Malcolm Bruce, in the Chair
Mr Nigel Evans
Mr Mark Lancaster
Memorandum submitted by Department for International Development
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Gareth Thomas MP, Minister of State, Mr Mark Lowcock, Director General, Country Programmes, Department for International Development, and Mr John Dennis, Head of Zimbabwe Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.
Q50 Chairman: Thank you, Minister, for coming to give evidence. This is the final session on our inquiry into the situation in Zimbabwe. Would you. for the record. introduce your team?
Mr Thomas: Mark Lowcock, who is the Director General for Country Programmes, is on my left, and on my right is John Dennis, who is the Head of the Zimbabwe Desk at the Foreign Office.
Q51 Chairman: Thank you for that. As you know, we visited Zimbabwe a couple or so weeks ago. I will start by saying that we have an extract from an Economist article saying that, since we left, things have deteriorated with strikes. It says things like: the unity government is “as good as dead” and that Harare is “abuzz” with talk of early elections and so forth. What is the political situation? Has it changed that dramatically in the last couple of weeks? Perhaps that would be the first question to ask, and then a couple more will arise from it.
Mr Thomas: I do not think the political situation in Zimbabwe can ever have been described as easy. We have always expected that there would be difficult periods between the formation of the Inclusive Government and eventually free and fair elections taking place. You are obviously aware that there have been reports of both strike action over salaries and of other tensions within the Inclusive Government. Whether or not it leads to elections sooner rather than later, I am not in a position to make that judgment, frankly, and I do not think any of us are in a position to make that judgment. We knew that the period between the formation of the government and elections would be a protracted and difficult period, and events are bearing that out.
Q52 Chairman: Have you seen this article from The Economist?
Mr Thomas: I have not seen that article.
Q53 Chairman: Is that an accurate reflection of the current situation? That is worse than the situation we would have observed three weeks ago. Saying things like the Government of National Unity is “as good as dead.” and “Mr Zuma appears to agree that the unity government has become a sham” but that he does not want any trouble before the World Cup. It says that Mr Tsvangirai has given up all his demands, other than to try to see if he can get space for free and fair elections. There is then this “indigenisation” rule, saying that every company worth more than half a million dollars needs to provide a 51% stake to black Zimbabweans – which is a blatantly racist policy. That, even in relation to three weeks ago, appears to be a serious degradation of the situation.
Mr Thomas: I have no sense that the President of South Africa has given up on the mediation process that SADC have in place and have under way. Our sense, certainly, is that the key players in the Inclusive Government have not given up the sense of the work programme to which the government is committed. As I say, there are tensions at the heart of the Inclusive Government. As we all recognise, political power continues to be very contested. Inevitably, when you have a situation like that there are going to be moments of high tension as well as moments where tensions are relatively lessened. I think we are probably in one of the tenser periods at the moment.
Q54 Chairman: We will explore this in more detail, but for the ordinary people, some of whom at least were getting access to education and health and other services, has the position changed significantly in the last few weeks? Or, in spite of those background difficulties and the strikes, are those services still being delivered?
Mr Thomas: There has been an improvement in the delivery of basic services, as I think you had the chance to see for yourselves when you were in Zimbabwe. Having said that, there are huge challenges still in terms of the delivery of those services. The crisis in terms of access to healthcare which was at the heart of the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe has not gone away, albeit there are more health workers in place. In terms of your specific question, our sense is that basic services are still in place, but they are very basic, and there is still a much longer transition to more recognisable, good quality health, education and other services to take place. The Department staff in Zimbabwe continue to look at what else we can do to improve the quality of those basic services, but that is very much a job in hand, as I suspect you will have seen for yourself when you were there.
Q55 Chairman: The final political point: a call for early elections. That was in the air when we were there. The counter-argument was that you could not possibly have free and fair elections if they were early because the register does not exist – and to the extent that it does exist, it is completely stacked to the benefit of ZANU-PF. Is this call for early elections a realistic call? Is it achievable? Is it desirable?
Mr Thomas: It is difficult to believe that free and fair elections would take place if they took place in the short term. As you say, there are substantial changes that are required, in terms of thinking through issues around voter education, constituency boundaries, the behaviour of the security forces, the role of the diaspora in getting the right to vote. It is difficult to see how free and fair elections could take place in the short term, certainly.
Q56 Chairman: That would imply that you think more time is needed to get those issues straight.
Mr Thomas: Certainly, our view is that what was included in the Global Political Agreement in terms of changes that were going to be needed has not happened as yet. The Electoral Commission is not up and functioning yet, albeit its head has been appointed – although not, I believe, formally confirmed. We would want to see the Electoral Commission being able to go about its work, completing the process of reform that everybody recognises is necessary if free and fair elections are going to take place.
Q57 Chairman: Mr Dennis, do you want to add any comments?
Mr Dennis: I have no comments to add, thank you.
Chairman: Richard Burden.
Q58 Richard Burden: One of the pots of support that DFID has been providing has been to the Office of the Prime Minister. We understand that the purpose of that funding is around enabling that as an office to fulfil its role under the GPA. When we met Prime Minister Tsvangirai over there, he felt that that DFID funding had been particularly useful in fulfilling the obligation to the GPA but he felt more could be done and extra support to his office would be well used, in particular, on the same sort of areas: helping the Prime Minister’s role to lead executive business in parliament and so on. Are there any plans to increase that support?
Mr Thomas: Certainly, if further approaches for assistance were made to us, be it by the Prime Minister or indeed any other ministry that is committed to reform and to a pro-poor agenda, then we would look at them very sympathetically. As you say, our support is designed to enable the Office of the Prime Minister to carry out the sort of normal functions that a head of state’s office would, including oversight of the budget, making sure that the different ministries are following through on the government’s agreed work plan, and helping to resolve disputes between government departments were they to happen. Certainly, that has been the purpose behind granting the assistance that we have done. We also, as you may be aware, granted assistance to a number of other departments to help them carry out the basic functions of their ministries, not least the Ministry of Finance to help them with the budgeting process.
Q59 Richard Burden: In terms of the level of that support, if a case were made that increases in that would be consistent with the objectives, would that be something that we would be prepared to look at?
Mr Thomas: Absolutely. We have increased our aid programme to Zimbabwe over the last 12 months from 49 million to 60 million. Of course, we are looking for the measures that can have most impact most quickly in terms of helping the Zimbabweans get access to better services. Clearly, helping key ministries be better functioning so that they can drive that process, is sensible. When a prime minister or other key minister asks for assistance, of course we always look at that sympathetically. We would have to make a judgment about its relative merit as against other programme asks, but we certainly would not rule it out by any means.
Q60 Richard Burden: What kind of conditionality would be applied if funding were to be extended?
Mr Thomas: We would want to make sure that the assistance that is offered is being used to help promote reform, is being used to help deliver pro-poor services. Those would be the key conditions, as such. “Conditions” is probably the wrong phraseology to use in that sense, in that it has a resonance of the bad old days of Structural Adjustment Programmes. “Conditions” is not a term we would use, in that sense. Certainly, in terms of the decisions we might take about how we allocate aid in future, be it by a minister’s office or for a big programme of humanitarian assistance, we would want to be convinced that it was helping to deliver a pro-poor agenda, that it was going to lead to significant reforms in the way services are delivered. Those would be, if you like, the guiding principles for the decisions we might take.
Q61 Hugh Bayley: I want to ask a question about support for a free and independent media. I should preface my remark by saying that, if any government anywhere in the world funds the media, you need to ensure that that there is editorial independence and no control from the funder, as, for instance, with the BBC World Service. I recall in the run-up to liberation in both Namibia and South Africa there was British funding for the Namibian newspaper, possibly for The Sowetan, and it was seen as important to have some forums which were not under state control disseminating information. The print media in Zimbabwe is very strongly controlled by the state. I wonder what thought both of your Departments have given to ensure that, in the run-up between now and elections, whenever they come, there is fair and unbiased information about electoral registration, about the platforms of relative parties, the achievements of ministers and their ministries. Is that something which your Department should be funding or possibly the Foreign Office should be funding, or both?
Mr Thomas: First, there is no doubt that we would want to see reforms in the way the media operate and are organised to allow more independent activity by different media operations of one sort of another. The return of the BBC is undoubtedly a positive step. Key to wider change in how the media sector operates is the establishment of the media commission as heralded in the GPA. Again, like the Electoral Commission, it has not yet started doing its work, and that will be a key issue for the international community to continue to watch. It is certainly a key issue set out in the GPA where progress is needed. In terms of the run-up to free and fair elections, absolutely. A substantial programme of voter education would be required, the media clearly would have an important role in that. If we were asked to be part of a multi-donor group supporting an election process, of course we would want to consider doing that. Again, where we have been asked to enable elections to take place in a free and fair way, we have provided support in other countries to election funding arrangements. As I say, we would be happy to look at that, if we were asked, when the time came.
Q62 Hugh Bayley: Given that the barriers to the dissemination of information and the history of intimidation are probably greater in rural areas than in urban areas, I would have thought radio was a particularly important medium. Are you satisfied that there is wide access to radio giving independent and unbiased news across the country?
Mr Thomas: It is not just radio where there is an issue; it is the media in general. There is not free and fair access to the media in any way in which any of us in the room would recognise. That is clearly one of the areas, as set out in the GPA, where substantial reform is necessary. Like others in the international community, we would want to see progress in that area, not just so that elections can take place but, also, so that the executive can be held to account regardless of their political affiliation in that sense.
Hugh Bayley: One final question on culture. DFID does not normally make the promotion of culture a priority: you would defer, I suppose, to the British Council or others. We held a reception at the Bookshop Caf and that seemed to me to be an oasis of free expression.
Chairman: From time to time. When it was not being disrupted.
Q63 Hugh Bayley: Relative free expression, yes. There is a strong tradition throughout Africa of music – I think of Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba – permitting things to be said which could not be published in a manifesto. Would either of your Departments – yours through the British Council, Mr Dennis, or DFID – think about providing unusually and atypically support for freedom of expression through culture or arts?
Mr Thomas: I do not know where the Foreign Secretary is on music. In terms of DFID, again it is about the balance and the opportunity cost of providing funding in one particular way as against others. You are right that freedom of expression is hugely important, whether it is through music, through media, through other sources of activity.
Q64 Hugh Bayley: We were given a couple of booklets published by the British Council, which I thought was quite a courageous bit of work.
Mr Thomas: Do not get me wrong, I think the British Council does hugely important work. We are contributing, along with others, in helping to promote freedom of expression through the constitution review process, where UNDP, with our support, have started to fund work that we hope will allow civil society to engage in thinking about the type of constitution and the type of state that Zimbabwe should have in the future. That is one of the few ways at the moment – though it is very imperfect, as you will, I am sure, have had a sense – in which civil society and Zimbabwean citizens can begin to air views and bounce ideas around about the future of their country. In that sense, it is a hugely important process. It is not just us who are funding it – it is being led, as I say, by UNDP – but it is one way in which we are beginning to see some signs of growing freedom of expression.
Chairman: Mark Lancaster.
Q65 Mr Lancaster: Thank you, Chairman. I want to explore slightly beyond Zimbabwe’s boundaries and its relationship with other countries in the region. Of course historically, before 1994, when we saw the end of apartheid, Zimbabwe was very much the centre for the region, but relationships with surrounding countries have deteriorated to a degree, particularly those with South Africa and Botswana because of the Zimbabwe diaspora. What do you think surrounding countries can do to help in assisting the development of Zimbabwe, not least when it comes to finding a permanent political solution?
Mr Thomas: SADC, in that sense, the group of Zimbabwe’s neighbours, has a key role to play and has accepted that role in terms of acting as guarantors of the Global Political Agreement. It is encouraging that there is a mediation process underway. It is a process I welcome but it is very much a process that we need to respect, as SADC leading on that process and fulfilling the role that it has. You asked me specifically about South Africa. South Africa is probably the country that has seen most migration of Zimbabweans who have fled the country or have left the country into South Africa. Zimbabwe is very much a domestic issue for President Zuma and the South African government, as it is an international or a regional issue. You are right to flag the continuing importance of the region for resolving the political tensions in Zimbabwe. It is a process that we are obviously monitoring closely, but SADC is very much in the lead in that process.
Q66 Mr Lancaster: I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I think SADC do have a key role to play, but, given the Chairman’s opening questions and the deterioration at the moment, and notwithstanding that it is right that SADC should take the lead, what more can we do in supporting SADC to try to resolve some of these situations? Or should we not do anything?
Mr Thomas: First, we have to respect the mediation process that President Zuma has put in place. He has appointed a high-level team with significant reputations themselves to lead on that mediation process and, despite moments of high tension, which we all recognise will occur as the GPA process moves forward, we have to respect that mediation effort that President Zuma’s team on behalf of SADC is leading. The other ways in which we can help are more direct, frankly, and that is through our development programme. It is important for the people of Zimbabwe that there has been economic progress, and I think the economic progress is beginning to throw the spotlight on to the lack of political progress that has taken place in Zimbabwe. Through some of the assistance to the Ministry of Finance and through our humanitarian programmes we have played a small role, but an important role, along with others in the international community, in helping the stabilisation of the economy, and in that sense allowing the issues around the political process and the lack of sufficient political reform to be further highlighted, both for SADC to continue to deal with and also for the government to continue to have to deal with.
Q67 Mr Lancaster: Is it quite a difficult tightrope to walk really? For example, when we were there, you will be aware from all the talk in the papers that they had seized on comments that the Foreign Secretary had made in the chamber and they were being spun one way by one party and the other way by the other. Is it quite a difficult tightrope to walk, where on the one hand, everybody in this room, I am sure, wants to see development and progression within Zimbabwe in helping to secure that political process, but, as soon as we are vocal, it can sometimes be counterproductive whilst at the same time trying to support this process? Is that tricky? How do we find that balance between the two?
Mr Thomas: That is not true just of Zimbabwe, it is true of a whole series of relationships that we have with countries. Sometimes, you are right, there is a tightrope to walk.
Q68 Mr Lancaster: Are we getting it right, I suppose is what I am asking?
Mr Thomas: Are we getting it right? I think we are getting the balance right. We have a rising development programme. We do continue to deliver tough messages to all members of the Zimbabwean government, regardless of their political affiliation, and we continue to look to the leadership of both South Africa and SADC more generally to provide that on-the-spot mediation work that they are doing.
Q69 Chairman: Taking The Economist article, it describes SADC as a fairly spineless 15-member regional group. Zimbabwe has already defied their court rulings. They have just adopted another racist agenda which presumably would fall foul of the South Africans. Mr Mugabe’s attitude seems to be: “I don’t recognise SADC. It doesn’t bother me. If it suits me, I will pray them in aid, otherwise I will ignore them.” What can we do to persuade SADC to stand up for what it says it believes in?
Mr Thomas: If SADC was not prepared to play the role that it is playing, we would not have seen President Zuma set up a high-level mediation group, and we would not have seen that mediation group engaging in the very direct way in which it has done. I do think we have to be careful not to respond to some of the bluster from particular politicians in Zimbabwe at the moment and allow the SADC mediation process to continue. On occasion, we deliver blunt messages to all the members of the Zimbabwe government when it is required, and we provide direct assistance to help the journey of reform where it is appropriate to do so. There is also this international effort through SADC, and we have to allow it to continue to do its work and not be put off, if you will forgive me for saying so, by particular articles or particular comments by particular leaders in Zimbabwe.
Chairman: Nigel Evans.
Q70 Mr Evans: Thank you, Chairman. President Zuma is in London next week for a State Visit. Do I assume that yourself and the Foreign Secretary will be meeting with him and, if so, that you will raise the mediation process?
Mr Thomas: It would be pretty odd if he came to the UK and there were not conversations with the Foreign Secretary and the Development Secretary. I am sure there will be a whole series of conversations about affairs in southern Africa, and Zimbabwe will inevitably be one of those areas that gets discussed, but there is a broad agenda for the State Visit, so it is not the only issue that will come up by any means.
Q71 Mr Evans: No, I assume that other things will be spoken about as well, but clearly his important role in Zimbabwe is fully recognised by the world community.
Mr Thomas: Absolutely. We recognise that he is playing a key role and we respect that. The decision that he took to set up a three-member mediation team and to include in that team some people who are extremely well respected in southern African politics was a sign of the seriousness with which he views the situation in Zimbabwe, but those were decisions that he took and we have to respect his leadership, given the importance of South Africa to SADC. Obviously, as I say, we will talk inevitably about Zimbabwe. It is one of the issues that will be on the agenda, but there will be a whole series of other issues that we have to talk through as well.
Q72 Mr Evans: I want to touch on land reform, but before I do that the Chairman referred to The Economist piece about businesses having a 51% stake by black Zimbabweans. Does the Government see that as a racist policy?
Mr Thomas: With all decisions in South Africa, the key test is avoiding explosive language. The concern we would have is more about the impact of particular policies on the economy and on the people of Zimbabwe, so if it makes investment in Zimbabwe less likely, if it reduces the chance of jobs being made available, then of course it has to be a considerable concern. One of the issues, as the Committee will recognise, as to why so many people have left South Africa is the lack of job opportunities, so anything that prevents the private sector from beginning to develop, anything that further discourages private sector investment, is clearly going to be a major concern, but in the end this has to be a decision that Zimbabwe takes for itself.
Q73 Mr Evans: But clearly it is a racist policy. If you say that there are a lot of white Zimbabweans living there and people who are not black Zimbabweans living there, surely they should have an opportunity to be able to be a major partner in whatever businesses exist within a country. If any other country did this sort of thing, we would be banging the table and saying, “This is racist.”
Mr Thomas: We want everybody in Zimbabwe to have equal economic opportunities in that sense, quite clearly, but sometimes there is a way of recognising that a whole series of reforms are required. I appreciate, Mr Evans, that you might want me to use particular phrases to describe a particular set of policies but, with respect, I am not going to do that. The broad message is that there has been progress in terms of the economy. We do not want that progress put at risk. We want the economy to stabilise still further. That is going to require a whole series of political reforms now to take place to create the conditions for longer-term private sector investment to take place.
Q74 Mr Evans: That leads me on to land reform, which is part of the reforms that clearly are essential to get some sort of progress and stability within Zimbabwe. Have you seen the documentary Mugabe and the White African?
Mr Thomas: I have not, no.
Q75 Mr Evans: I would heartily recommend it because our Committee has had an opportunity to see it. It is quite startling exactly what pressures clearly are on white farmers who exist within Zimbabwe. It is an incredible and very moving documentary. Clearly a number of people have had their lands grabbed, basically in a way that is not helping Zimbabwe. One can understand the reason for reform – we talked to the Commercial Farmers Union when we were in Zimbabwe and they can understand the sense for reform too – but something that is not orderly, something that is not structured, and something that leads to so much farmland being taken out of production and, indeed, then handed over to the cronies of politicians or friends within Zimbabwe, clearly is not doing Zimbabwe any favours.
Mr Thomas: I would agree with that. I would go further and say that not only do we condemn the huge number of farm invasions that have taken place, but we have seen terrible human rights abuses committed as part of those invasions which are completely unacceptable, both on an individual basis, the individual rights of the people affected, but also, as you quite rightly describe it, in terms of the devastating impact it has had particularly on the rural agricultural economy. Frankly, “economic madness” would be an appropriate phrase to use to describe that. I hope that that situation will desist. We will continue to make that clear in our comments to the politicians in Zimbabwe. It is clear that we do need to see a land policy that is fair, that is pro-poor, that is transparent, because that will, as you say, help to revive the economy, particularly in rural areas. It would help to revive the agriculture sector. We are a long way from that point at the moment, but we would stand ready, as part of a wider donor group, to help in that process if the political conditions were right. I suspect, frankly, the first step would be for some sort of land audit to take place, if the Inclusive Government were so minded, but, at the moment, we are not seeing signs that there is a willingness by all the parties to the Inclusive Government for a fairer land policy to take place.
Q76 Mr Evans: They seem to be dragging their feet on doing anything about a land audit, but clearly that looks like being a necessary forerunner to making some real progress in that area. You have just mentioned the international community doing its bit, along with the United Kingdom, in trying to bring some sort of commonsense solution to this issue. What do you think the international community and Britain specifically can do in this area?
Mr Thomas: As I have said, we do stand ready to provide assistance, as part of a wider donor group, if we are asked to. As I have said, the first thing would be to conduct an audit of land. Frankly, we would only see a merit in such an audit taking place if we had confidence that the information that such an audit gleaned would be used to promote the type of pro-poor, sensible, transparent land reform policy that most people independent of some of those in Zimbabwe recognise as being necessary to revive the rural economy there. We stand ready to help as part of a wider international effort if the conditions are right. They are not right at the moment.
Q77 Mr Evans: Even with the hyperinflation that the country has gone through, a lot of white farmers have gone to neighbouring African countries, as I understand it, and set up businesses there and are doing rather well. I suspect that Zimbabwe is importing some of the produce now of the former white Zimbabwean farmers – which is clearly insane. Do you think we are getting any closer to the political reality within Zimbabwe that a solution should be found? Or do you think that the mentality is still: no, we wish to right the wrongs of many generations and we do not care about economic or humane consequences of what the policy is that we are now doing in Zimbabwe?
Mr Thomas: Unfortunately, land is one of those issues around which the political power continues to be very heavily contested. As I described in my comments earlier, whilst we have seen some progress in terms of the stabilisation of the economy in Zimbabwe, we have not yet seen the major political changes which the GPA has set out as being necessary. One of the areas where we are continuing to see (to use a diplomatic phrase) “unfortunate activity” is around land. I hope, as the economy has begun to stabilise, that there will be recognition in all parts of the Inclusive Government of a series of further steps that need to be taken to help that economic progress. If those political realities kick in, then perhaps we will get closer to the situation that you describe.
Q78 Hugh Bayley: Do you not think it would be helpful if the British Government were to acknowledge that the terms on which white settlers, many from this country, obtained land at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was not fair and did not follow the rule of law, and that the consequence for many indigenous people was that they were forced on to marginal land and suffered enormously? If we were to say that, then perhaps we would be in a better position to oppose the wrongs of fast-track land reform and to move the debate on to a position you were talking about, of pro-poor, rural development – which is what Zimbabwe clearly needs – rather than a return to settler plantations.
Mr Thomas: With respect, Mr Bayley, I am not sure it would be helpful. I think I should take responsibility for what we as a party have done since we took power in terms of our aid programmes and our foreign policy since 1997. I am not sure we should try to reach back all the time into history to look at what happened a very long time ago. We need to deal – forgive me for saying so – with the realities on the ground at the moment. In that sense, the report that your party group produced was very helpful in trying to put to bed some of the misnomers that have existed around what happened in 1980, but, despite the importance of that report, we should rather think ahead. We should recognise, as Mr Evans has described, the continuing adverse implications of the land policy which particular elements in the government are pursuing from time to time and recognise that there needs to be a comprehensive change in terms of land policy at some time which needs to be led by the government in Zimbabwe, but which, if the conditions were right, we would stand ready to support.
Q79 Hugh Bayley: I think you are right to want to see a land audit, but if British money alongside money from other donors is to go towards establishing land title for poor landless Zimbabweans, how would you see that process unfolding? In other words, how would you select the landless poor? Who would get land? Who would you compensate?
Mr Thomas: Mr Bayley, with respect, I am not going to go down that particular route. That is a process that the government of Zimbabwe has to lead, and I hope it is a government that would be elected in free and fair elections so that it had a clear mandate. I have said that we would be ready to help as part of a series of donors with such an audit if we could be convinced that the information from that audit was going to be used properly. We do not have those conditions at the moment. We do stand ready to help, as I say, but we are not going to put money on the table when, frankly, we know that there is a series of other priorities where we can have a sense that our money were to achieve good outcomes for the poor in Zimbabwe more immediately. But we recognise the importance of the land issue and staff and ministers will be ready to respond if the political conditions changed.
Q80 Chairman: We agreed, anyway, that, whilst we would refer to the land issue, it was not going to be central to our report because it is such a major issue, but I think Mr Bayley has put his finger on some of the background to it. You just mentioned about effective DFID programmes. Indeed, DFID is doing a lot of the co-ordination on the ground and that seems to be welcomed by a number of the NGOs and charities. Two things were said to us: one was that if things improve a lot more donors are likely to come in and it is important that co-ordination is established in advance, otherwise it could get chaotic. That, on the other hand, may be too optimistic in terms of what is likely to happen. But you cannot give the funding directly to the government in most cases. Does that make it much more difficult to co-ordinate? Clearly other donors may not be very keen to hand it over to one lead donor, so what mechanisms do you need to have in place, or what could you do to ensure that the relationship between donors and the government is more direct than it is now? What are the criteria that would need to be met?
Mr Thomas: We are a long way away from having confidence in the systems of the government of Zimbabwe, so it is a long way off before we would want to be putting money directly into the government of Zimbabwe’s budget. Nevertheless, there are a number of ministries which are developing plans which are pro-poor, which are designed to help all communities across Zimbabwe and behind which we feel we can align some of our support, so there are discussions with government about their future plans and we are trying, as you say, to work with other donors where we have confidence in those plans or in the merits of those plans to put our financial assistance to support the achievement of those plans. In terms of the broader issue about donor co-ordination, you are right that donors are co-ordinating in general fairly well, particularly those which are traditional OECD Development Assistance Committee donors. There could still be better co-ordination with the World Bank and others within the UN system. In the longer term, if we can draw some of the non-traditional donors into the donor co-ordination process, players like China, like South Africa, like Brazil, that would clearly be an aspiration that we would want to have, not just in the Zimbabwe context but in a whole series of other developing country contexts too. Also, the donor co-ordination mechanisms are relatively informal at the moment. As you say, if conditions continue to improve and other donors were to come in, then we would need perhaps to formalise some of the donor co-ordination structures that are there at the moment, but, in general, relations between the main donors are very positive, as you describe.
Q81 Chairman: You have increased the programme in recent years in difficult situations. If you were going to put more money in, are you satisfied that the mechanisms you have in place would be effective, or would you need to find different or better ways of delivering it?
Mr Thomas: We are comfortable that the mechanisms we have available at the moment are strong enough and robust enough to ensure that the money that we are spending in Zimbabwe is going to where it should go. Clearly, if you increase your aid programme into a country, you have to think through what implications that has for the particular funding instruments that you use. We work, as you know, with UN agencies and NGOs but also with a number of private sector organisations which manage particular programmes of aid for us. As I say, we have a strong process for monitoring how our money operates. Thus far, we are confident that we have managed to make a significant difference with our money. If we were to increase funding substantially, then clearly we would look at the mechanisms we had available to us.
Chairman: If we are moving on to that, I will bring in John Battle.
Q82 John Battle: In a sense, the real issue is governance, from my experience of the visit we did, in particular the field visit. I would like to express gratitude to the staff at DFID who took us out of Harare to Bulawayo. I went with some of our colleagues to Tsholotsho and I was very encouraged and impressed by work on the ground, not least around the Protracted Relief Programme. All these things have great titles, but I found a programme there to reach to people who were poor, the poorest of the poor, the people who were landless, to try to get back their livelihoods, with a whole range of activities from home care right the way through. I was very, very impressed by that programme. I just want to ask you a couple of questions about it. If that has gone in the right direction, can it be amplified and done elsewhere? The programme has two phases, as I understand it, and we have just entered Phase II. Phase I was going for a few years. I am lost at the scale of it. As I stood in a field in Tsholotsho with those older women, trying out new cultivation techniques for getting more water into their plants so that their fields of maize and cowpeas would look rather healthier than the ones across the way, I asked whether there was just one field or thousands of fields like that. In the DFID letter it says that the programme is reaching over two million poor and vulnerable people, but the plan for Phase II is to reach two million people, and sometimes we include the two million that we have not quite yet reached. I want to know the extent of the programme. Is it really being disseminated across? Do you have just one field in Tsholotsho or do you have programmes elsewhere in the country? Can it be scaled up? I know the programme is working with other donors as well, but is the scaling up happening and is it possible for it to happen? Can you find the land? Can the people respond to it? Can it be a much more mobile programme than just one or two little pivotal projects?
Mr Thomas: I will bring in Mr Lowcock in just a minute, but, first, thank you for your comments about DFID staff in Zimbabwe. If I may, I will to put on record my appreciation for the work they do. They have had to operate in some extremely difficult circumstances in the past.
Q83 John Battle: Indeed.
Mr Thomas: As Members will recognise, we have some of our most talented staff deployed in Zimbabwe, given the importance of the work we are doing there. The Protracted Relief Programme has expanded. It is not just that one field that you were sent to, but let me bring Mr Lowcock in to amplify on that.
Mr Lowcock: It is a long time since I have been in Tsholotsho, so I am glad to hear that particular report. The programme covers 300,000 households, which is about two million people, which is probably 20%.
Q84 John Battle: At present?
Mr Lowcock: At present, yes.
Q85 John Battle: The target for Phase II was to reach two million people.
Mr Lowcock: I think that is the current coverage.
Q86 John Battle: So you are already well ahead.
Mr Lowcock: I think that is the case, Mr Battle, yes.
Q87 John Battle: Good. What about the range of activities? Many of the NGOs praise the programme for its innovation in reaching from home care, and quite personal support, to innovative agricultural techniques, including community participation. While we sometimes focus on, as I said, governance at the government level, the new engagement of the people is the real innovative work that DFID and other NGOs are leading internationally. Is that integration being extended? Is that development of those kinds of participatory tools able to take place? I felt the local officials were not resisting it at the local level, which augured well for the future of Zimbabwe if it could be scaled up from the bottom. Is that the view of the Department in the work that is going on at field level, at floor level?
Mr Thomas: Absolutely. We would want to continue to see that programme scaled up. There is a series of developing countries – and I think of Afghanistan – where we have similar grassroots programmes. We are particularly fortunate in Zimbabwe to have very many committed civil society organisations which are playing, as you describe, a crucial role in helping to identify who needs the support that the PRP programme can give in communities most. As you say, the range of support we are able to give is a particularly important feature of the programme, from the very direct assistance, be it seeds and fertilizers or home care, to some of the more technical assistance, to help NGOs help the individual farmers understand what they have to do to increase their yields. As you say, it is an innovative programme and we have been encouraged by the international community’s response to that programme. As you know, Phase I was very much a programme that DFID initiated. Phase II has had much broader donor support and in that sense has become a proper multi-donor programme.
Q88 John Battle: What struck me as well was that perhaps with the word “farmer” in English we think of some strapping young man who is ultra-fit out there in the fields, but there were women who were older than I am and what impressed me immensely was they have not had the benefit of my education but their knowledge of agriculture and agricultural techniques was incredible. I was quite excited by this new conservation agriculture method and I wonder whether your Department is able to feed that into DFID and some of the climate change discussions and see if those methods can be tested out elsewhere in Africa and South East Asia so that the learning from innovation can be passed on? I thought as well as the process of engagement with the people there may be some good agricultural science in there that could be very helpful as well.
Mr Thomas: Far be it from me to suggest recommendations to the Committee but drawing that particular point out would certainly help us continue to spread some of the lessons from the Zimbabwe programme across our other country programmes. As you quite rightly said, the lessons in terms of climate change, in terms of the particular farming environment, if you like, in which our programme operates does potentially give information that would be useful in a whole series of other developing countries – Sedex – particularly in the climate change context. As you know, one of the priorities that the Secretary of State set out in last year’s White Paper was for us to do more on climate change in developing countries. Learning the lessons from successful programmes such as the PRP where there is a climate element is exactly the type of thing that we need to continue to spread across the Department.
Q89 John Battle: It was noticeable that we were speaking directly with the women, the farmers themselves, not through an intermediary, an agent, the NGO’s leader or even the DFID person. DFID is actually involved in the programming. If I can put it to you this way: I understand DFID now uses managing agents and some of the conversations suggest that using agents can become bureaucratic and can tie up resources of the partner NGOs having to fill in analyses and sometimes the direct link with DFID is not quite there, as it were. Although we had the experience of talking to someone in the field, when the process is taking place on a daily programme basis is the use of managing agents causing delays in the transaction between DFID and the work on the ground? Is it sometimes holding up the provision of DFID support?
Mr Thomas: We need to recognise that there was a substantial difference between Phase 1 of the PRP and Phase 2. Phase 2 is inevitably much more ambitious and involves a series of other donors. In a sense, what you want from your staff is that they make things happen on the ground in terms of developing countries. Our staff initiated this programme and as others come onboard the pressures on those staff and their ability to do other things would inevitably have been much more constricted if they had continued to run the programme direct, so we took the decision to bring in a private sector operator and there was an international tender, as I understand. Inevitably, when you have that sort of change there are one or two bumps along the process. What the head of the DFID office in Zimbabwe is making sure happens is that there are regular, I believe quarterly, meetings with the heads of civil society groups in Zimbabwe to make sure that we continue to have good coordination with civil society. That will clearly be of importance, not just in terms of the PRP programme but also in terms of the other programmes that we have.
Q90 John Battle: I will pass to Andrew in a second. It was expressed to us that there could be a distancing built in. What would worry me is that what seems to be really radical – to use a word, I think it is connected to the word “roots” – about DFID’s work is that ability to reconnect at the ground floor level and get the pro-poor development going on there and then feed it back up through. If you build a layer in that cuts them off again it could undermine some of the good work that has been done. I think Andrew wanted to follow through on this.
Mr Thomas: May I just pick that point up and bring Mr Lowcock in in a second. I think if there was not regular communication with civil society then, you are right, that would be a concern. In order specifically to avoid any suggestion that we are getting remote we wanted to set up a proper process for communicating with key players in civil society, and that is what we have now initiated.
Mr Lowcock: I would just like to put on the record that we have three members of staff in the Harare office who still work primarily on this programme and they are spending less of their time on the routine administration and more of it on the strategic dialogue and, indeed, at least once a month going out to regions like Tsholotsho and seeing what is happening. In terms of the objectives of making sure we stay in touch with the goals and the delivery of those goals, the way we have organised the work is an improvement on the past arrangement.
Q91 Andrew Stunell: If I could just pick up where John finished. First of all I want to say that we saw some excellent on the ground projects which will be the anecdotes and illustrations of my presentation about the work the Department does for a long time. They were very good projects.
Mr Thomas: But.
Q92 Andrew Stunell: The “but” is that there are so many levels between the money going in from the office in Harare to the wheelchair-bound lady with her four chickens in the compound outside Bulawayo that we have paid for. There is the managing agent, there is the Zimbabwe-wide NGO and there is civic society. When we pour 100 in at the top in Harare, how much goes out and buys chickens at the bottom, where does the other money stop on the way and what is the value of that other money on the way in terms of the investment in civic society and so on?
Mr Thomas: I would have to get you the exact breakdown in terms of the portion of what we put into the PRP programme that is taken up, if you like, as administration costs. We need to be careful and to recognise that those different layers, as you have described them, also play a key function in helping us to account for how the money is spent, making sure that money goes to the most needy people in Zimbabwe but also that we have proper accounting processes in place. I can see that as the programme has got bigger certainly one or two people have raised concerns, but I do think it is important that we have that administration element in there so that we do have proper checks and balances. We will very happily provide for the Committee, Mr Stunell, a more detailed explanation of what portion of the PRP programme goes as administrative costs if that would be helpful.
Mr Lowcock: May I make an additional point? As well as the cost of delivering the programme we need to think about what the returns and benefits of the programme are. It costs about $70 per household to provide the assistance we provide under the PRP and the value of the production that is generated by that $70 is about $140, it is a very high rate of return. The alternative to providing some of the inputs that we have provided would be in many cases to provide food aid which would cost us between $700 and $1,000. The opportunity saving of this programme is very high and the rate of return on the programme is also very high. The numbers I have given you reflect the administration costs as well as the costs of the inputs. We honestly think that in terms of value for money this is a very effective programme.
Q93 Chairman: I think it is a very important question that Mr Stunell is asking. As you will know, Minister, we are up against rather tight timetables. The constitutional requirements tell us that we have to have this report done in a very short space of time, so if you are able to give us that breakdown we need it very soon. I think it would be very helpful.
Mr Thomas: Okay. We will see if we can do that.
Q94 Andrew Stunell: I just want to underline that point. To give us real confidence that Mr Lowcock’s presentation is resilient, it would be helpful to have an additional report and note from you.
Mr Thomas: Okay. We will get that to you even quicker than usual.
Q95 Richard Burden: This is really on the same subject. From what we saw, I think we do understand why managing agents are used and the good pressures that lead DFID to go down that road. It is also fair to say that in terms of the projects we saw in Tsholotsho and the engagement of the women from GRM there it appeared to be good. However, I think the uncertainty that some of us still feel is whether we will get to a stage where the tail starts to wag the dog. If the need to have those managing agents is because of their expertise and they get such expertise that they are used not just by DFID but other partners as well, the danger is that they could then become intermediaries that start determining what happens rather than intermediaries that do what is required from the grassroots or reflecting policy. I do not think we are saying that is what is happening but we see there is a danger that could happen. The question really is, is it right that could be a danger and, if so, how do you guard against it?
Mr Thomas: Let me bring Mr Lowcock in in a second. When we take a decision that we want to contract out, if you like, the management of a particular programme there are a whole series of well-established processes which we follow. We are very happy to provide some further information to the Committee if that is what you need to give you some confidence that the tail will not wag the dog in this particular context. There is good donor coordination in Zimbabwe and, as I say, we have some very experienced staff operating in our office, so I do not believe, if you like, the worst case scenario that you are posing would happen. Let me bring Mr Lowcock in to give you some further detail.
Mr Lowcock: I think you are exactly right, Mr Burden, that in principle the problem you have described could be one we face. We have tried to describe how we are mitigating it in this case. The Committee knows very well the staff of the Department is quite stretched. If we had more staff available to us in Zimbabwe my own view would be that are were other things I would rather they did next before more administration and more detailed monitoring and engagement on the PRP. I am satisfied with the approach that we have to the management of the PRP at the moment.
Mr Thomas: Just one other point to make. It is not just us as one donor who plays a role in this, there are a series of other donors who also are funders of the PRP. In a sense, it is a shared process for looking at the administrative cost element and taking decisions about tenders, et cetera, which in that sense I hope gives further confidence and further checks into the system.
Q96 Andrew Stunell: I would like to hear from Mr Lowcock that if he did have those extra staff and it is not what Mr Burden was postulating, what would it be that the extra staff would be dedicated to?
Mr Lowcock: One of the issues that came up in discussions yesterday with the finance minister in Harare was follow-up to a discussion he had in Washington last week when the board of the IMF restored Zimbabwe’s voting rights. He had some discussions with the staff of the IMF about what it would take for Zimbabwe to move towards fuller normalisation of its relations with the international financial institutions, including potentially debt relief. We have a very good economist, who I am sure you met, in our office in Harare, who is one of a rather small number – I think I could count them on my fingers, excluding the thumb, of one hand – of international macroeconomists in Harare at the moment. That is a big prize for Zimbabwe to normalise its relations to that degree, an awful lot has to be done to secure that prize, but that would certainly be an area where it would be worth putting additional professional resources in. We will find ways to do that. That is one example I would give in answer to your question.
Q97 Mr Lancaster: We will move on to health, if we may. The Committee visited two hospitals, the Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo and a hospital in Harare. We saw the maternity unit and we saw programmes associated with HIV/AIDS which Mr Evans will ask questions about in a moment. What we saw was very good. One of the key points that was put across to us, and perhaps we should not be surprised at this given the diaspora and the migration, was that there is a real shortage of skilled health workers, many of whom have gone abroad. For example, in the hospital in Bulawayo they had only recruited approximately 50% of midwives, although there is a midwife shortage in the UK so perhaps that is a bad example. What are we doing to try and recruit and retain health specialist staff in Zimbabwe?
Mr Thomas: One of the things, as I suspect the Committee will be aware of, that has, if you like, continued to focus our attention on the health sector was the cholera crisis in 2008/09 where the crisis was sparked by a long-term lack of investment in water and sanitation, but also the substantial deterioration in the health sector which was caused by many health workers wanting to migrate or simply not coming into work because they were not being paid. What we have done is to ensure that there is an allowance paid directly into health workers’ bank accounts to provide that direct incentive for them to turn up to work and to go about their business. We can provide direct assistance in that way, but in the end there has got to be further economic stabilisation and a further reduction in the political instability that exists in Zimbabwe. We can make a difference in terms of public services, but to get anything like the type of public services that we would recognise here in the UK those broader economic and political changes are going to have to happen. As I say, we are making a difference in terms of the allowances we fund directly into health workers’ bank accounts which has helped recruitment to pick up. We are also helping to fund the supply of crucial drugs. If you look at the government of Zimbabwe’s budget, they simply cannot afford to pay all the salaries of health workers that are required or all the needs for drugs, so it is the donor community which has to plug that gap. It is not just us, it is a number of other donors too that are playing a role.
Q98 Mr Lancaster: You say the government cannot really afford to pay the wages, so given that we have strikes at the moment in Zimbabwe, and I think they are currently paid $200 a month and they are demanding $500, is that realistic? What effect would that have? What can we do?
Mr Thomas: One of the things we can do is not to get involved in what is a conversation that has to take place between those workers themselves with their own government. What we can do, as I have said, is to respond to the requests that we have had from the government, the Inclusive Government, to provide support to the health sector, and through the continuation of these allowances that is what we are doing and by making further money available to target, for example, maternal health and to continue our different aid programmes.
Q99 Mr Lancaster: Workers’ pay and drugs to one side, I suppose the other key element to try to improve the health structure in Zimbabwe will be infrastructure. I know that we are investing in six hospitals in Zimbabwe at the moment. Can you perhaps outline what the aims of that programme are and whether or not you intend to increase it, or how you see it us moving forward in that area?
Mr Thomas: Obviously we want to move from, if you like, the crisis phase of the health support to getting a longer term plan in place for the health sector, one that can tackle all the different health challenges that the people of Zimbabwe face. I would not want to underestimate to you the scale of the challenge that there still is, we are still in a situation where I think substantial humanitarian assistance will have to be provided for Zimbabwe. The scope to dramatically expand our health programme, whilst I think it is there, is perhaps more limited than we would like. You are right, we have to continue to invest in infrastructure but continue to make sure there are health workers in place and that those health workers are being paid and, crucially, that the basic drugs and other supplies that they need to go about their business are in place. If you like, the next ambition that we have is to try to reduce maternal and child mortality where there has been a substantial deterioration in Zimbabwe more recently. We have recently committed some 25 million over the next five years to help people continue to get better access to family planning services, to antenatal care, to obstetric services and newborn care services. If you like, that is the next iteration of our support to the health sector.
Q100 Mr Evans: Another health subject is HIV/AIDS, which you have already touched on. We all had an opportunity to see some of the projects involved with that and I think we were all impressed with what we saw. It is tremendous if one considers that in parts of Zimbabwe some of the aid is somewhat thin. Certainly where we were in Bulawayo and Harare we saw some tremendous projects, so I was very pleased with that, but still last year 140,000 people died in Zimbabwe of AIDS. Compared to other countries, Zambia for instance, where the amount of money spent is way above, I think it is US$187 per person as opposed to Zimbabwe where it is $4, why is there such a staggering disparity?
Mr Thomas: I think often the disparity, frankly, relates to the political situation in Zimbabwe and the ability for the international community to spend money effectively to tackle HIV/AIDS. With our programmes on the health sector we have wanted to get to a stage where other players in the international donor community would support it. The Global Fund are now funding the health workers’ support programme. As I say, I think as the economic situation stabilises there will be more opportunities to do more on healthcare, of which HIV/AIDS will continue to be a priority for ministers. Nevertheless, I think the UK can take some pride in the success that there has been, notwithstanding the significant levels of death because of AIDS that there is in Zimbabwe, for the fact that it has not been even higher. HIV prevalence has come down, it has halved over the last ten years, and our aid into the sector over that period has been absolutely pivotal to helping those who wanted to make a difference in this area in Zimbabwe be able to do so.
Q101 Mr Evans: I have got no doubts about that whatsoever. We went to see one of the hospitals there where the storeroom had eight months’ worth of supply whereas two years ago they would have had nothing.
Mr Thomas: That is right.
Q102 Mr Evans: Getting the capacity and getting those drugs out into the villages and into the more rural areas is clearly something that needs to be done. Within the infrastructure that exists there, are we able to target some of the high risk groups like sex workers, children and, indeed, gays and lesbians?
Mr Thomas: We have a behaviour change communications programme which is run by an organisation, Population Services International, who are very well established in this field who are doing hugely important work in terms of getting those prevention messages out on AIDS. There is a whole programme of work around voluntary counselling and testing which has also been very important in making a difference. I am sure the Committee will be familiar with the way in which those who have migrated from Zimbabwe potentially would not get access to information about how to avoid becoming HIV positive,Post published in: News