Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 280 - 293)




  280.  Funding has been cut this year, has it not?
  (Dr Hindson)  I do not know.

  281.  Do you think that problems arise because the Commission is short of staff? One of the problems of the PHARE programme was that it had only four staff running the whole of it.
  (Dr Hindson)  That is probably one of the issues. I have not met any TACIS officials in Brussels but having met PHARE representatives I get the impression that they are trying to run things on a shoestring. What does not help is the huge complexity of the system that has been put in place. They seem to have systems that are designed to take a lot of time to get anything done.

  282.  Is that to do with anxiety about spending taxpayers' money in an area where there is constant talk about the mafia, the grey economy and so on?
  (Dr Hindson)  The officials in Brussels to whom I have talked do not appear to exude that fear, compared with the UK Know How Fund officials who are always concerned about accountability to the Government and taxpayer. I believe that TACIS and PHARE need more people to do the job better but money could be saved by having more people on the ground in countries doing the job rather than bureaucrats in Brussels.

  283.  Or western management consultants?
  (Dr Hindson)  Yes. I believe that Halcrow was doing something with TACIS in the Ukraine. My contacts wondered why. Some of them know Halcrow from other places. It is a huge consultancy company dealing with environmental management and technology. They all wondered what Halcrow was doing with NGOs. Questions are always asked about how much money western consultants get compared with local consultants. Sometimes to do it locally is so much more cost-effective.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  284.  You mentioned the image problem of TACIS. I want to ask about the procedures and follow-up of TACIS projects. Do you have any specific ideas? You have already said that accountability should be improved.
  (Dr Hindson)  A lot of the comments that can be made would be to do with project management and how effectively projects are run. I think the EU is one of the worst donor agencies for relying solely on a lot of written reports. The EU receives a vast amount of documentation that no one can possibly read. It bases the success of projects on what people say they have achieved in reports. There needs to be a more effective monitoring procedure to determine what has been achieved on the ground. If there were a bigger local commitment that would probably be easier to do. One of the difficulties is that it often starts to monitor projects at the wrong time. One needs to build in project monitoring and support right at the beginning of the project. One needs to assess sustainability. Often that process is not carried out in a worthwhile way. For example, one project under PHARE produced a wonderfully glossy NGO training manual but there was no follow-up to determine how it was being used. It is not being used by and large. Therefore, the EU does not seem to be so concerned about appraisal or does not seem to know what is happening on the ground. There should be better follow-up procedures. That needs to be linked back into the process of deciding whether a project really is worthwhile on the ground.

  285.  One suggestion to improve follow-up under TACIS was the use of expertise built up through PHARE to try to achieve a multiplier effect through dissemination of know-how rather than to bring in western help?
  (Dr Hindson)  I think that it is a good idea. I think that the monitoring should be done by local groups. The British Council project that we are trying to set up in the Ukraine is trying to take a different philosophy from the whole process of change. One gets the impression that a lot of donor agencies do not always understand the whole process of trying to change anything. To change the way that people work and think in the Ukraine and Russia is a tremendous job. It takes quite a time. It cannot be achieved simply through one training event. You cannot fly in, deliver a training event on a particular proposal and then fly out and expect everything in the garden to be rosy. One needs a lot more inputs with the people being trained over a period of time before one gets a successful outcome in terms of NGOs who are able to write project proposals. The whole structure of projects needs to be very carefully looked at. That is the critical thing that will help to generate success at the end of the day. People can then do the follow-up and advice. In the case of the British Council project we have developed a team of local consultants and a network of 10 people who are paid a small honorarium. If I am an NGO volunteer—say, a housewife—and I want to change something in my tower block because I am fed up with all the leaking taps which are wasting water and the piles of rubbish next to my block and every day they are picked through by old ladies, what do I do? I cannot wait until a training event on community awareness comes along. That may be next week or next year and it may cost so much; it may be held in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have to look after my children, and so on. Therefore, she turns to a local consultant. She asks how she can do it. The local consultant can advise her and put her into contact with others. She may even be given some interactive training materials. The local consultant can then with a small honorarium offer ongoing support to the NGO. That is what we are trying to do through the British Council. We are trying to develop these competent people on the ground—we have lots in the UK—who are very good at doing that.

  286.  On the one hand you talk about excessive reporting back to the TACIS structures. On the other hand, you are talking about having greater inputs of NGOs structuring the tasks on the ground with the people they are working with. You suggest that perhaps the people above—TACIS—are demanding too much and NGOs have insufficient control over the implementation of projects on the ground. Is it not inevitable that people will say that the level of bureaucracy is too high and the implementation too low?
  (Dr Hindson)  I do not think that it is inevitable. We do lots of work with the Know How Fund. The reason why it does not require large reports but just summary reports is that there is a high degree of trust and a good deal of personal contact. There are different monitoring processes, some of which arise through personal contact and meetings with various agencies. I am not quite sure what point you seek to make.

  287.  You made two points, one of which was about excessive report-writing in TACIS and the other of which was the need for greater control on the ground in order to implement the projects that NGOs want to carry out. I was seeking to draw a contrast between the NGOs wanting greater control over the people they sought to direct and less control being exerted by the people who fund them?
  (Dr Hindson)  The words "control" and "co-ordination" are difficult words; they carry a variety of different meanings to different people. Some NGOs have adopted the mantle of previous communist organisations in terms of wanting control over everything that goes on.


  288.  When we were in Kiev we were introduced to the head of a monitoring unit. Apparently, it is an independently-funded TACIS project which contains 40 people, 20 westerners and 20 Ukrainians, who go about looking at TACIS projects. To me, that seems to me to be an excessive amount of monitoring. They are not doing evaluation which is allegedly done in Brussels. Effectively, they go about ticking boxes in terms of how far projects have got and so on. I understand that there is some qualitative analysis in terms of writing words. That seemed to us to be an extraordinary waste of money. Although it employs 20 Ukrainians it also employs 20 western consultants. The lack of trust about what is happening within the projects is also worrying. That must be a very expensive arrangement. Is that duplicated anywhere else in the NIS countries?
  (Dr Hindson)  I do not know. I have learned a good deal this morning, but I did not even know that that existed as an organisation.

  289.  That is bureaucracy gone mad. It is all about lack of trust, is it not?
  (Dr Hindson)  One of the key words that I put down to try to get across various messages was "trust". There are some very simple techniques to judge the effectiveness of a programme. TACIS relies far too much on the organisation doing the work and reporting. It relies on written summary reports rather than evidence from the people it is working with. It is very easy to get that evidence—even photographs showing change. I tried to submit photographs to the PHARE project and was told that it did not want them. There are all sorts of tricks and techniques. The Know How Fund project in the Ukraine is now running into its second year. We are disseminating training manuals produced in year one throughout Russian-speaking parts of the Ukraine in year two. Together with our Ukrainian partners we sat down and developed a list of criteria as to how we wanted the people doing the dissemination projects to report to us and how we would monitor it to ensure that they were doing the sort of things that should be done and achieving the desired results on the ground. Have you ever come across the monitoring centre?

  290.  No. TACIS is trying to do it from the other direction, is it not? It is trying not to depend on local people. The difficulty about not being on the ground and not getting to know people is that you cannot build up trust.
  (Dr Hindson)  Very often different criteria are applied in the Ukraine from, say, the UK. For example, if I started a project here which looked at energy efficiency in schools I might want to set up a project advisory team. How do I do it? I would probably do it through my own personal networks and contacts. I know someone in the Bristol Energy Centre and so I will give him a ring. I know someone at the Geographical Association and so will give him a ring. I will put together an advisory team. But when we go to the Ukraine where the word "democracy" takes on a new meaning there is an insistence on putting out adverts to ask who wants to join the advisory team. We want to be "democratic" when we do not apply the same criteria here. We come back to the question of cultural understanding. One is applying different rules. We rely on one system which seems to work by and large. It is a matter of horses for courses and we must make sure that it is appropriate, but the different standards sometimes give rise to problems.

  291.  We are moving away slightly from the old boy network into quangos where there is a much more open advertising system. We are going to Brussels this evening. Are there any particular recommendations that you would like us to take with us and suggest to the Commission?
  (Dr Hindson)  To summarise it, the key issue that I would try to convey is that the way that TACIS works needs a radical restructuring and overhaul. There are lessons to be learned from how other donor agencies work both in the UK and other countries. In the UK the international lottery and the Charity Know How are two organisations that have earned a huge degree of respect. Their systems are user-friendly. They need to have a far simpler and speedier process and to be much more locally focused and rely upon and trust local expertise. They need to be brave enough to consider longer-term programmes and understand the process of change. They also need more effective ways of judging worthwhile projects and monitoring them. Those are the key messages, but I guess that you probably have hundreds.

  292.  Our impression is that the PHARE programme is rather better than it used to be. In Brussels it is easier in some way to point to one of its own programmes and say that that is how TACIS should operate.
  (Dr Hindson)  I have experience of the PHARE partnership programme. We were one of the earlier recipients and applied again. The new processes for application are a lot better than the first round which was a complete mess. I suppose that with a huge bureaucratic structure and regulation it is difficult to know where to start unless some of those regulations allow things to happen more easily. A lot of the issues are structural ones.

  293.  It appears that its decision-making is set at a ridiculously high level?
  (Dr Hindson)  Yes.

Chairman:  We are enormously grateful to you.

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