Rt. Hon. Gareth Thomas MP, Under-Secretary of State for International Development
Matt Phillips, Save the Children Fund & Make Poverty History Campaign
John Battle MP, Chair, APGOOD
John Battle MP opened the meeting, welcoming the audience & introducing himself, & the speakers, Gareth Thomas MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development & Matt Phillips, Head of Communications, Save the Children Fund (SCF) & the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign.
Gareth Thomas MP thanked the Chair for his introduction & also APGOOD & ODI for the opportunity to speak at the start of this meeting series. He hoped that his speech would serve as a good introduction prior to the Secretary of State's speech in the series on 14th March. He explained that his speech would reflect on:
The power of politics;
Why he thinks the UK should back developing country governments;
DFID's new White Paper;
and moving forward - Europe & the link between football & the UN
He summarised the achievements of 2005: the agreement by 15 EU member states to increase aid to 0.7% by 2015; the G8 pledge of a $50billion increase in aid year on year by 2015, half earmarked for Africa; & the commitment to universal access to ARV treatment by 2010. Would we have believed that these pledges would have been made at the beginning of 2005? Probably not, we probably wouldn't have had enough faith in political process. One of the most important lessons of 2005 is that the only way to change things for better is through political activity. Another big lesson is the reminder of the good that Europe can do collectively. The year also demonstrated the central role of the UN with 191 heads of state signing up to the agreements reached by the G8 in Gleneagles. On the other hand, the biggest disappointment of last year was trade. This was not a failure as there were agreements on many things but on the key issues, no real progress was achieved. The challenge of 2006 therefore is how to sustain this momentum that has built up.
DFID research has found that the British public's understanding about what being done to fight poverty is very limited. A common perception is that aid is wasted through corruption & that African governments don't have the capacity to solve their own problems. That cynicism could undermine potential progress in 2006, so the UK needs to prove that it is committed to improving & to supporting reforming governments. Donors also have to have the confidence & courage to fund governments. In 2006, the public will want us to deliver the things we promised in 2005 - we must ensure that the money committed arrives on time; must also continue to try to get world trade deal & we need the public debate on development to continue to ensure that development stays at the top of the political agenda. We also need to broaden the focus away from Africa, for example to Asia.
For all these reasons, Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP announced last week that a new White Paper (WP) would be published in the Summer. This will be the first major re-framing of UK development policy for 5 yrs. We want to hear from everyone about how to focus efforts on: delivering development more quickly, how UK policies can create a global environment more suited to eradicating poverty & how the international system can be reformed. The third area is particularly important & one in which the EU & UN will play key roles. Simon Maxwell called for the EU to be made the third pillar of the international development system behind the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) & the UN & the new WP provides a good opportunity to review this idea.
The UN still has long way to go if it is to realise its central role in the international development system. DFID puts more money through the UN than through the World Bank but it is nothing like as effective as it could be. There are too many overlapping agencies & mandates. Kofi Annan is keen to see reform & others within the system are too. DFID will seek to use its funding of the UN to push for fundamental reform. Any new Secretary-General will also have to have an appetite for reform. Annan has called for action & is now in the process of setting up a high-level panel on the issue.
John Battle MP thanked Gareth Thomas MP for his contribution & invited Matt Phillips to put forward his comments, from his perspective as a founder member of the MPH campaign.
Matt Phillips explained that he would reflect on the MPH campaign itself, summing it up in one word, as well as the outcomes of the year, which he would also reflect on in political terms. He explained that MPH set out to achieve economic justice & a specific package of deliverables. The issues of debt & trade were originally thought not to be of interest to the general public - but Mandela in Trafalgar Square just over a year ago today said sometimes it calls upon a generation to be great. So how did this generation respond in 2005? That day there was a mass lobby of MPs, there were local marches all over the country, the mass march in Edinburgh, as well as email, text & many other different types of campaigns involving thousands of people in the UK alone. Within 5-6months there was an 87% level of public awareness of the campaign. Around the world, 87 countries & 3million people were involved. It was the biggest popular mobilisation against international poverty than ever before. This could all be summed up in one word: 'mandate' - a moral & political mandate for world leaders, governments & politicians to take radical & ambitious action on poverty. As such, the UK did keep the issues on the global political agenda. The Africa Commission was very important in this process. The UK recognised that it had to re-configure its relationships with developing countries. Three big principles stand out from 2005 - 100% debt cancellation is the future & it must happen; universal access to ARVs by 2010 - this is a huge principle & offers great potential; & the G8 promise that developing countries have right to decide & sequence their economic policies to fit in with their own development process - this is very important but it hasn't yet been turned into tangible steps.
However this is not yet sufficient to deliver the MDGs. What money has been promised must be used better. Issues around aid effectiveness & predictability must become a greater priority in 2006. Also need to take further action around aid conditionality. Transparency & accountability are important so that citizens are able to hold governments to account & are empowered to take action in their community's interests. Also need to see much better, faster movement on trade issues - especially corporate accountability. Investments are needed in developing countries but with proper safeguards. Even though there are many barriers to securing transparency around revenue flows from business to governments - but it needs to be made accessible to communities so they can enjoy benefits of those resources. On debt relief, we are only one-third of the way there. Great progress was made in 2005 but more countries, more banks & fewer conditions are needed.
In conclusion, two points. The mandate has been represented politically, but it is also possible to see a pattern of how much more has yet to be done - we haven't yet seen governments deliver wholly on their mandate. It will be very difficult to sustain that mandate every year - the political message should be that the public has spoken, the mandate endures, governments must play their part & we must continue to see Parliamentarians holding governments to account. We need to keep the issues on the agenda - the issues & people are still here & the public want action. Secondly, tangibility - we need some progress on key policies, & the leadership need to deliver on these. Getting there quickly is a fundamental & key point.
JB thanked both speakers for their interesting & encouraging messages - something had been achieved but there was obviously much more to do. He invited the floor to ask questions & make comments.
Karen Christiansen, Research Fellow, ODI: Very interesting & different viewpoints. Biggest concern from last year though is the ambiguity that while we may have made progress & demonstrated our political process working, but this may result in greater levels of disillusionment because we haven't been honest about how little we can really do. We present the debate as if we can deliver on education, health, etc - but really it is when their governments can provide it. DFID is now suffering from problems of its own making. The aid industry often undermines progress in developing countries. There is the ability of the aid industry to make things worse as well as better - the supply side may not deliver the same results on the impact side.
Daisy Goodwin, Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit: At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sept, the Commonwealth committed itself to looking at how to reform the humanitarian & international development systems - the UK government should also involve the Commonwealth more in this. Could we replicate this in other G8 countries?
Sheila Page, Senior Research Associate, ODI: The theme of delivery is very important. All the things you can't deliver on are the things you have concentrated on. The UK has promised to deliver development - it can't, except to the UK. Fundamentally this is wrong for 2 reasons - telling developing countries what to do is out of date & it cannot be done from the outside - internal changes are required & we also don't know enough about how to do it. To assume putting all similar UN agencies together into one group is wrong - all have different objectives, some are right, some are wrong. To assume coherence is always good & competition isn't is wrong. What the EU & UK could deliver on together, is trade.
Question/Comment from audience:
Q: The state-centric focus of aid does nothing to support the social contract between people & their governments - fragile states are incapable of delivering a sense of responsibility.
In response to Sheila Page, Gareth Thomas MP accepted the limits of what can be achieved, saying that African countries have to come up with their own priorities & partnerships will be fundamental to making progress. We do have to operate differently in fragile states, but where countries are committed, GBS should be given. We do have to recognise that governments are sometimes imperfect. We do need to see donors behaving better, with more coordination & effectiveness. We cannot expect governments to make progress if we don't support them to recruit civil servants, doctors, nurses, etc. We are not telling developing countries what to do - we have to come in behind their objectives. He didn't accept Sheila's 'defence' of the UN system & that competition is a good thing - it is healthy but the UN has never abolished an agency & there could be a number of mergers. There could be one UN house from which all agencies work to a common strategy & to each of their comparative advantages. They are piloting that in Cape Verde at moment & it is working. Any re-modelling of the UN system should be based on this. Many people within the UN want donors to challenge them to move in that direction. He agreed that the accountability of governments needs to be strengthened, as that is a fundamental part of good governance.
Matt Phillips said that the public's views is that more can be done than can be done. In 84 countries challenges were being made to governments to do what they must. The focus of the campaign was principally getting rich countries to do all that they can do. The MPH manifesto & SCF are mostly about the 'stop' agenda - i.e. stopping doing things that undermine progress in developing countries. There is actually rather little emphasis on the crude aid volume figure. It is very telling that a great deal of media dialogue on the aid figure - this tells us that we have to foster & create debate about more systematic issues. Even though a lot of us believe in transparency & accountability, what is actually needed is proper investment to build a proper basic healthcare system but it is difficult to cram those into the public debate. What we have to do is use public momentum from the year to allow us to hone in on solutions & make other countries do as much as the UK & make sure the UK is doing as much as possible. The good news is that debate is more important - politicians cannot ignore that this debate needs to take place.
John Battle MP explained that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association met this week & it is a massive challenge to get some of these issues on to the agenda. Having a joint select committee is a very good idea & Parliamentarians should follow this through.
Q: will public support remain when taxes have to be increased in rich countries to pay for all these reforms? Also, there are no documents on NGO websites evaluating their projects - if you look on the World Bank website for instance, you can usually quite quickly find evaluation reports of their work.
Responding, Matt Phillips explained that SCF does do global impact monitoring - this assesses the accountability & measures the impact of their work for stakeholders. It has had much attention, but is still in its early stages. SCF is also a child rights organisation - so it advocates to governments to deliver the rights of children. NGO budgets are very small compared to governments - they need to build on their capacity to both deliver & evaluate. In the long run however, it must be the people who hold their governments to account & we must empower them to do this. Many developing countries have not reached that state yet.
Gareth Thomas MP, on the dangers of corruption, explained the need to be up-front from the start - corruption happens in every country, it is not an excuse but it is a reason why we should be involved. If we just give money to UNICEF, that will not change systems. Offering direct GBS won't help the development of the civil service, of health or education systems & it will therefore not get to the heart of the problem, although GBS is very important to improve the quality of governments. On the raising of taxes, Gordon Brown is an extremely prudent Chancellor & would not have supported the 0.7% commitment without working out where it would come from. NGO accountability is an issue - it is not clear to whom NGOs are accountable. The members of the DEC are in general are extremely well run, but there are some examples of work being done by NGOs which could be challenged. On trade liberalisation, markets must be opened up in ways that best suit developing countries' needs. This could be done around as part of the trade talks.
John Battle MP thanked everyone for coming & the speakers for their contributions.
This was the introductory meeting to the 'What Next in International Development' series.