Lynne Featherstone MP, Liberal Democract Spokesperson on International Development
Baroness Lindsay Northover, Secretary, APGOOD
Baroness Northover welcomed Lynne Featherstone MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on International Development. She noted that this was the final meeting of the long running What’s Next? series and also the last of the three June meetings of that series which had seen Gareth Thomas MP and Andrew Mitchell MP give their political perspectives on what’s next in international development? The politically-focused conclusion to the series had been extremely well-timed, given the current leadership elections which would undoubtedly impact on international development.
Lynne Featherstone MP stated that these meetings provided a useful opportunity to explore the priorities politicians have, and whether they are the right ones. The Government lacked political will, clarity and purpose in terms of their ambition and aims in development world and that in turn not only inhibited development progress but was an ineffective use of tax-payers’ money. There was an almost schizophrenic approach from this Government – different ministries or departments working seemingly often at cross-purpose. The focus of her speech would be examples of departments failing to join up their thinking while paying particular attention to the driving imperative to put climate change centre and tackling corruption.
DFID and DTI: the overriding objective in international trade must be to stimulate sustainable development, yet donor Governments seemed to be intent on preserving protection for their economies. No country had ever been lifted out of poverty by aid alone. It was vital to reinvigorate the DOHA talks and reduce agricultural subsidies and trade barriers. Crowding out was also an issue; domestic Governments did not invest in their own infrastructure, leading to inflation and high interest rates which actually damaged economic growth.
DFID and FCO: The FCO’s reluctance to consider proper economic sanctions for Sudan until now had been a failure; we seem to have been happy to address the symptoms of genocide with aid but the Government refuses to address the underlying cause and make the tough calls on sanctions. The UK and the EU need to target those companies which were providing the regime in Khartoum with revenue, arms and diplomatic cover.
DFID and HMT: A good example of the lack of joined up thinking was the failure to regulate ‘vulture funds’, which brought up developing country debt at a discount and tried to redeem it at a higher value through the courts. This could be extremely damaging to developing countries. For example, Zambia had been taken to court in order to try and redeem $55m worth of debt that had been purchased for only $3m. The courts had awarded the vulture fund $15m. A voluntary code to guide vulture funds was not sufficient. Since most of the Vulture fund contracts were governed by English law and the companies used British Courts to sue it was essential to look at what we could do in order to change the law.
DFID and MOD: The obvious case here was the failure to control arms sales. The air traffic control system for Tanzania was a good example.
DFID and Defra: Tackling climate change was the overriding imperative, and industrialised countries’ actions will in reality have more of an impact on developing countries than pledging more aid, or ever market access. It was good that the G8 agreed to a UN-sponsored process on climate change but there was one already, the Kyoto Protocol. Industrialised countries had an obligation to move further and faster. We should be concerned at the failures in DFID’s approach, revealed in the Environmental Audit Committee’s report in July last year. The White Paper was another missed opportunity for DFID to make the environment central to its work. Lynne Featherstone suggested that we needed a Make Poverty History campaign on clime change. She also wanted to see universal climate change proofing in all development programmes.
Corruption: Tackling corruption must be a priority. Firstly, because of the moral imperative, but also in terms of ensuring effective expenditure. Independent monitoring of DfID expenditure would be valuable and necessary but it wouldn’t achieve change. There are some other things that aid donors could do to strengthen the hands of political leaders that needed help in reducing corruption: tighten up procurement rules; tracing the siphoning off of funds; implementing the Convention on Corruption, especially through institution-building. There were also two less direct things that donors could do; channel more funds through local Government and work with Governments to reform public service recruitment. Most important, the UK needed to be squeaky clean itself – which we were not because of BAE. Interestingly, the City itself had said that incidents like this damaged the UK’s standing in the world.
Questions and comments raised during the discussion included:
- Lynne Featherstone was asked about political divides between the parties. She had spoken strongly about decentralisation, transparency, the rule of law and consistency across Government. Did the Liberal Democrats also prioritise multilateralism, rights and equality? The answer was broadly ‘yes’.
- She was also asked to reflect on her experience of working on the governance of London, and what lessons could be learned for development, She said strong strategic vision was essential and that implementation could then be entrusted to subsidiary bodies – in London, local authorities. The vision needed to be long-term, aimed at continuous improvement.
- On governmental structure: DfID has not always delivered on its promises; there was always a reason for failure to act but it was an issue of political will.
- On China: China had an ability to influence Sudan. Equally, the west had an opportunity to influence China with the forthcoming Olympics but we were a little timid in our approach; the UK had a responsibility to lead.
- The balance of global power was shifting and while the UN seemed to be losing prominence there was a real need for an international body to convene high level meetings.
- Other questions covered the role of the International Development Select Committee, and whether it was too kind to the Government, the leadership process in the World Bank, the role of local Government twinning, and issues with budget support.
2005 was heralded as a historic year for international development and an unrivalled opportunity for the UK government to provide leadership at the G8 summit at Gleneagles, through the UK Presidency of the EU, at the MDGs Summit in New York and at the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial.
What was achieved? How can the momentum be sustained and what are the major issues and challenges that lie ahead?
This event is part of a series where key people in political world investigate how the momentum gained in 2005 for international development can be sustained. In this event, Lynne Featherstone MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on International Development, offers her perspective.