Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 220 - 239)



  220.  You said that in this bracket you would include the church. Do you call the church an NGO?

  A.  I am not sure if legally it is an NGO, but if it is representative of civil society and represents the same principles, yes.

  221.  Given that there is some scepticism in your approach, would you want to modify slightly your recommendation, which is very strong, that it is necessary to establish a clear consultation process that facilitates NGO participation in EU decision making and require monitoring and evaluation of TACIS Environment projects by outside agencies such as NGOs? Just because somebody calls himself an NGO you do not automatically put him in that category? Is it fair to say that you are sceptical and you do not automatically accept into your compass of what is good and representative of a civil society anything that chooses to call itself an NGO? Nevertheless, you are quite tough in scrutinising those who come forward and describe themselves in such a way?

  A.  Yes. I suggest that we are engaging NGOs and/or other representatives of civil society, acknowledging that there may be organisations or structures that are not NGOs that should be engaged in that process if in their community or country they are the most appropriate voice. I would not take out NGOs even though I am sceptical about some, but I acknowledge that there are other agents of people at work in those countries with whom we should be engaging in a dialogue. As a conservation organisation, we could not be working in these countries if that were not so.

  222.  Those structures may have a quasi-governmental relationship. For instance, if they had community councils or something like that established by government encouragement would you consider that such a body was representative of civil society, broadly speaking?

  A.  I would not assume that. If I investigated it and found that that was so I would be more than happy to treat them as such. I take the example of the education sector where around the world, and increasingly in the transition countries, we are engaging with the formal education ministries to introduce environmental education into schools and curricula. They are not NGOs. Many would says that they are representatives of the system but worldwide they have become a significant partner to WWF. I would include the possibility of engaging organisations like that in this dialogue.


  223.  Are there such organisations in either Russia or Ukraine with whom you could happily form partnerships?

  A.  In Ukraine and Georgia we work with the ministries of education. Increasingly, in Russia we are looking at the training of teachers through a particular area of our education programme. There is a range of structures in all these countries. One needs to take time to understand their place in their societies and determine which are the most relevant organisations to have a partnership with a conservation organisation.

  224.  For instance, we heard in Russia that each local authority had a designated environment officer. Some of them are crying out for courses, information and help. Would you work with people like that within local authorities?

  A.  Certainly.

Lord Elis-Thomas

  225.  How do you work with the education departments? Is it teacher training or career development? Is it done directly with teacher organisations or is it a mix?

  A.  It is a mix. For example, in Georgia we do both. Over the past five years in Georgia we have built four education training centres where we train 300 teachers. I can provide the details. Throughout the Georgian system, senior and primary, we are developing curriculum materials and working with the ministry and with schools and teachers. It is a model and system that we have applied all round the world. We feel that it is a very constructive way of engaging those countries in developing levels of awareness and participation that we cannot do through other means.

  226.  How is that funded?

  A.  That programme is funded by the German agency BMZ.

  227.  Not TACIS, although it could be?

  A.  One could argue that it should be.

Lord Walpole

  228.  Is the principal problem the definition of an NGO? We all know in the west what it is; we know how you are funded, how you are set up and under what charity laws you operate. Is not the total lack of that kind of activity in the former Soviet Union satellites a real problem? There is not a suitable law and if they try to fund themselves the money is taxed? I do not quite know how you would go in and operate in the way you do in the west?

  A.  That is exactly what we do. We operate as a legal entity in Georgia, Russia and Mongolia.

  229.  As a charity?

  A.  As a registered NGO. WWF is an organisation which is 28 separate legal entities of national organisations and it has programme offices in Russia, Georgia and Mongolia. They are NGOs in the legal context of that country run by nationals, but I agree that it is very difficult. In Russia we have had extreme difficulty over the past 10 years establishing our legal presence and avoiding huge tax problems. We can operate there because our Russian office is part of an international programme and has support from the whole infrastructure system for national organisations that are developing on their own. That is a lot more difficult. One should not underestimate those difficulties. Sometimes we have to adopt alternative points of entry like education.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

  230.  Who are your enemies? For example, in agriculture certain practices act against your interests—the preservation of wild life?

  A.  We try not to call them enemies but potential partners. For example, in Russia there are vast areas of stands of timber. They are ready to be logged by the highest bidder. What we are trying to do is introduce concepts of certification and sustainable forestry management and working with everyone from the government to local communities to build a consensus and understanding about how to manage forests for local economic gain and environmental protection. Mining is also an issue. One has in mind the whole concept of pollution. For example, the western concept of the community's right to know about chemicals and what is going into the water supply is unknown in the many countries. If we do not work with industry, foresters and farmers we will not get anywhere in any country anywhere in the world. It is a lesson that we as a conservation organisation have had to learn. Thirty-five years ago we established protected areas by throwing out all the people who lived there and putting fences around them. Now one establishes a protected area and determines how economic activities can continue to be undertaken by the local population while maintaining the integrity of the eco-system. The challenge in NIS in the central European countries, and increasingly in the Baltic, is immense in terms of engagement because of the levels of suspicion and past conflict between these groups.

Lord Lewis of Newnham

  231.  How far do you find that the populace at large correlate pollution control with unemployment?

  A.  If you talk to communities in these areas the issue that predominates is the health of their children and their ability to stay on the land and use it. The concept of unemployment is less pressing because people have a greater sense of the need to sustain themselves.


  232.  Hunting is a problem, is it not, especially when people are at or around subsistence level?

  A.  I attended a wonderful meeting in Bulgaria. We met community representatives all of whom were supporters of conservation. A man at the back of the room stood up and said that he was a hunter. He wanted WWF to protect the wetlands in which he was interested because it attracted the birds that he shot. You have to find a way into people's hearts and figure out how to work with them effectively.

  233.  We keep hearing from the people who run the know-how fund how splendid it is and how much better than TACIS it is.

  A.  I am afraid that I know very little about the know-how fund. I have no knowledge of WWF working with it in these countries.

  234.  What about the TACIS "Bistro" facility and its ability to get up very quickly short-term programmes of training and seminars? When we spoke to people there we got the impression that it was very popular?

  A.  I think that it is an important facility. It is important for making sums available for very fundamental things that need to be done quickly. One of the difficulties is that the effectiveness of the management of the Bistro fund depends very much on each Delegation, how it is managed and the enthusiasm and commitment of the Delegation staff to the programme. Largely, it is fine but it can be an issue. We also have a concern about the rate at which funds are committed and spent. For whatever reason, the Bistro funds seem to be underspent. That is an odd feature given that every small grants programme that we have operated has always been over-committed by about 100 per cent. It is an interesting facility, but one wonders whether thought should be given to how it can be more effectively integrated into the local system.

  235.  I suspect that it may not be sufficiently widely known.

  A.  It is a secret to TACIS.

Chairman:  I did not know about it.

Lord Judd

  236.  Do you think that it has a wider significance in terms of the real problem of relating the bureaucracy of the EU to the creative dynamic of development or environmental work, in the sense that small amounts of money which may be needed at critical stages can have a disproportionately positive effect, whereas sums dished out bureaucratically and accounted for over a long period of time have almost lost their usefulness by the time the money is actually used?

  A.  I agree. Sadly, the Commission is not alone in struggling with that. We as an international organisation struggle with the same problem. One comes back to issues of accountability to donors. They want to know how the money is being spent, what structures are in place and so on. I am a social scientist within a conservation organisation. I was brought up to believe in the dynamic of development capacity building. The problem of getting resources to invest in a process rather than product is extremely difficult both with the formal institutional donors but even within our organisation and external donors. You can put TACIS under the microscope and see that that tension is alive and well, but you will find it with most donors investing anywhere.


  237.  It is a matter of trusting people sufficiently to delegate the responsibility, is it not?

  A.  It is a matter of trust and being prepared to take risks. It is also a matter of investing in people as opposed to outputs, to use bureaucratic language; and it is also a matter of spending time developing relationships and an understanding between the different constituents. That does not always fit easily with financial regulation, funding requirements, contractual stipulations or whatever. You see that tension more readily in the NIS because of the whole emerging dynamic of the civil society and the whole issue about how resources are managed. It is a process and a dynamic that is changing on a daily basis. The system tends to come into conflict with that.

Lord Judd

  238.  Without wanting to turn this into a thesis, is there any evidence that sometimes the people who do the most exciting work with the most dynamic effect are not necessarily the best people to follow all the bureaucratic procedures?

  A.  I agree, but I do not think that those people necessarily need a lot of money to do what they want to do. What they need every now and again is the facility and will of the people they are working with, like donors or organisations like ours, to have trust in them to be able to move forward in a slightly unusual way. Increasingly, in conservation the reason that we are working with education and in capacity building with a whole range of partners is because some of those traditional avenues have not worked and produced results.


  239.  In Ukraine one aspect that I found astonishing was that TACIS was funding a monitoring unit of 40 people to look at the TACIS programme. If one multiplies that across the NIS that appears to be an extraordinary waste of money. These people are just ticking boxes and forms. Admittedly, they are doing some evaluative work as well, but the main evaluative process takes place in Brussels and these people are just monitoring this enormous group of people.

  A.  I am concerned by the tendency to tick boxes and to count the number of meetings and publications as opposed to seeing what has been achieved as a result of those products being delivered. I was also concerned to hear someone from one of the monitoring units say that no future support should be given to NGOs because they were too unreliable.

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