Examination of witness (Questions 206
WEDNESDAY 17 JUNE 1998
206. Thank you for coming and for your splendid
written report which tallies largely with our experience. Three
members of the Sub-Committee, Lord Walpole, Lady Wilcox and I,
and the Clerk and Specialist Adviser were in the Ukraine and Russia
last week. To some extent, we hope to share impressions and experiences
of our trip with you. However, we have a series of formal questions
around which we can discuss what is happening there, what TACIS
is doing and your experience of those interesting countries. Would
you begin by telling us of your own experience of Russia and Ukraine?
(Ms Golder) I work for the World Wide Fund International
whose secretariat is based in Switzerland. I work for that organisation
in two capacities. I am the manager of the capacity-building programme
for WWF International, which means that I develop the strategies
for engagement with NGOs and partner organisations throughout
our international programmes. I am principally involved in Latin
America, Africa and the transitional countries. Because I am based
in Brussels I am also responsible for the relationship between
WWF International and the European Commission in terms of strategic
relationships and funding for the environment, tropical forests
and sustainable development initiatives. I come to you wearing
two hats. More often than not, those two hats seem to transform
into one because the two are very interlinked. As to the NIS,
my experience lies in working with our own offices in Russia,
Georgia, Ukraine and Mongolia. We have national organisations
for WWF in each country staffed by nationals. A large part of
my work and that of my colleagues over the past two years has
been devoted to those offices to develop their capacity better
to deliver and encourage conservation in those countries. As an
adjunct to that I am currently responsible for the reformulation
of our Baltic programme. I deal also with the Baltic states which
have some degree of relevance to our work in NIS. I have also
been engaged in running training programmes and strategic development
programmes in Bulgaria and Ukraine with national NGOs in those
207. We met a professor in St Petersburg
who must be very involved with the WWF?
A. The Baltic
Fund for Nature, yes.
208. On the environmental front, what do
you see as the major problems facing Russia and Ukraine, quite
apart from many other problems? How do you think that your organisation
in particular can help?
A. That is obviously
a question with which we as a conservation organisation have to
struggle. In transitional economies and economies that are going
from one political system to a new one often the protection of
a species or preservation of wetlands is not a priority in people's
minds. As a conservation organisation we have had to think very
seriously about that. The key issue is to encourage the participation
of civil society in decision-making processes that will influence
how they manage their natural resources. A balance must be found
between their need for economic development and the need to protect
and preserve the natural resources that they depend upon. For
us, awareness-raising, information-sharing and the development
of partnerships to engage with a range of different stakeholders
in those countries have been dominant features of our work over
the past few years. Environmental education at all levels of the
system, both formal and informal, and engagement with authorities
responsible for national parks and with ministries of the environment
has been a very important task. Those professionals require a
whole new set of skills in order to engage with the local populations
over issues such as what happens to certain stands of timber.
Does one sell them off for exploitation or protect them? How does
one develop one's community? What does one do in communities where
mining has ground to a standstill since the break-up of the Soviet
Union leaving people with no jobs and a polluted environment?
A lot of it is about engaging with the people of those countries.
That brings to the fore a lot of questions that we as a conservation
organisation cannot answer alone. I think that the development
of networks to try to understand and build trust is important.
Building trust in those countries is one of the greatest challenges.
There is a huge amount of suspicion about the west and international
organisations like ours and institutions like the European Commission.
A lot of it is about just engaging in dialogue and understanding
issues and developing terms of reference within which we as a
conservation organisation can work.
209. I want to ask about TACIS and its procedures
and organisation. I would like you to expand on your comments
in paragraph 2.1 about the lack of transparency and access to
A. Bear in mind
that WWF International is the world's largest conservation organisation.
We have a policy office comprising 15 to 20 people in Brussels
and we are engaging with the European Commission all the time.
Even for us the European Commission is a huge organisation and
TACIS is a huge programme. Yet the TACIS programme itself has
very few staff who have very little time. Our ability to engage
them is probably better than most NGOs but we still find it extremely
difficult. If particular issues and questions arise through our
Russia programme about certain consultancies that have just come
through concerned with research on particular species, or they
are asked what they have been doing in particular areas, our Russia
people in Brussels say that they want to know what TACIS is doing
and what these consultants want. We find it very difficult to
get that kind of information. We find it difficult to determine
or understand how terms of reference for some of the contracts
have been developed. As an environmental organisation with a decade
of experience in this region we would hope to have something to
contribute as do others in the region. Yet tenders for contracts
or terms of reference suddenly emerge with no consultation and
sharing of information at all. There are a lot of questions to
be asked. Contracts have been let to consultancies where we could
have provided all the information for nothing if only we had been
asked. The lack of access to information and staff, largely because
they do not have time, is a real barrier to the development of
coherent programmes of high quality particularly in relation to
210. We found that the PHARE programme was
terribly understaffed. That was one of the serious problems in
Brussels, despite hearing rumours about bloated bureaucracies.
A. It is even
difficult to get them to answer to e-mails. They literally do
not have time, but that is just unacceptable.
Lord Lewis of Newnham
211. Is this because the TACIS programme
was only recently acquired? Presumably, the staffing covers the
whole programme, not just the environmental aspects in which you
are primarily interested. Therefore, there is no focal point at
which the environment becomes a feature of the tasks of any individual
A. There is in
terms of the inter-state programme. But over the years we have
engaged the wider TACIS programme. We do not think it is appropriate
simply to fund environment as a discrete activity when 2.2 billion
goes into infrastructure development throughout NIS, most of which
goes on building roads and the building industry all of which
affect the environment. To have that dialogue is nearly impossible.
212. The environment has been a specific
part of the TACIS programme for only the past two years. Before
that it was theoretically just part of everythingin that
rather awful way that one pays lip service to a particular concern.
We were told by one NGO in St Petersberg that there used to be
an environmental help desk within the TACIS programme that he
found extremely useful but when it became an official part of
the TACIS programme the help seemed to vanish. She was the only
person who mentioned it. Can you help as to whether there was
a sort of environmental help desk within the TACIS structure at
some stage, or was it just an individual member of staff who happened
to be very helpful?
A. That may have
been the case. I am not aware of it. I have been engaged on TACIS
for only the past three years. If it predated that I do not know.
213. What is your view of the comparative
relevance and effectiveness of the inter-state, cross-border and
national TACIS programmes? What is your view of them together
or separately? Which is best?
A. From the point
of view of an NGO, inter-state and cross-border are best because
they allow us a far greater degree of access, and we can at least
attempt to engage. The national TACIS programme, which is by far
the largest element, is beyond our sphere of contact. The national
indicative programmes are negotiated with the countries. It is
a bilateral dialogue and funding arrangement. If one looks at
the environmental aspects or activities that are included in those
particular programmes they relate largely to nuclear power or
energy generation. Because we are engaging the governments through
our national offices we know that they have broader environmental
concerns but that is not what is being incorporated in the dialogue.
We have no input into that at all. The inter-state and cross-border
programmes are ones where at least a door appears to be ajar.
That is where we have the greatest point of contact.
214. Inter-state or cross-border?
Chairman: They do
not like them so much because they feel as though they are less
215. One comment made to us on our trip
was that nature did not know anything about states and borders.
A. Yes. The difficulty
with the inter-state and cross-border programmes is that in a
lot of these countries there is a very strong sense of nationalism,
not just at government level but at NGO and community level. If
we want to do something in the Caucasus we have to deal separately
with those organisations. We do it in Georgia and in other countries.
If we want to produce a publication we cannot just print it in
Russian because the Georgians will not accept it. Even though
we have activities that cross borders we must always deal with
people at local level if we are to engage these groups and representatives
of the community in the work. But those funding facilities give
us the opportunity to do that. It does not mean that they are
necessarily the best funding facilities but for us they are the
most accessible ones.
Chairman: In relation
to the Black Sea programme both Russia and Ukraine complained
that they had not been sufficiently consulted beforehand and it
was being imposed upon them.
216. It is interesting to see in your evidence
that you have had plenty of contacts as an international NGO with
national groups. Both this morning and in your paper you have
referred to the civil society. Do you consider that NGOs are better
representatives of civil societies with the structures that they
set up than, say, tiers of local government and the local consultation
that is set up through the governmental process?
A. Not better.
It is a matter of finding the most relevant and legitimate representatives
of communities wherever you work. In some countries we work with
NGOs; in other countries we work with academic institutions or
local government. In other countries we work with sectors of government.
From the point of view of building capacity and relationships
in those countries, it is important to understand which groups
have the most legitimate voice. In some countries we work with
the church. In parts of Latin America we work with the health
sector. It is very difficult for transition countries. There is
a lot of scepticism about NGOs. One needs to be able to sift through
the layers of cynicism and scepticism about who is going to get
the foreign donors' money and who is going to work for the foreign
contractors and find out who has a legitimate and credible voice
on which you can develop and build. It is not always NGOs.
217. Our colleagues who have made this visit
have already indicated that there are NGOs of all varieties. There
are some pocket NGOs. What is the spectrum of NGOs and what are
their characteristics in these countries?
A. For example,
we work with an NGO in the Komi Republic which comprises 18 biologists.
218. How are they an NGO rather than 18
biologists who come together?
A. They have
registered themselves legally in order to have that status. That
is how they present themselves. To a certain extent, they have
a greater legitimacy in that region to call themselves that than
we would traditionally call an NGO. A lot of NGOs throughout NIS
have been started by academics and scientists who have lost their
jobs in countries of the former Soviet Union and found alternative
ways to pursue the work that they used to do. NGOs are different
in those countries. Some of our partners regard the Baltic Fund
for Nature with a degree of scepticism because they do not think
that that body is a legitimate NGO because it has representatives
of government and other institutions. It is a different matter
altogether. That is why you need to spend time trying to understand
the constituencies that you need to work with to achieve your
objectives. The simple solution is to say that if it is a legal
entity and it calls itself an NGO you will work with it, but that
is not appropriate. That is the risk which proposed structures
like the RECs throw up. They apply a very western model to a very
different kind of working environment.
219. In paragraph 1.3 you have criticised
the orientation, structure, technical and management capacity
of TACIS and its technical partners which preclude natural interaction
between the NGO sector and TACIS. There are other points in the
paper where similar criticisms are made. But you have just implied
that there is not a common form of NGO. Some NGOs may be good,
bad, better or worse. Why should we be concerned that there is
not an automatic interaction between something that calls itself
an NGO and the TACIS programme?
A. Because you
need to find a point of entry beyond the point of contact with
government. Governments are not necessarily representative of
all the people in the communities in those countries. NGOs, good
and bad, tend to be the starting point. Having made that international
point of contact with an NGO, you may find that it is not as legitimate
as you had hoped but it may have led you to other groups, organisations
or agencies in those communities. It may be interpreted as a convenient
point of entry but you need to make the effort to have a point
of contact beyond formal bilateral dialogue at a critical level;
otherwise, you are failing to look for the views, interests and
concerns of people beyond what are still pretty powerful control
systems. NGOs are the means by which we know how to do that. As
the capacities in those countries develop structures around themselveswe
must not underestimate itwe must remain open and flexible
to the kinds of groups that we are prepared to engage with.