Examination of Witness (Questions 200
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002
200. Do you help resource them to be able to
match, so they get a clear view from their side of the fence of
what they think development should be for them?
(Mr Nielson) We are doing things very much in the
same manner here as you are describing with DFID. Nicaragua, not
being an ACP country, does not have the same formalised basis
of public participation in our processand it is a handicap
not to be covered by those rules, I would saybut otherwise
it is much better than before.
201. Finally, you have mentioned resources.
Have you still got a problem with the staffing of delegations?
(Mr Nielson) Yes, but that is why we are pushing our
staff out in this process of so-called deconcentration. By the
way, we call it that because in the strange terminology of the
Commission, deconcentration is giving our delegates a stronger
say in decision-making, whereas if it was decentralisation it
would mean giving our partner country governments that power.
Personally, I try not to use that word, I call it delegation to
delegations or strengthening. That would help in this but not
necessarily, it is also a matter of following it up here but telling
our partner governments that they have to invest in this. The
feedback we get from the World Bank on this is that the overlap
in timing of us doing the Cotonou Ninth EDF, the strategy planning
process, with this PRSP wave which rolls across the geography,
is extremely useful.
202. A tying together.
(Mr Nielson) Very useful. Because we have for the
ACP countries this formalised contract agreed to do that and to
open up, and they can use that as a very good lever. That is by
coincidence a very good element.
203. We welcome very much your decision to sign
up to a poverty focus, but can you tell us what AIDCO and your
Directorate General are doing to evaluate the impact of that change
in policy, and indeed to evaluate the overall effectiveness of
your development assistance?
(Mr Nielson) The first problem I think one has to
address is the delay, which is the real problem. The stuff in
the pipeline more or less has to be executed, to clean it up,
to get to what we want to do. In this portfolio review on health
we did last winter, we have to find out what are we doing. Everybody
said we should do more on health, so we found out we had
1.7 billion committed, of which a little more than
a year ago only something like 200 or 300 million had been implemented,
dating back to not more than something like 1997 or 1996. There
was a mountain of decisions in the health sector. So we are not
small in health but the actual getting it done was the problem.
Then I wanted to know what is in it. So we set out this big archaeological
expedition into the archives and some of the stuff we saw was
quite scary, because some of them said, "File not found"
and things like that, or "No information available in RELEX."
I will just mention two. One of them was 25 million health sector
support in Bolivia, a real development case and our biggest South
American partner. Nothing was known about it and nothing had been
spent, zero spent, it was committed in 1997-98 and so far not
one euro had been spent. I will come back to it. The other one
was 10 million for Venezuela, also four years old, and nothing
had happened. The first one actually turns out to be a regionally-focused
health support programme in the Potosi region, and half of that
25 million is for sanitation, so modern sewage facilities, highly
relevant in Potosi if you look at the tailings from the mining
industry but also the whole situation. I was there in November
so I got to know more about it for that reason. Something is materialising
but it is extremely slow in the start-up phase, extremely slow,
but it looks nice. The other one in Venezuela, 10 million, nothing
happened, what is this? We had a closer look and it turns out
to be sophisticated technical hospital equipment for a provincial
capital, a new hospital, where nothing has happened because the
Venezuelan side has not built the new building. That is something
which should never have been decided; it is totally out of the
scope of any poverty oriented development activity. That is why
I say we also have a critical mess. But this is the legacy of
saying yes and yes and yes to this and that manifestation, very
politically driven in Latin America and other places by predecessors
who each ran their own show. This is the big change, and I say
this with full confidence: the staff everywhere are looking in
the right direction. Many of us are embarrassed by what we have,
we try to get it over with but for contractual reasons it is not
that simple to tell Venezuela that the European Commission is
going to default on what was signed. That is not so easy. This
is why we have to swallow it and get it over with.
204. You highlight with those two examples two
problems. First of all, we need to be able to see what proportion
of your spending goes in different subject areas, the DAC criteria,
and we were disappointed, as I am sure you were, with your report
last year. Can you tell us when you will be reporting rigorously
to DAC criteria? You also highlight the need to look below the
sectors and look at the effectiveness of the development outcome.
Is it right that evaluation work should be carried out by the
unit within EuropeAid? Is there not a possibility that it will
become self-serving? How can you ensure that you have a thorough
evaluation, where you would learn the sort of lessons you have
learnt from these two archaeological excavations you have done?
(Mr Nielson) Three questions and three answersI
will give one for each. On impact, we are seriously, and this
is quite scary, working on the development and engineering of
indicators. The expectations are very high because we have come
from almost nothing, and we have promised we would do it, but
the scary story is that when we start moving on this professionally,
the reaction is a lot of curiosity and professional interest from
other main players from DAC and others, expecting us, because
it is a big organisation, they think, to come up with something
new and interesting, because nobody has so far done really well.
That is where we are. I told Parliament when I took office that
this is what we have to be able to do. But the truth is that you
do not have good, simple clear indicators which do the trick.
Everybody is working on that but the statistics are so poor out
there. I am warning on this but we want to do it. In Denmark,
I did a small little pamphlet on how many kilometres of roads,
how may kids go to school as a result of our interventions and
so on, and it was an enormous job, but we managed to do it for
one year and then we had the order of magnitude establishedthis
type of road, that type of road, small, big and so onbut
it was quite a job to do and we will have to find some other things
to do next year. Everybody has for years been waiting for the
DAC secretariat or others to produce it, so it is just to make
you say to DFID, we are still in the market for expertise. That
is one. On the sector and reporting back according to DAC criteria,
this is on. A few weeks ago they started entering into the Common
RELEX Information Systemvery nicely called CRISand
from now on it is impossible to get any dossier moving in the
decision-making process if it is not entered into this reporting
system. So from now on, we are there, but we need an added effort
on top of this to enter into this system 2001 and 2000, in order
to be able to present something meaningful also for Parliament,
which I have agreed to as part of the project. Now here it should
be kept in mind that this is mainly driven by Parliament's wish
to know this distribution globally but especially for the EDF
money, which is outside parliamentary decision-making, because
the European Development Fund it is not covered by the budget
and it has several decision-making systems, so Parliament has
no handle to do that. Of course, for that reason, they want to
have this reporting so we have to do something. I support that
but some Member States are against budgetising this, mainly Spain
but not only Spain. We are getting there now on this sector distribution.
In this effort I personally have been talking about the need for
doing something that is better than what the OECD has. The DAC
criteria and the matrix of reporting there has been grown over
many years and is in fact not so simple. The retrieval value of
it, to go across and cut out, is not so simple. For us it is a
measure of going normal, going mainstream, so I announced it when
I was questioned by Parliament in the first days of 1999, in August,
"This is where we want to go", so that is the minimum.
What we need is to be able to say, "How much of this activity,
be it a programme or a project, is environmentally relevant? How
much of it is the environment, how much is gender?" So what
I would like to see is some sort of profiling. What we have done
so far is to give the project a name, that is the categorisation.
We need a profile, more or less like the bar code on the commodity
in a supermarket, to give a sort of percentage, a rough (or less
rough) estimate of the profile of this activity. That is something
I would like to do.
205. That will happen for future projects or?
(Mr Nielson) This is being studied. This is the Commissioner's
crazy idea, but somebody has to be creative.
206. What is the timescale for the development
of crazy ideas?
(Mr Nielson) Soon. On the third part of the evaluation:
because of our staff constraints we are using external evaluation
more than probably any other major development organisation. It
is as simple as that. We are not satisfied, they are not all that
good, they are all expensive but they cover themselves carefully
because they need a customer next time round. They do not always
communicate in clear language, whereas internal evaluations often
come out more clearly because the problem of rocking the boat
is smaller. This should not be over-interpreted, what I say here,
but I do not see any clearly better solution of one model or another
of where to put the evaluation. Our biggest weakness has been
that the use of the feedback was almost non-existent. So, especially
in the short-run, it is much more important to secure that we
make new mistakes and not just repeat the old ones. The feedback
reality, and having this put into the work, especially of the
Quality Support Group when it screens and scrutinises the programme,
that is fed into the implementation in AIDCO, is quite important.
I think to have all the different phases of work, people all over
the system, in delegations and elsewhere, seeing the evaluation
as an integrated part of the learning process and participating
in the whole cycle, makes good sense with a strong respected professionally
good evaluation unit. Then we are not doing very much ourselves.
We are in fact so small in this respect internally that we would
like to beef it up to at least be able to do some evaluation ourselves,
to show the consultants how we like it done.
207. One final question was really sparked off
by your response. You make a convincing case about doing more
in-house because of consistency, because of an ability to be honest
and not to grandstand. I think those are all convincing arguments,
but possibly the evaluation operation ought to be located within
your Directorate General rather than within the executive agency,
partly because you put a little bit of distance between yourselves
and the programme and partly because, your very final point, it
is so important to learn the lessons and to feed back and adopt
your policy, and policy is your direct responsibility.
(Mr Nielson) True, but the weight and the impact,
the intellectual impact, of the policy that emanates from here
into the minds of people sitting in RELEX shows that there may
be some additional work to do in the coming months. Where we need
to learn thingsI think it is a deception because we think
in terms of what I like to call the co-operation cycle, I see
errors starting in the programming phase, but we make a lot of
magnificent errors down the road in the cycle, and maybe the delegations
should have done things differently vis-a-vis the environment
around them and so on. So where the feedback should hit hard and
efficiently is not necessarily up-front in the total cycle. That
is a very mathematical and engineering flow chart, and it is more
blurred than that. The Quality Support Group is consisting of
also both the upstream elements of people from Development and
the broader policy thing, crossing-cutting the whole thing, and
the upstream programming from RELEX and AIDCO implementation,
and the evaluation unit is part of the Quality Support Group.
Finally, the evaluation unit also evaluates the PHARE programme
for accession countries and other activities which would be on
the margin of development proper, is another reason why it is
meaningful to have them somewhere in AIDCO.
208. The important thing is what it does, not
where it is.
(Mr Nielson) It is my challenge to try to get my hands
into the whole stuff.
209. The Country Strategy Papers are going to
be of crucial importance, because for the first time there will
be a public, transparent document relating to each country available
on the website, and every one of our NGOs will be able to download
it, look at it, and see what progress is being made, and presumably
in each Country Strategy Paper the country concerned will have
had to sign up to some concept of good governance.
(Mr Nielson) Yes.
210. If the countries concerned do not meet
the good governance criteria, are we going to do as we have done
with Zimbabwebecause we want to remain engaged with them
we do not do very much at allor is there going to be a
point where if a country is not delivering on good governance
and strategy we will withdraw the support?
(Mr Nielson) The first phase of this is in the process
of writing the Country Strategy Paper, because there we have a
say, of course. The way we describe the political system is already
quite important. Right now with India, some of the things we would
like to express will have to be discussed at a certain stage,
for instance, but this is with all of them. It is a meaningful
meeting. As I said, after 11 September, we have to be careful
to avoid a clash of civilisations, what we have to go for is to
try to have a civilised meeting of cultures, and that is what
we are trying to do in the writing of these Country Strategy Papers.
Now for the ACP group we have a system for relating to these problems.
For the rest, we have individual frameworks depending on the kind
of formalised basis of the co-operation that we have. So with
the wave now rolling across the total geography, leading us to
new Country Strategy Papers globally, we have something which
is still individual for the non-ACPs but which has some of the
characteristics of the Cotonou Agreement in it. But the Cotonou
Agreement is quite elaborate; the only thing on earth between
north and south with such a contractual relationship in it. We
do not use governance in the sense you asked. Governance is not
one of the essential elements. I was the one who negotiated, and
governance was used before as a sort of soft language, indirect
word for corruption problems. I saw that as operationally bad
and pedagogically weak, so I said, and got away with it, "Why
don't we take out governance and describe it as a shared objective
and link our capacity-building offer as part of our priorities
in terms of what the state or what society should be able to provide,
deliver and so on." Then we talked instead about corruption,
using the one word for corruption which is closest to relating
to the matter, namely "corruption", direct, on top of
the table. That we now have. This is the new Article 97 which,
for the first time, has been brought to use in the case of Liberia.
The other stuff in 1996, which is now being strongly used and
discussed for Zimbabwe, is what we used to have in this sense,
and that relates to essential elements as the basis of the activity.
They are, democratisation, human rights and these other things.
There was never a reference to corruption before but we took it
for granted. Most of the cases of stops of aid before were decided
without using the system of the old Lomé. It is a recent
thing that we have gone through, the formal motions of the process,
as clearly as we are doing, and it is not easy, it is not that
simple to do it meaningfully, and getting back, landing somewhere
later, is not so simple. I warn against this as being an easy
EC mechanism and the Member States are very eager and yelling
at us to start using this instrument, because it always looks
like something, but when it comes to actually conducting the dialogue,
what we see is normally the permanent representative of the Presidency
and one other sitting there and not doing very much.
211. Could I follow on from that, because we
have been discussing this both with the Trade Commissioner and
over lunch. Let us take the case of Kenya, are you writing a Country
Strategy Paper for Kenya? How is your dialogue goingI am
delighted to hear you did talk about corruptionon corruption
(Mr Nielson) It is a real problem.
212. The detail is the test, if I might say
(Mr Nielson) The most interesting story here, and
there is a case to illustrate it, is that we were supporting the
establishment of this Commission, they were then more or less
trapped by some strange interpretation of the legality of them
doing what the public prosecutor, according to their constitution,
was supposed to do, but then why were they set up in the first
place? They may have got too close and we had discussions with
Dr Leakey. We had a road construction case where there was, not
to make a bad joke, a leakage as part of the process of tendering,
which looked bad, so we called off the tender totally and wanted
it investigated. They agreed and the two sides started an investigation,
and this was coinciding in time with this abolition of the special
unit that was investigating corruption. It could be correct that
this legal battle had been started before this balloon went up
or it could not; that was not so clear. We do not feel we are
a direct casualty of avoiding investigation, and it is not over
in fact, the case is not dead yet. This was one and a half years
ago. So we have not been passive and we have been looking after
our interests, I would say. In a sense I feel it necessary to
look at this pretty much like we look at the issue of democracy,
where the name of the game is democratisation. It is the dynamics
on the margin that interest us. We know it is corrupt out there,
so it is whether we are moving in the right direction or the wrong
direction, especially case by case. Of course, there is the big
game and in fact you should read Article 97 because it is quite
interesting. It is also about capacity-building from us, strengthening
the police and the judiciary and so on. It is a shared endeavour
between them and us to do something about corruption, plus specifying
that in severe cases of corruption the hammer can fall and we
can react, even if it is not only our money that is involved.
213. Commissioner, thank you very, very much
for having given us so much of your time and having answered our
questions so fully, which is much appreciated. I am sure these
are all issues we are going to be returning to time and time again.
You can rest assured we will certainly do our part in ways we
can to try and ensure you get the largest possible budget. If
there is anything we can do on the Cotonou Agreement
(Mr Nielson) You are now being more specific. You
are not one of the guilty ones, you have done your work concerning
ratificatoin. I should be clear on that. Unfortunately, I have
good reason to fire the cannon, as I say, it is still only a few
countries that have done it. Let me react by saying that I am
very pleased by the very strong, political, professional interest
you are investing in this. It is highly welcome. Maybe I would
say that my biggest success in this job has been to see the value
of being open and honest about what we are doing and what we are
not doing and what we want to do and so on. It could have been
quite different. By being open and working in the manner I want
to, it could have been considered as so strange that I was outside
the scope of things, but internally this has been welcomed with
a great sigh of relief. People are much more direct. With our
Member States, it is quite clear what is created is a very collegiate,
good working relationship. So the risk of the drama of suspicion
is not there. It is more a real, honest uncertainty as to whether
we can do it but that is a totally different uncertainty than
the other one. There DFID is very good in coming up with an expert
here and an expert there in crucial areas and situations where
we need a hand, and I look forward to reciprocate when we are
strong enough to do it. A number of member countries are quite
good at identifying where something could be useful. In the old
days as a Danish Minister, I provided staff support for the capacity-building
for the Commission on two issueson gender for communications
and on indigenous peoples. So this is not new but it goes on and
the mood and the spirit is quite good. As I say, if it ain't fun,
it ain't efficient, and it is a little more fun now than a few
Chairman: Thank you.