Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  320.  Is this year's industrial waste management course a new venture for the Agency? Secondly, asking my supplementary question straight away, you were talking about your experience of actually running the course and the expertise that you found in Russia and Tomsk and, certainly from my own experience of working in Russia, I would agree with that. The problem I came across, however, and I am wondering whether you also found this, is whilst there is great expertise in what the problems are, there are other greater problems in employment and paying wages and all this sort of thing, and it is a matter of convincing the people who are actually controlling the purse strings to get some priority on the environmental issues. How did you deal with that and with helping the Russian environmental experts in actually presenting their case to the people making those sort of decisions?
  (Mr Tempany)  The short answer to that is we did not. We were part of a very focused part of a much larger project, so we were dealing directly with people whom it was felt to be advantageous for us to deal with—basically our opposite numbers—to give them clarity in various aspects they were interested in to see how we approached these problems. As to it being a new venture for the Agency, yes, these are the only two projects that have been run, certainly with Russia and other Eastern European countries to date, but it does follow on from work that has been done with a few local authorities involved prior to the Agency being formed in 1996. They had some relationships with Bulgaria certainly.


  321.  What was the incentive for that?
  (Mr Tempany)  For the local authorities? I am not sure, I am afraid. I think that came through the European Union. I think there was a request for assistance in projects there.

  322.  Were the projects to which you are referring ones that were based in Leeds?
  (Mr Tempany)  Yes.

  323.  How far do you find that there is a sort of inertia about dealing with environmental problems, if they relate in any way whatsoever to unemployment problems?
  (Mr Barker)  In terms of the particular experience in Tomsk, certainly one needs there to be very aware of the cultural upheaval and the changes going on in the economic factors in Russia and as to where their priorities lie. In the actual project in Tomsk the director of the Ecological Committee, the equivalent of the Environment Agency, is also a member of the Duma and is also the member on the Russian State Protection Department so he is very keen, from an overall Government-of-the-State point of view, that the natural resources (and they are very vast in Siberia) are developed for economic reasons but wants to learn from our experience to avoid pollution of the environment, and therefore there is a need to develop these resources. They are, however, in certain parts of the country very well aware of the need to balance that with the long term nature and protection of the environment.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

  324.  Can I ask you about co-ordination of aid and technical assistance programmes in the NIS? In the fields in which the Agency has been working, are you conscious of any lack of co-ordination between donors, international financial institutions and beneficiaries? If you have noticed any lack of co-ordination, have you any ideas on how the situation might be improved?
  (Mr Tempany)  We are not aware how these are co-ordinated. It is not immediately apparent to us. Certainly the project I was involved in was an input into a World Bank project. The World Bank were aware that such problems do exist and they have set up their projects with a consultant who oversees the project separate from the consultant who carries out the project. There was someone, therefore, who was technically able to check that they have delivered their objectives and the project is on track from that point of view.
  (Dr Leinster)  The projects that we have been involved in have been very focused technical projects and some of these other areas we have not yet had exposure to, so we have been going in at a technical level with some awareness of these other, wider social issues but it was not within the remit of our projects at this stage to have any involvement in those.

  325.  And these projects would have had money to actually deliver on the ground? It was not just technical assistance. It was providing the follow up, was it, at the beginning?
  (Dr Leinster)  Yes. The purpose of the projects that we have been involved in and one of the focuses for the projects is that we have, before we agree to participate in them, to see there is a long term plan, an implementation plan, and that these are viable long term projects which will deliver something on the ground. One of the issues we have been looking at is the transfer of knowledge between the high technical level of expertise that there is on technical aspects to the day-to-day, on-the-ground regulation, education and implementation. When we have been reviewing these projects and wondering whether we should be involved with them, we have to make sure those aspects are adequately covered. These are long term projects, and we have on-going contact with the people. The one at Tomsk is on-going and we will continue to have involvement there.

  326.  One of the criticisms we have had about the TACIS programme is that there is a lot of money spent on western consultants producing marvellous plans and that all this money and effort is put in and yet nothing happens after that. You have got these specific programmes you have been working on but what do you think should be done to enable TACIS to ensure that there is a self-sustained follow-on activity? Given the amount of land involved, the big areas to which you have already referred, how do you get a multiplier effect through dissemination of Know-How? Is it just a question of money?
  (Mr Tempany)  No, I do not think it is just a question of money—though that is a big problem too. I think they would like nothing more than for us to say "We will pay the salaries of your people for a period". We think it is best that there needs to be a basis for the project—there needs to be a clear plan—and we need to be able to link into the local government, to the oblast Government and the oblast organisation, the State Committee locally, as well as to the State where appropriate, to make sure those people are committed to taking up that and carrying on with it. I think that is what we have done with both our projects and I think that has been assisted. The project I was involved in, ERM, have a local office in the oblast headed by a senior ex-regulator from Canada who has Russian staff there who are both technically very competent and, obviously, know their systems very well. I think that helps make sure that the message is appropriate and that there is take-up locally.

  327.  Do you think we should have a condition that the technical assistance in the transfer would be provided, unless there is actually a guarantee that the money would be there from whatever source, to actually implement the plan once it is drawn up, or is that going too far?
  (Mr Barker)  In terms of the Agency, we do insist in terms of the projects we look at that they do have viable long term plans and clear implementation and that they are capable of being carried out over the long term and are self supporting. Now, for some of the programmes we are involved in, it would be difficult to say that there would be a definitive end point in the implementation of something, but what there needs to be are sufficient longer term steps so that there are appropriate review points at which you make the decision for what the next longer term steps should be. We do insist on this when looking into the projects, and we believe it is viable to look at this when reviewing their criteria.


  328.  How much money is involved in these two projects and where does it come from? Is it all European Union money, or is there some contribution from the UK Government itself?
  (Mr Tempany)  On my project there were something like 55 man days effort from the Agency; that was staff time funded by the Agency. The out-of-pocket expenses—if you like, the travel, subsistence, the small amount of catering for the Russians when they visited here—came to just over 8,000 pounds in all. That was paid for by the Know-How Fund through the Department of the Environment and DFID.
  (Mr Barker)  I cannot talk about what the overall project funding is for Tomsk but, in terms of Agency's part, it is a similar situation of about 60 to 70 man days of Agency time currently being spent, although we are going to be receiving this autumn six regulators from the Ecological Committee who are going to train with us for three weeks as part of this training course. Over the longer term, therefore, there will be a number of man days and tens of man days per year for a number of years to ensure the training programme occurs and, again, it is the expenses and the out-of-pocket expenses that is the kind of money we are talking about for the part of the project which Agency is involved in.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

  329.  What money is the World Bank putting in then?
  (Mr Tempany)  I am not quite sure what the costs for that World Bank industrial waste management project are but there must be some millions of dollars of effort going into that overall, over a four year period.
  (Dr Leinster)  The World Bank project is $3.5 million.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

  330.  What sort of a place is Tomsk? One hears about it in jokes mostly.
  (Mr Barker)  Tomsk is a university city; it was really founded about 200 years ago or so—I cannot remember exactly—as a trading post. It is the third University of Russia and very well respected. It is the capital of the Tomsk Oblast, which is a large region with very significant metals, including gold and zirconium, natural gas, coal, oil and forestry resources. It has extremes of temperature, being in the centre of a land mass as you would expect, from being extremely hot in the summer to many tens of degrees below in the winter. It is a city which I think has seen better days, to some extent, but really I think part of the economic programme there gives it the potential again to be the well maintained centre of the Siberian region.

Lord Judd

  331.  Would you agree that, if you are going to be effective in collaboration and co-operation, it is very important to understand and be sensitive about the prevailing social realities, the culture, the mores, and so on? What have you really learnt from your exposure about this? What kind of advice would you give to people coming in?
  (Mr Barker)  I think some of the advice to people coming in would be that one must respect the very high degree of technical excellence that exists in Russian culture: it is very high. One must emphasise the importance of personal relationships—they are open and honest, if you are, and I think it is important to build up those relationships. One of the things which helps to build up those relationships is to admit that there are issues still to solve and that we do have problems and, therefore, one can work together to some extent on those problems. One has to be very aware of the high and rapidly changing culture and market economy from the command economy. It is important to bear in mind that there is no social security system; that the command economy did appear to us, when we were there, to be very much based on full employment and therefore, when one is talking about the ways of doing things in the west, one has to very much bear in mind that it is going to take time to change and they are a different culture and society and one must respect that.

  332.  Do you think, from what you have experienced and what you have just said, that in the west's intervention—not least in this area that concerns us—enough attention has been given to the complications of a very big journey in moving from A to B, as distinct from just saying "A was wrong, and we should be at B"?
  (Mr Barker)  I think, in the projects I have been involved in, everyone has very much been aware of that. Certainly in Siberia they very much respect the UK and very much want to learn and work with us and, provided that we accept them as technical equals and can have a certain amount of common learning from that, I think it works. If one does assume that they want to get to being western in total, then that may not be a particularly good starting point. They may wish to take certain things from the west but still keep certain things of their own. One very much has not to impose a solution which happens to be right for this country and think it is right for them.

  333.  They would have a more acute perception of balance between market and intervention for the common good than perhaps romantic marketeers might have?
  (Mr Barker)  They are in such a period of change I am not quite sure whether they would have that perception yet. It was not so much part of the project as forming part of the discussions when I was there.

  334.  You say they have a great deal of respect for the UK, but for what? The Houses of Parliament, or the British Constitution, or what?
  (Mr Barker)  The respect they expressed to us was for the way we carried out environmental regulation. They had visited a number of countries and they respected that aspect. There is certainly still some feeling from the war, because Tomsk lost half the number of people who went to the war and they still have a very high regard, to some extent, for that allied relationship because of the millions of people they lost, and that is just expressed in normal discussions as well as, for instance, when people get married, the place they visit is the war memorial. The knowledge that it was an allied effort in the war still exists today. It is historic, as well as the fact they have been round Europe and, in terms of environmental regulation and I am sure in other areas, one picks up certain things. I could not say I spent long enough talking to them to be able to give more than a few snapshots.

  335.  Candidly there is some anxiety in this Committee about how far, whatever the intentions, TACIS is really responding to perceived needs in the countries themselves in really building up, enhancing, the capability and empowering people on the spot to take things forward themselves, or how far we are doing things in the context of somebody else's country. In that sense, do you feel enough use is made of the expertise, the knowledge and the excellence to which you have referred which is there itself? Are we incorporating that enough? Are we building on that enough? What can we do more specifically to improve that essential dimension in the equation?
  (Dr Leinster)  One of the things we are looking for in the projects we are running is this idea of participation and partnership. That is the key and vital area. We cannot talk more generally at present than about the projects we are actually involved in, and the reason we selected our particular ones was either it was education and training and working alongside a university and setting up a university course alongside the Russians, or it was providing assistance in implementation of waste regulation. So, again, we are not saying "This is the way you must do things" but "This is our experience. How can we adapt it to be suitable for your experience". What we need to do, taking the waste project which is going to be a demonstration project, is to work with our Russian colleagues and set up a demonstration project so that our procedures and processes become Russianised so there is a local dimension given to it to ensure that it works in that situation. I am convinced that our procedures will not just slip into their system. There are certain lessons we have learned in the process by which we have come to our solutions that will assist them in that learning process. We can get them up the learning curve more quickly than if they are doing it by themselves. We therefore set up those demonstration projects, which might have to be regionally based because of the size and nature of the country and the regional differences, and the dissemination occurs through those demonstration projects. So we set up a project which works in Russia and that information then gets disseminated throughout the rest of the country. If we take those sort of models of demonstration projects, education, training, which are based on our procedures and processes that they can then adapt to their situations, that is the sort of way we can actually develop and make sure there is a programme in place which will be viable and long term.


  336.  Could I ask, as a supplementary to that, how you find, when you are out there, that the use of general western engineering is being considered by the fraternity there? One of the things I slightly worry about is the statement you made earlier when you said that, in fact, the size of the country was X, where X was much bigger than the UK, the population was significantly smaller, and the pollution problems you were envisaging were problems that could be there for 200 years. Now, that provides a totally different problem, to my mind, than the problems in this particular country. You have implied that you Russianise the problem, as it were, or the solution, but it does strike me there could be problems we have not even conceived of here. How far is our expertise able to help in that sense?
  (Mr Barker)  The particular Tomsk project, being a joint project with Holland and various universities within the UK and ourselves, covers a significant range of environmental issues and a significant range of land masses and a very important part of that project is the joint nature of it with Tomsk University and the Ecological Committee who are clearly very well aware of their own problems and issues and their own technical expertise and putting that together with our experience, both here and on the Continent and the rest of the European Union, and developing that into a Russian MSc for training Russian regulators about Russian issues. So it is putting their own expertise together with our history and our management and risk assessment type philosophies and similar matters and then allowing, very much, the Russians to Russianise it for their own criteria.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

  337.  May I ask a quick supplementary—again harking back to my own experience of working in western Siberia? My own view was that the major problem was a question of compliance with relatively minor environmental regulations. Certainly the Russian environmental officers I came across were, indeed, experts and all the rest of it but there was a tendency to want to pursue grandiose projects where they demonstrated their engineering prowess, if you like, and that is where the brownie points, to use slang, would be won rather than getting low-level compliance on everyday matters. Do you have any comments on that? How do you actually get people to comply with environmental regulations on a local day-to-day level?
  (Mr Barker)  I think my experience of the Tomsk region was that the director of the Ecological Committee was very much driving a new and improved philosophy of environmental regulation—very much a more integrated one. He had combined the water, waste and air regulators; he was very conscious of the local as well as the larger aspects of the environment and he, to my mind, was a great engine of change and improvement in terms of environmental regulation. I was there to tie in where that was happening and I think they recognised that had a way to go and that is why they very much wanted to discuss experiences and had that in mind. In Tomsk itself, most of the chemical plants around Tomsk are actually designed by either UK or Italian or other European or American contractors. In the oil fields there is a reasonably significant Canadian input and there is also, I understand, an increasing input from the Eastern countries of Taiwan and—I cannot honestly remember but I think—Japan as well.


  338.  Is there any indication that there are problems over corruption or anything like that in the system?
  (Mr Barker)  I had no experience of corruption while I was there.
  (Mr Tempany)  We did not—not with the people we were dealing with.

Countess of Mar

  339.  We know in the United Kingdom that non-Governmental organisations are well respected by the Environment Agency—particularly in England and Wales - and that you work quite closely with them. Have you any experience of NGO's in the Newly Independent States and what do you think is needed to equip the NGOs here?
  (Mr Barker)  We have no experience of dealing with NGOs in either of these projects. The development and standing of NGOs is going to be very much dependent on the culture of Russian society as it develops and I think it would be appropriate, while describing the situation here, to allow them very much to come to their own view as to the position, or whether they have another way of doing it within their own culture.

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