Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witness (Questions 240 - 259)

WEDNESDAY 17 JUNE 1998

MS BRONWEN GOLDER

  240.  The problem is that the result may not be apparent for 10 or 20 years, especially when one is dealing with attitude change?

  A.  Yes.

Lord Lewis of Newnham

  241.  You have already made some commentary on regional environmental centres. In paragraph 3.7 of your paper you give some specific examples and have some fairly strong views. What do you see as the defects of this particular arrangement?

  A.  One of the matters that concerns me is that a model is being used and applied to a completely new environment without an assessment of the needs and opportunities that those countries offer for alternative ways of doing things. If I take Russia as an example, the introduction of a REC illustrates to me the under-estimation of the existing capacities that are already operating in Moscow in relation to environmental NGOs. What one is doing is introducing a new structure to mentor those NGOs through their growth process whereas they need different kinds of inputs, to the extent that a round table of environmental NGOs in Russia have minuted their opposition to the establishment of a REC and our national office has said that it does not want to engage or be involved in this institutional development. I have no argument about the creation of REC-type facilities. The example of Hungary has shown an excellent result. But before one replicates a model and introduces it into vastly different kinds of environments one needs to understand one's constituency better and build partnerships with those people to ensure that what one is delivering is what they need. I am not sure that the REC process has done that. One needs to be very wary of introducing and developing another institutional system that requires continued support and continued funding of for itself before it delivers any kind of support to its supposed beneficiaries. It is a rather patronising model and it underestimates what already exists in those countries.

  242.  The point you make is well and truly understood; namely, one must understand what is being imposed. To take one model and just impose it in another totally different environment can lead to real problems. If that has happened here, what can be put in its place?

  A.  One can do any number of things. One can look at the REC in Hungary. There is a level of technical expertise and an ability to deliver funds to particular country projects. If one looks at Georgia, for example, there are a number of institutions one can name where one will say, "We will give you this funding facility to manage this programme. Will you take it on?" instead of saying, "We will establish a new institution to deliver this programme." You use what already exists. If you need to develop what already exists in order for it to deliver this kind of support that is also an important step. I take the Baltic example. We in WWF have a capacity building facility for the Eastern Baltic. We are using those funds to build a capacity of selected institutions throughout the Eastern Baltic in order that in two years' time they are able to deliver the programmes that we are currently doing. We do not need to establish a new WWF or another institution. We will look at the institutions that already exist and have the potential and invest in them. The sad thing about the RECs is that they make the assumption that none of that potential exists within a national form in those countries. By investing in and enhancing those institutions you can achieve the same results. It is too late to stop the RECs. To a certain extent that is regrettable because in discussions with our people in those countries over recent months the level of national resistance, cynicism and mistrust about these new structures is worrying. It could be a wasted opportunity. It is following a pattern that is perhaps not appropriate.

Chairman

  243.  The point you make about long-term funding is very important, too. It is not nationally-based and covers more than one country. It is difficult to see how the funding will continue unless it comes out of Brussels?

  A.  It must be sustained. The US is supporting the REC in Ukraine but it will have to be sustained for some considerable time, which means that you have to be committed to funding strategy, salaries and so on whether or not they are appropriate. You cannot close it down after 12 months because you find that it does not meet the needs of the people. It is a minimum five-year commitment to institutional funding and we do not know whether or not it is really appropriate.

  244.  The original motivation was political, referring to the establishment of the process in Budapest. Do you see the one in Ukraine being driven by a similar motivation rather than environmental?

  A.  It does not always have to be bad but it needs to be balanced. It may be too early to tell. The reaction of the Russian environmental NGOs to the proposed REC in Moscow is a clear indication of their reaction. It is not resentment, but they are hurt that the Commission has made the assumption that they need this new institutional presence in order to build their capacity when in reality a number of them already have a great deal of capacity of different kinds.

  245.  Do you think that the Commission would feel happier about dealing with one single body rather than trying to work with the messiness of a number of NGOs?

  A.  I think that it allows them to create a discrete facility that deals with NGOs.

  246.  The expression "pocket NGOs" was one offered to us in Ukraine to describe NGOs set up by a politician who furthered his own particular programmes.

  A.  There are a lot of those.

Lord Walpole

  247.  Do you think that TACIS is sufficiently demand-led? You mention in your summary the need for TACIS to be more responsive to civil rather than government stakeholders. But how can that be best achieved within what must necessarily be a multilateral government-to-government programme?

  A.  I do not think that it is a demand-led programme in considering the facilities with which I am familiar; namely, the inter-state environmental projects and cross-border projects. As to national and bilateral funding, it may well be argued that these programmes are demand-led because they are what the government want. How far do you want to extend demand? They are not demand-led from the environmental sector because that sector does not participate in that dialogue. They may be demand-led by government, industry or whatever but, not being party to that dialogue, I cannot comment. If one looks at inter-state projects that fund environmental initiatives or the cross-border programmes, the Commission is cutting the cloth and asking people to wear it, as opposed to the people telling the Commission what kind of cloth they would like and the Commission providing the facility to which people can have access. In order to say that what is being provided is demand-led one needs to invest time and effort in understanding who the beneficiaries or stakeholders are and forming a partnership with them which allows one to trade between what is desired and what is on offer and what one's objectives are. WWF is a donor in many of these countries and deals with a vast amount of funding to countries of the NIS in terms of conservation. We have clear conservation objectives, but unless we engage in dialogue with the people who own or manage the forests, or the people who are killing endangered species, and understand what incentives drive them and what issues influence the decisions that they make there is very little reason for us to invest in a programme with no local input. It is demand-driven only if one is engaging in a dialogue and one is investing in something that is a negotiated objective. I do not see that happening with TACIS. I see terms of reference developed by European consultants published for European consultants to respond to in order to deliver programmes that the EU and its member states have decided that they want to consider. In an environmental context that is not demand led.

  248.  It is meant to be or is described as a person-to-person programme. How true is that? What are the principal deficiencies?

  A.  First, I would like to understand what "person-to-person" means. I am not even sure I can assume that I know what it means. If it means that what they are doing is delivering funds and expertise from the west to the people in the east in the hope of transferring knowledge or resources then that is what it is: it is the transfer of knowledge and resources. But "person-to-person" seems to be a nice warm phrase to describe all sorts of interesting activities.

  249.  It must be a two-way process, must it not?

  A.  Yes, and that is what we are not seeing. We do not see the level of engagement at the outset which says, "What is it that you want and need? How can we negotiate an arrangement whereby you move towards achieving that goal and we achieve the objectives that we have as a European institution?"

Lord Mackie of Benshie

  250.  Do you have any experience of the twinning of towns and cities which we are told is much more "person-to-person" than anything else?

  A.  My experience of going to towns in Bulgaria which are twinned with other towns in Europe is that that is important to the local mayor, council or head of local school. It is a level of engagement beyond their boundaries which they greatly value. It is therefore a valuable investment. A good deal of what is happening in these countries that have been behind such high walls for so long is the need to break them down and see what is happening outside. If twinning programmes facilitate that process then they serve a good purpose.

Chairman

  251.  We have heard about two partnership programmes with authorities in these countries, one of which is helping with the city transport system and the other of which deals with waste water problems. It provides them with practical help and assistance.

  A.  It is very important that it is practical and grounded in realism. I can think of a number of communities where people from the west have been talking about wonderful eco-tourism developments and historic villages in the Cotswolds and this is in the context of a completely devastated environment with a half-finished nuclear power plant nearby and complete degradation of natural resources. I have been in the position of having to tell whole communities that their expectations are totally unrealistic. But consultants have told them that this or that is possible.

Lord Judd

  252.  Do you think that the lesson to be learned from what we have heard is that the process has been altogether too proactive, that it is a programme set up in the EU which has to prove itself as distinct from having financial resources available in the EU which can respond to the genuine initiatives that come from the area itself?

  A.  I can speak only about the inter-state funds spent on the environment which over the past four years amount to 24 million. That is an interesting observation. I am not sure that I totally agree with it.

  253.  I spent half my life in NGOs. It has always fascinated me that NGOs focus on the World Bank. They are angry with the World Bank and focus on it in a way that they never focus on the traditional UN aid programme. Is that because they see the World Bank as having a particularly important role to play and they want to get it right, whereas they see the agencies as rather old-fashioned and interventionist?

  A.  I am not sure about "old fashioned". WWF has partnerships with the World Bank so it is no longer our enemy. We are working with it in the Ukraine and Russia. The difficulty facing an organisation like the Commission is its inherent political nature and the needs of the Commission to serve the member states. Every time there is a project proposal, committee meeting or whatever all of those member states express their particulars interests in Georgia, Estonia, Russia or whatever. For us to engage in that process is more time-consuming and difficult than we have the resources to put into it. As to the European Commission, we have spent the past eight years engaging with the Commission on structural funds. That has been an exhaustive process. It has taken important but quite small progressive steps. Do we engage on every aspect of the EU in order to do that? A couple of years ago we became so frustrated by the bilateral TACIS facility that we decided it was not really worthy of our time and investment. We decided to work with inter-state and the environmental projects and engage where and how we could. I sit on a TACIS advisory committee, but beyond that WWF does not have the capacity to engage in that political dimension.

  254.  Reading your memorandum, which I found very stimulating, it almost suggests that the relationship between bureaucrats and consultants has become very cosy and self-perpetuating, that the consultants are not really listening or researching as to what is really needed externally. What do you believe the helpful role of consultants and experts can achieve, assuming that they have a helpful role?

  A.  A number of comments can be made about the consultants. To a certain extent, because of the limited capacity within the Commission the officials rely on those key consultancies to deliver a number of projects on their behalf and take care of them. Together with a number of other NGOs we have found that on TACIS projects the Commission officials do not have the time to see the process through. Essentially, they hand the matter over to consultancies they trust because they know that at least on paper they will have all the necessary financial statements and so forth. Consultancies fulfil that role. But it has reached a point where the consultants are out hunting the dollars as opposed to trying to understand the needs and opportunities in those countries. They are looking at the terms of reference, tenders, budgets and determining whether or not it is profitable to deliver without understanding whether the stakeholder groups in the Ukraine, Georgia or Russia want or need or are prepared to engage in this project. I have seen a number of examples of that. To a certain extent the process has become consultancy-led. Consultants will do technical reports and feasibility studies and will come back with a proposed programme to deliver that. For an institution that is severely under-resourced that can become an easy solution for the Commission.

  255.  Do you feel that there is greater room for enlisting the practical experience of people in eastern and central Europe, recognising what whatever the faults in the Soviet Union and the rest there is a tremendous degree of expertise and scientific achievement? Do you think that that is being sufficiently used?

  A.  No, I do not. To a certain extent I think that we are under-estimating the capacities that exist in those countries. For example, last year I went to Bulgaria to run some strategic training programmes for a local NGO. Before we started we were told that the previous group of consultants who had been there had taken them into the woods and made them do participatory training processes by drawing patterns in the mud and so forth. They said that all of them had PhDs and were scientists and that was not necessary. I was warned that I was not there to develop their capacity; they already had it. They had some specific things that they wanted us to look at. Another point of interest is that the Commission's rules preclude non-European consultants participating in a number of projects. I am WWF's capacity building specialist and I am a New Zealander. My skills and contributions to any work throughout the NIS cannot be supported by those programmes, to the extent that I and a Canadian colleague, who is an international specialist on the community's right to know in relation to chemicals, worked with NGOs in central and eastern European countries to develop a programme lauded by the Commission and provided with funding, only to be told that we cannot participate in the project. That is also ridiculous. The European consultants tend to engage and want to fund their own staff or contractors rather than engage those in the NIS countries. To some extent that occurs because of employment and tax systems and the difficulty of engaging a number of these consultants, but we need to find ways better to integrate the national experts into the projects. Resentment arises within our own institution and bodies of national experts in Russia where European consultants arrive funded by the Commission and essentially gain access to all of the research work which is then replicated in a report that is delivered to the Commission to secure project funding. That happens to the extent that when I contacted some of my colleagues in Russia about this process and their interest in contributing to it they simply said that they rejected TACIS out of hand; they did not want to deal with it. Their experiences had been so marred. They are professionals and they feel that they have been used.

Lord Elis-Thomas

  256.  You have already referred to monitoring, evaluation and follow-up. You suggested that evaluation might take place by outside agencies such as NGOs to promote greater accountability for funds and to gauge the impact on civil society. Can you expand on that?

  A.  I wrote that because of my experience with the TACIS Advisory Committee for the awareness project that is currently being run. They have brought together a number of experts from NGOs, the private sector and NIS countries. The intention was that we would view the process and comment on programmes and make suggestions. As you see from the memorandum, that has not necessarily occurred in the most appropriate way. What that advisory group did was to create a forum for people with different perspectives and experiences. The idea was to create a forum that would allow those people—parliamentarians, industry, NGOs and so on - continually to review and revise what was suggested by consultants. The advisory group forum was established but consultants have proceeded on a very traditional tack. On some aspects they have received particular criticism from the advisory group. We are there as professionals to contribute to enhancing the project as much as possible and ensuring its quality. I think that that could be done more often. It requires the time of the TACIS officials and contractors but it could significantly enhance the quality of what is delivered as long as the TACIS system or bureaucracy is flexible enough to respond to the changes both in activities and emphasis that that advisory group may advise upon as the project progresses. At the end of this project the advisory group will have sat for three years. We have been hugely under-utilised and we are all prepared to contribute more. We should integrate more participants from the NIS. In that committee currently we have one. At our last meeting we said that we really needed at least one from each of the key countries with whom we were working.

  257.  Is it not contrary to the whole notion of sustainable development which must mean participation and ownership if subsidiarity means anything; otherwise, it is not sustainable beyond the individual project?

  A.  I agree. Those words are used all the time in Brussels. Whether they are applied in practice is another matter.

Chairman

  258.  Do you have a final suggestion about what we should be saying to the Commission about the TACIS programme?

  A.  I was interested to learn from your questioning of the officials about the Bangkok facility and the opportunity that that provided for investment. It would be very interesting to explore the establishment of a similar kind of mechanism for delivering support of a more creative developmental kind to organisations in the NIS countries, perhaps managed or co-ordinated by a consortium of interests: NGOs, the private sector and government sector, either international organisations like mine or European ones. What has been lacking is access to the kind of facility which becomes demand-driven and is about dialogue and a negotiated understanding between the different constituents. I think that as TACIS considers the future of its facility it will be interesting to see whether that kind of mechanism can be developed and those kinds of potential partnerships can be supported in future.

  259.  A sort of Brussels NGO?

  A.  Not even Brussels, but a facility that allows for outreach as opposed to delivery.

  Chairman:  We are most grateful to you for your help.


 
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