that is just unacceptable.

Lord Lewis of Newnham

  211.  Is this because the TACIS programme was only recently acquired? Presumably, the staffing covers the whole programme, not just the environmental aspects in which you are primarily interested. Therefore, there is no focal point at which the environment becomes a feature of the tasks of any individual person?

  A.  There is in terms of the inter-state programme. But over the years we have engaged the wider TACIS programme. We do not think it is appropriate simply to fund environment as a discrete activity when 2.2 billion goes into infrastructure development throughout NIS, most of which goes on building roads and the building industry all of which affect the environment. To have that dialogue is nearly impossible.


  212.  The environment has been a specific part of the TACIS programme for only the past two years. Before that it was theoretically just part of everything—in that rather awful way that one pays lip service to a particular concern. We were told by one NGO in St Petersberg that there used to be an environmental help desk within the TACIS programme that he found extremely useful but when it became an official part of the TACIS programme the help seemed to vanish. She was the only person who mentioned it. Can you help as to whether there was a sort of environmental help desk within the TACIS structure at some stage, or was it just an individual member of staff who happened to be very helpful?

  A.  That may have been the case. I am not aware of it. I have been engaged on TACIS for only the past three years. If it predated that I do not know.

Baroness Wilcox

  213.  What is your view of the comparative relevance and effectiveness of the inter-state, cross-border and national TACIS programmes? What is your view of them together or separately? Which is best?

  A.  From the point of view of an NGO, inter-state and cross-border are best because they allow us a far greater degree of access, and we can at least attempt to engage. The national TACIS programme, which is by far the largest element, is beyond our sphere of contact. The national indicative programmes are negotiated with the countries. It is a bilateral dialogue and funding arrangement. If one looks at the environmental aspects or activities that are included in those particular programmes they relate largely to nuclear power or energy generation. Because we are engaging the governments through our national offices we know that they have broader environmental concerns but that is not what is being incorporated in the dialogue. We have no input into that at all. The inter-state and cross-border programmes are ones where at least a door appears to be ajar. That is where we have the greatest point of contact.

  214.  Inter-state or cross-border?

  A.  Both.

Chairman:  They do not like them so much because they feel as though they are less in control.

Baroness Wilcox

  215.  One comment made to us on our trip was that nature did not know anything about states and borders.

  A.  Yes. The difficulty with the inter-state and cross-border programmes is that in a lot of these countries there is a very strong sense of nationalism, not just at government level but at NGO and community level. If we want to do something in the Caucasus we have to deal separately with those organisations. We do it in Georgia and in other countries. If we want to produce a publication we cannot just print it in Russian because the Georgians will not accept it. Even though we have activities that cross borders we must always deal with people at local level if we are to engage these groups and representatives of the community in the work. But those funding facilities give us the opportunity to do that. It does not mean that they are necessarily the best funding facilities but for us they are the most accessible ones.

Chairman:  In relation to the Black Sea programme both Russia and Ukraine complained that they had not been sufficiently consulted beforehand and it was being imposed upon them.

Earl Cranbrook

  216.  It is interesting to see in your evidence that you have had plenty of contacts as an international NGO with national groups. Both this morning and in your paper you have referred to the civil society. Do you consider that NGOs are better representatives of civil societies with the structures that they set up than, say, tiers of local government and the local consultation that is set up through the governmental process?

  A.  Not better. It is a matter of finding the most relevant and legitimate representatives of communities wherever you work. In some countries we work with NGOs; in other countries we work with academic institutions or local government. In other countries we work with sectors of government. From the point of view of building capacity and relationships in those countries, it is important to understand which groups have the most legitimate voice. In some countries we work with the church. In parts of Latin America we work with the health sector. It is very difficult for transition countries. There is a lot of scepticism about NGOs. One needs to be able to sift through the layers of cynicism and scepticism about who is going to get the foreign donors' money and who is going to work for the foreign contractors and find out who has a legitimate and credible voice on which you can develop and build. It is not always NGOs.

  217.  Our colleagues who have made this visit have already indicated that there are NGOs of all varieties. There are some pocket NGOs. What is the spectrum of NGOs and what are their characteristics in these countries?

  A.  For example, we work with an NGO in the Komi Republic which comprises 18 biologists.

  218.  How are they an NGO rather than 18 biologists who come together?

  A.  They have registered themselves legally in order to have that status. That is how they present themselves. To a certain extent, they have a greater legitimacy in that region to call themselves that than we would traditionally call an NGO. A lot of NGOs throughout NIS have been started by academics and scientists who have lost their jobs in countries of the former Soviet Union and found alternative ways to pursue the work that they used to do. NGOs are different in those countries. Some of our partners regard the Baltic Fund for Nature with a degree of scepticism because they do not think that that body is a legitimate NGO because it has representatives of government and other institutions. It is a different matter altogether. That is why you need to spend time trying to understand the constituencies that you need to work with to achieve your objectives. The simple solution is to say that if it is a legal entity and it calls itself an NGO you will work with it, but that is not appropriate. That is the risk which proposed structures like the RECs throw up. They apply a very western model to a very different kind of working environment.

  219.  In paragraph 1.3 you have criticised the orientation, structure, technical and management capacity of TACIS and its technical partners which preclude natural interaction between the NGO sector and TACIS. There are other points in the paper where similar criticisms are made. But you have just implied that there is not a common form of NGO. Some NGOs may be good, bad, better or worse. Why should we be concerned that there is not an automatic interaction between something that calls itself an NGO and the TACIS programme?

  A.  Because you need to find a point of entry beyond the point of contact with government. Governments are not necessarily representative of all the people in the communities in those countries. NGOs, good and bad, tend to be the starting point. Having made that international point of contact with an NGO, you may find that it is not as legitimate as you had hoped but it may have led you to other groups, organisations or agencies in those communities. It may be interpreted as a convenient point of entry but you need to make the effort to have a point of contact beyond formal bilateral dialogue at a critical level; otherwise, you are failing to look for the views, interests and concerns of people beyond what are still pretty powerful control systems. NGOs are the means by which we know how to do that. As the capacities in those countries develop structures around themselves—we must not underestimate it—we must remain open and flexible to the kinds of groups that we are prepared to engage with.

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