Red Alert

Archive for the ‘overseas aid’ Category

Aung San Suu Kyi to NZ – was anybody listening?

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

What was Aung San Suu Kyi’s word to the west during her recent European tour? “Yes – we welcome foreign investment, but ethical investment and people-centred aid please.” Did John Key hear any of this before he swanned off for another photo opp?

His post-Burma visit interview with Audrey Young was a lesson in how to learn nothing from one of the world’s greatest and most principled democratic leaders. It was like watching a child trying to speak adult language. And as for the Boy’s Own Annual approach to Foreign Affairs -  of the East Asia Summit: “It was a pretty interesting meeting just generally….I know…all these guys. I’ve met them lots now” – one wonders what Key thinks he is there for. And did he not know how ASSK might react to the name Myanmar?

Key announced $7 million in aid to go to Burma – $1 million in humanitarian aid to Rakhine state and $6 million in agricultural reforms. I blogged positively on the fact that he announced aid at all. But Key’s and National’s obsession with Foreign Affairs being reduced to trade shone through his announcement as did his disregard for everything for which ASSK stands – democracy, poverty elimination, reliable and accessible health care, accountable structures, rule of law, credible governance, anti-corruption.

Contrast Key with Obama’s brave and principled leadership shown in his speech at the University of Yangon: “Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it’s far more likely that your basic needs will be met. And that’s why reform must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and those who live without electricity or water.”

$6 million in agricultural reform assistance is another way of saying how can the NZ government make life easy for our biggest company, Fonterra? Somewhere down the track, that may be an appropriate question. Right now, instead of the developed nations circling like vultures over the next and possibly last untapped market in the world, why aren’t we concentrating on what Burma needs in order to get its people back on their feet so they can trade their riches of oil, gas, gems such as rubies and other minerals, as well as their fertile land, on their own terms and for the benefit of their people?

What business needs to flourish is the rule of law, transparency, a lack of corruption and democratic accountability. US businesses are not lining up to flood into Burma yet because they know the banking system is embryonic and capricious (crisp US bills only please, no bank accounts for foreigners, cash only). Check out what US businesses are saying here.

But to get to that stage, Burma will need health care and education. Our UnionAID programme training young Burmese leaders ($175,000!) is more likely to be effective in the long term than opportunities for NZ businesses. Getting some of the basics such as human rights, health care and education sorted are the priorities, not laying the ground for us to do well out of Burma in the future. Journos can see that. A real leader would see that.


Aid to Burma

Posted by on November 23rd, 2012

I am pleased that John Key has announced $7million in aid funding is to go to Burma, during his visit to that emerging country today. $1 million is to go to the strife-torn province of Rakhine in the western part of the country, where the Muslim Rohingya people remain stateless and in the most appalling need of aid and humanitarian support. I am pleased Key has been able to utter the words ‘human rights’ in Burma – how many decades of tyranny does it take for him to recognise that humans rights abuses exist?? – because he didn’t seem to be able to do so in Cambodia.

I was in Burma two weeks ago with the GAVI Alliance which distributes vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. 650,000 children will receive a new pentavaccine (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and influenza B) in the next 6 months and 1.5 million children will get their second measles vaccination in the next 12 months. I saw it starting in poor, rural villages outside of Nya Pyi Taw. NZ doesn’t contribute to that. That would be a better to place to start than agricultural development in my view. Fonterra can be left to do that, because it will for its own interests – government aid money could more usefully go to the primary needs for health care for the next generation.

I came away from Burma convinced that the new President and some of his Ministers are indeed committed to reform. I hold more hope for the progress of democracy than I have ever had before. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take her rightful place as the elected leader of Burma in my lifetime – something that has felt like a distant dream for such a long time.  It is time for NZ to stand alongside the real efforts being made to lift Burma out of poverty and deprivation. I know agricultural reform can help there. I don’t deny that. But health care for women and babies is always a good investment in the long term.

I just hope that Key also decides to continue putting $175,000 into a valuable NZ-based UnionAid programme which takes 6 young Burmese leaders every year and gives them English language training at VUW and exposure to democratic structures and community organisations. It is a small investment with big results. I met with some of these interns while I was in Yangon. They are in a think tank advising the President on monetary policy, taxation, fiscal policy and writing of budgets. They are working for the ILO on its Freedom of Association project setting up trade unions under our own Ross Wilson, or on training others for leadership roles. It would be a shame if Murray McCully axed this small but significant programme when he should be doubling it. He is considering axing it apparently because one of the interns refused to go home last time and was granted asylum by Immigration NZ. Fix the process, Murray. Don’t axe the programme.

And by the way, Mr Key, don’t call it Myanmar in front of ASSK. That was an embarrassment you could have avoided with a little thought or experience.


Hungry for change

Posted by on September 26th, 2012

Last time I took part in an Oxfam fundraising campaign, the 100 km Trailwalker,  I had to be nursed back to life afterwards. At most Living Below the Line this week threatens a mild headache from caffeine withdrawal. More manageable, and a small price to pay for supporting the excellent work of the leading anti-poverty NGOs.

A team of Labour MPs has signed up to live Monday-Friday this week on $2.25 a day to support the campaign – $2.25 being the World Bank’s extreme poverty line converted to NZ dollars. It is good having a team for moral support – we divided up the budget and menu and are sharing some meals. (Pictured in my office eating potato and spinach curry.)

One of the most memorable times from my 15 years with Oxfam pre-politics was a visit to the highlands of northern Ethiopia during a drought in 1997. I took part in a mission looking at micro-finance and relief work by a local NGO using funds donated by New Zealanders. I talked with farmers scratching a living from land that looked like a desert to me. I spoke with farmers who had walked off the land and needed food aid to survive, and others who had also walked off the land but with loans from the micro-finance fund had set up small businesses including a bar, a furniture workshop and a chicken farm.

Ordinary people surviving day to day against the odds.

The thing about taking part in a campaign like Living Below The Line is that the small discomfort is a constant reminder over 5 days of how people in poverty face hunger, and what a debilitating thing that must be.  It’s also a way to support the grassroots development work and anti-poverty advocacy of these great NGOs.

You can donate to support their work by sponsoring any of us: Grant Robertson, David Parker, Jacinda Ardern, Annette King, Phil Twyford.


Let’s rid the world of landmines!

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Landmines are a dangerous legacy of too many conflicts and must be banned world-wide. It is 13 years since the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines became international binding law, yet there are countries including Cambodia and Colombia where people continue to be killed and maimed by landmines.

Today, 4 April, is a day of international action to promote the Mine Ban Treaty and to apply more pressure to cleaning up those parts of the world where landmines continue to wreak havoc. 80 per cent of the world’s countries have banned landmines and millions of mines have been removed from the ground and destroyed, but there is still more to do. The Lend Your Leg video currently on YouTube is a good illustration of this (link above). New Zealand has started the international action today with a Lend Your Leg activity on the steps of Parliament. MPs have rolled up their trousers to ‘Lend Your Leg’ to the campaign. Even I, who will go to almost any lengths usually NOT to reveal my legs, was moved to participate and roll up my trousers for the occasion!

We may no longer have a Minister for Disarmament in New Zealand, but we still have people who care about these issues and care about New Zealand’s performance on them internationally.


Foreign Affairs = more than trade

Posted by on October 21st, 2011

You could be forgiven for thinking that our only interest in other countries under this government, is how much money we can make out of them.

Yesterday, at an NZIIA seminar at Victoria University, I released our Foreign Affairs policy. MurrayMcCully had given the opening speech and every country or region he mentioned was couched in terms of our Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with them, an emerging FTA with them, the desirability of an FTA or other bilateral economic agreement with them and how well we were doing because of them.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a great supporter of FTAs as long as we don’t concede our sovereignty and they can be negotiated in a more open way which engages the non-government sector as well. But for Labour, Foreign Affairs is also about peace, security, conflict resolution, disarmament, multilateralism, human rights, climate change, environmental protection and restoration, disaster relief, good governance and democratic representation, and most importantly, people to people exchanges and relationships.

Without a viable and secure planet, all the global supply chains you can think of count for nothing.

Our independent foreign policy is a source of great pride for us. It has been most enhanced in our history by great Labour Prime Ministers: Peter Fraser, Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. We will build on that tradition.

We will bring human rights and a commitment to multilateral international decision-making back to the fore again. They have been languishing on the back burner under the National government.

Have a look at the policy – comments are welcomed.

Oh – and for those who wonder why there is no mention of Afghanistan – that is simply because our position on that is well known, has been well reported and has been the same since late 2005. In case you have missed it (!) : Labour would not have sent the fourth rotation of SAS troops back to Afghanistan. The SAS should no longer be deployed there. A Labour government will bring them home. We will progressively withdraw our Provincial Reconstruction Team as well, in an exit strategy worked out in consultation with other forces with whom we are working in Bamyan. The fight can only be won in Afghanistan if the government there wins the hearts and minds of the people. That hasn’t happened. Time to come home.


Release of Foreign Affairs policy pending

Posted by on October 20th, 2011

I will be releasing Labour’s Foreign Affairs policy this afternoon at 2pm. It will include our role in the world and particularly in the Pacific, as well as our views on disarmament, human rights, the United Nations and MFAT reform. I released our Overseas Development Assistance policy separately two weeks ago – www.ownourfuture.co.nz/overseas-development-assistance.

I will post a more expansive blog later today.


Release of Overseas Aid policy

Posted by on October 11th, 2011

Today I released our Overseas Development Assistance policy. This is one point of distinct difference we have from the Nats in the Foreign Affairs basket of interests and issues. The points are simple:

1. Restore poverty elimination as the primary focus of overseas aid, as opposed to economic development, as the Nats have prioritised. Get back on board with achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially here in the Pacific, and that includes education to improve literacy, access to health services like maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, sexual and reproductive health programmes.  Stop handing aid dollars out to business friends without tender, so they can line their own pockets AND feel good about themselves at the same time.

2. Redevelop a strategic partnership with the NGO sector and develop best practice again, as we were known for previously. If there are inefficiencies in aid delivery through NGOs, let’s sort that out, but let’s not alienate some of our experts by adopting McCully’s “4 legs good, 2 legs bad” approach to the sector. In other words, if it comes out of the private sector, it must be good. If it comes out of the not for profit or, god forbid, the public sector, it must be bad.

3. We will set up NZAID with semi-autonomous status, taken back out of MFAT and based on sound principles of development analysis and research. Stop the blurring of the boundaries between aid and foreign policy objectives where it is too easy to slip into chequebook diplomacy.

4. We will build on our experience in reconstruction and peace-making to develop a specialist capability in mediation and conflict resolution.

Those are the main points. You can see the whole thing here. Comments welcome.


Aid to Libya – what about the Horn of Africa?

Posted by on August 26th, 2011

A few days ago, John Key announced that NZ would be giving “millions” to the National Transitional Council representing the rebels in Libya, ahead of UN recognition of the NTC and any request from them for such aid.

What the hell is this about? Libya is an oil-rich country. The UN is right now moving to lift the freeze on Libyan assets to the tune of $US1.5 billion, so why does the NTC need money from NZ? Who is pulling Key’s strings here? And did he tell his Foreign Affairs Minister? Where is the money coming from? Are we going to cut even more of the aid programmes in the Pacific to divert money to a country which doesn’t need it? These questions need answering.

Don’t get me wrong – I think we should assist Libya as it moves towards democracy, even if it is not as we know it. They will need assistance by way of training people in the maintenance of the rule of law, the establishment of accountable public structures which are transparent to the people, governance matters, etc. That’s where we can help.

And while John Key is distributing unnecessary largesse to an organisation which has yet to get full international recognition, Murray McCully has been dragging his heels in disbursing aid promised 6 weeks ago to the relief effort in the Horn of Africa. Children are dying by the thousands from the worst drought in 20 years and a call on our aid budget in this respect is legitimate and compelled by any humanitarian impulse.

But McCully has dicked about with disbursing this money – only just an hour or two ago, putting out a release that says he has made the decision on which NGOs will get the $1million promised 6 weeks ago. Provoked by bad press. How principled. What about the $1million promised to the World Food Programme? When did that get paid, if it has been?

Not good enough, Murray.


Of troughs and trotters……

Posted by on June 24th, 2011

On Wednesday evening, the night before examining Murray McCully over the MFAT estimates at select committee, I received the answers to my raft of questions. There is one Annex of which people should avail themselves. It is the spreadsheet of consultants and contractors and is accessible here. Have a look and see for yourself. Page 39 for starters, but there is plenty of interesting reading there.

One name stood out for me – Charles Finny, formerly of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, now of Saunders Unsworth. Paid $54,135 for work done between 1 November and 24 December 2010. Nice pay rate for 2 months’ work! I’m sure he wouldn’t have had any sick days – oh, that’s right, he’s a bloke. No uterus, no sick days.

Charles Finny’s contract was not put out for tender. Why not? At a rate of $27,000 a month, you’d think that might be tendered. McCully wasn’t aware of the details, he said, but knew Finny had the requisite skills.  There are lots more questions to ask here – like, at what threshold does a requirement to tender kick in, etc., etc. McCully had given another gift to one of his mates.

Add that to: $75k contract to former Nat MP, Mark Blumsky for development work in Niue (requisite skills – the man used to be a shoe salesman?); current Nat MP Allan Peachey being made  Special Envoy with the permission of the PM no less, to go round the Pacific and talk about education (is that what he was elected by the good people of Tamaki to do?); current Nat MP John Hayes, appointed to chair a committee which disburses money to aid NGOs (a committee he might have to interrogate as Chair of the Foreign Affairs select committee?).

These men might all be good blokes, but how would anyone know? They haven’t been subjected to any form of competition. I thought the Nats liked competition. Nope? They just like extra perks and income. This is taxpayers’ money, not McCully’s personal slush fund.


What about taking a leaf out of Hague’s book, Key?

Posted by on January 21st, 2011

William Hague has been here for 2 days and leaves this evening. He is the UK Foreign Affairs Secretary and he has been paying NZ the first bilateral visit of a Foreign Affairs Secretary for perhaps 30 years. He’s a clever bloke. I remember him as the incoming Leader of the Opposition in 1997 when I was in Britain and Tony Blair romped in. He got a terrible pasting from the media (as Leaders of the Opposition do….) but has turned out to be a very significant political presence in the Tory front bench in Opposition and now in the UK Cabinet.

I can’t fault his principled approach to Foreign Affairs. He has been forthright about human rights, calling it the conscience of Foreign Affairs. He has spoken out about the threatened stoning of Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran, for alleged adultery. Our government said nothing. He was quick to call the Burmese elections a charade and prompt to support Aung San Suu Kyi’s release - our government was virtually mute on these events, until pressed.

He has maintained overseas aid commitments, despite the biting impact of the recession in Britain, pledging concretely to save the lives of 50,000 mothers and a quarter of a million babies around the neediest parts of the world by 2015, in pursuit of the Millenium Development Goals.  Our government turns overseas aid into private sector gains because in their view, getting the private sector to provide economic growth is the beginning and end of development assistance. Millenium Development Goals are ignored.

Hague has also committed to getting to .7% of GDP in aid by 2013 – an extraordinary commitment in these times of government cuts. We only got half way to that in the good times at .35%. I can’t see this government prioritising it any higher.

He promotes the participation of women in peacebuilding  negotiations and reconciliation teams in regions of conflict, in line with UN resolution 1325. Our government couldn’t give a toss.

Hague sees an effective global response to climate change as the thing to underpin security and prosperity. Our government promotes an Emissions Trading Scheme which is a laughing stock.

I hope William Hague and Murray McCully had a good talk or two. They are both conservatives after all. We haven’t done what the UK tells us to for years and nor should we. But there is no harm in learning from the efforts of people with whom we have a great deal in common.


Meddling Murray McCully

Posted by on December 17th, 2010

Mismanagement and meddling by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has disrupted the humanitarian work of dozens of New Zealand NGOs.

Marie McNicholas of Newsroom:

Aid agencies waiting on the first tranche from a new $21 million Sustainable Development Fund have learnt nearly 60 percent of the applications have been rejected.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully abruptly announced in April that the fund would replace existing community development funding, but a promised September decision on the new allocations has run nearly three months late.

Projects to have missed out are in some the world’s poorest countries from Africa through Asia and the Pacific.

The decision has dealt a blow to charities which have struggled all year to understand what was required under the new funding criteria, and several report bewilderment and shock at the outcome.

Caritas chief executive Mike Smith has described it as  fiasco, with the agency now forced to lay off staff and cut funding to aid projects in the week before Christmas.

New Zealand, like most aid donors, channels some of its aid budget through NGOs. Because they rely on volunteers NGOs are extremely cost effective. And by matching funds raised from New Zealand donations this funding encourages Kiwis to give out of their own pockets. The  former scheme had been running for a couple of decades, had stringent accountability standards, had been praised by successive evaluations and cited by the Auditor General as a model for funding NGOs.

Nevertheless Murray knows best, and he wanted a new scheme that was open to the private sector, and focused on his new mantra of private sector economic development. It has been a chapter of errors in the following months with successive delays.

We are almost halfway through the financial year and until a week ago, none of the budgeted $21 million had been disbursed. Last year at this point $18 million had been spent. This means aid projects relying on commitments of New Zealand funding have been left hanging.

McNicholas reports the NGOs saying Mr McCully’s ministry keeps changing the goal posts, that the process has been marred by delays, poor communication and breaches of the spirit of partnership through which such aid programmes have been delivered successfully for years.

Last month I am told the Minister threw a fit when the first batch of projects was sent up to his office. He threw them back at officials and threatened to have the running of the scheme contracted out.

It is a fiasco. And it is a direct result of the Minister’s meddling and micro-management of the half-billion dollar overseas aid programme.

This is the Minister who personally intervened to slash the funding to the aid NGOs’ umbrella organisation Council for International Development causing 10 staff to be laid off, and to the excellent Wellington-based Global Focus development education centre which is facing closure.

Read on for Marie McNicholas’ full story:

(more…)


What are you doing in this picture?

Posted by on December 8th, 2010

WRAP demo outside Parliament

MPs from Labour, the Greens and National gathered on the forecourt today to stand in solidarity with women in the Pacific who face violence. The action was organised by the NGO coalition Women’s Rights and Advocacy in the Pacific (WRAP).  It is an important issue, and very valuable to have some cross-party consensus behind it. But my question for National MPs who were there today, very keen to get in the press photos, is this:  What are you doing about Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully’s cuts to the funding of human rights organisations and centres in Tonga and Vanuatu that work on violence against women?


What is that choking sound?

Posted by on November 16th, 2010

Under National, New Zealand’s international development aid has lurched to the right.  Our Government’s overseas aid agency NZAID was dissolved back into the foreign ministry, and Foreign Minister Murray McCully has made economic development the goal rather than it being a means to achieve poverty reduction. He is re-focusing the aid programme around economic development and can hardly conceal his contempt for the UN Millenium Development Goals.

So it was mildly amusing to see Mr McCully and Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd speak at a joint press conference today after their meeting in Canberra. Mr McCully said they spent “a lot of time talking about our joint and shared responsibilities within this region”. And “…because we’re the dominant providers of development assistance within the region, that means we have to set the pace and set the example.”

In answer to a question from an Australian journalist Mr Rudd explained Australia’s policy on aid which to be fair is mainstream among most OECD countries. It’s just quite a long way from the current New Zealand policy:

Remember our organising principle here is reducing poverty. That is the organising principle of the Millennium Development Goals, reducing poverty by effective investment in primary healthcare, effective investment in universal primary education and effective investment in the basic levels of governance and infrastructure necessary for growth to occur.

I think the choking sound in the background must have been Mr McCully.


Flights of fancy

Posted by on November 12th, 2010

Michael Field reports the Samoan PM Tuilaepa Sailele saying Air New Zealand’s decision to end its Los Angeles-Apia service is stupid. The flight brings much-needed American tourists to Samoa and Tonga but Air New Zealand says the run is not economic. New Zealand has been subsidising the route with aid funds for the last few years. Tonga has said it no longer wants its aid money from New Zealand to subsidise the flight so the deal is off.

It raises some interesting questions about our development aid. The last Labour Government initiated the subsidy as a stop-gap measure to protect the tourism industries in Samoa and Tonga, with the intention of carrying out cost-benefit and economic impact analysis. But the National Government has rolled the subsidy over for another two years, spending several million dollars and I’d be very interested to know whether they have done the cost-benefit sums.

Development blogger Terence Wood has this to say in an interesting post on Murray McCully’s changes to the aid programme:

… the Minister has selected some rather questionable new aid projects for funding. A good example being the decision to subsidise Air New Zealand flights from Samoa and Cook Islands to Los Angeles (discussed here). The subsidy might have development benefits – linking relatively isolated island states to markets – or it might not. And, even if it does have development benefits the money devoted to it might be more effective elsewhere. The decision to subsidise was of the type that requires careful analysis before being acted on. And yet there’s no evidence that such analysis fed into the Minister’s decision. More worryingly still, the subsidy was awarded directly to Air New Zealand instead of through the best-practice approach: to put the services out to tender and see which of the various airlines servicing the region could deliver best value for money. Which makes the whole affair seem remarkably like corporate welfare.

Murry McCully is very keen on spending aid dollars to promote economic development but I am yet to see much rigour when it comes to careful economic or social impact analysis. Without it, you are left with trickle down economics. Which is not fair on the taxpayer or the people our development aid is supposed to be helping.


Farewell to Hillary – what now?

Posted by on November 7th, 2010

Well, Hillary Rodham Clinton has gone now and we are left with the analysis and debriefing apparent in both The Nation and Q&A today on television. Those who got interviews are crowing and those who shook her hand (like me) are revelling in the moment.

John Key, I presume, is right now reading his Cabinet papers for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet will, I presume, do its own stocktake of Secretary Clinton’s visit and Murray McCully will lead the discussion on the list of initiatives to pursue, in priority order.  Is John Key reading his papers? Will the Cabinet have anything to discuss except who got their photo taken with her?

I despair of John Key’s leadership skills – he seemed overawed and intimidated by Clinton; I didn’t hear him make one utterance which sounded like it was informed by a briefing paper or was based on any recognisable principle for NZ’s relationship with the US; did he even learn any lines MFAT gave him? I worry that we have just witnessed this country’s biggest lost opportunity in recent times.

Fortunately, we have capable diplomats and officials who can turn it into a success for which Key can later take the credit.

I am keen to pursue a list of projects in order of priority, on which the US and NZ can work jointly to great effect.  That can be done from Opposition, believe me. Oh, and here is my own pic for the scrapbook – I think she still had a hand after I had finished squishing it!

Hillary Clinton meets the Opposition - 4 Nov 10


Murray McCully loves the MDGS. Not.

Posted by on September 22nd, 2010

God does have a sense of humour. Murray McCully rocking up to the United Nations in New York to give a speech on the Millenium Development Goals is proof.

He is the John Bolton of New Zealand foreign policy. Remember Bolton? He was George W. Bush’s Ambassador to the United Nations, chosen because of his visceral dislike of the UN.

The MDGs are everything Mr McCully hates: it’s the UN, multilateralism, ending poverty, gender, HIV/AIDs, the environment and all that stuff.

But to his credit our Foreign Minister turned up. Only once did a little of the real Murray slip out when he said:

I share the optimism of those who believe we can make better, faster progress. But it will not be because we have established new committees, or new procedures, developed new slogans or new acronyms.

That’s McCully-speak for ‘I’m not like you UN types. I spend my aid money on roads and bridges and airlines and tourism.’

In the last eighteen months Mr McCully has switched the focus of New Zealand’s aid programme from lifting people out of poverty to promoting economic development.  It is odd because you’d think that economic development would simply be the means to reducing poverty. But not in Murray’s world. It has become an end itself.

And the odd thing is, that while the Minister’s desire to spend Kiwi aid dollars on airlines, infrastructure and tourism might stimulate private sector-led economic growth, he doesn’t seem to have given much thought to who will benefit, or whether it is the highest priority. Will the benefits of growth trickle down to the 85% of Pacific Islanders who live from subsistence farming or will they just line the pockets of the elites?

The Pacific is one of only two parts of the world falling behind in progress towards the Millenium Development Goals. The other is Sub-Saharan Africa. In Papua New Guinea mothers are dying in childbirth at a rate similar to Afghanistan. That is 80 times more than New Zealand. The Minister had nothing to say about how his economic development focus would reduce these needless deaths.

Without investing in health and education, the poor won’t be able to take advantage of any opportunities from economic growth. Mr McCully is so ideologically blinkered that he thinks training midwives or getting kids into school is supporting ‘bloated bureaucracy’.

He is particularly hostile to the idea of aid promoting good governance.  But then, a Minister who hands out lucrative contracts to his political cronies without putting them to tender, wouldn’t really be in a position to talk to Pacific governments about good governance, would he?


Morale suffers while McCully makes the cuts

Posted by on September 2nd, 2010

A telling excerpt from a document released under the Official Information Act quotes Foreign Affairs CEO John Allen telling staff:

I understand the impact on morale of the challenges that staff have faced in the past year. I understand that the decisions that have been made are tough and they impact on people, on organisational identity, and on staff morale. It is legitimate for people to have strong feelings and views on these issues. Given that these decisions are unpopular and impact on morale then why have they been made? Cabinet mandated a change from a stand alone agency to closer integration with the Ministry….Allen goes on to explain the changes.

Morale is low at the aid programme formerly known as NZAID.  In what was once an energetic and innovative organisation staff now spend their time trying to stay out of the Minister’s way and repackaging work so it fits within the Minister’s narrow prescription for economic development.

They are embarrassed by his continuing campaign against the NGOs.  By all but ending the $900,000 a year funding to the NGO umbrella group Council for International Development. By changes to the funding arrangements for NGO projects made without consultation. And by the recent cut to the excellent Wellington-based Global Focus which provides information resources on development issues.

The latest casualty of the Minister’s red pen is a Pacific regional programme doing village-based disaster risk-reduction work in four countries. It helps communities reduce the impact of cyclones, floods and tsunamis through preparedness training and working with local government. It is run by the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific out of Suva.

The three-year $2.5 million effort was set up in close collaboration with NZAID, with a commitment of $500,000 a year from New Zealand. McCully has pulled the funding after one year, with no assessment of its impact.

No wonder MFAT aid staff are suffering from low morale. They are the ones who have to deliver this sort of news.


Keeping the peace

Posted by on August 25th, 2010

Kiwi cops play an increasingly important role in our foreign policy. They are working alongside diplomats, aid workers and peacekeepers in Afghanistan, Timor Leste, Bougainville (in PNG), Tonga, and in the Solomon Islands.

I was in the Solomons recently in a UN election observer team and caught up with some of the 35 New Zealanders deployed there on six month stints. They are part of a bold experiment in post-conflict state building, helping the Solomons get back on its feet after years of civil conflict.

Keeping citizens safe is the first duty of the state but in 1999-2003 things went bad in the Solomons. Ethnic tensions turned violent and the local police force splintered along ethnic lines with some personnel joining in the fighting. RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, was deployed in 2003 with police and defence personnel from NZ, Australia and other Pacific nations charged with getting rid of the guns and keeping the peace.

The police-led mission was remarkably successful at restoring order. However the regional aid effort has found it more difficult to make progress in getting the economy growing or strengthening government.  As well as contributing police, New Zealand is leading an excellent multi-donor aid programme helping rebuild the country’s primary education system.

The regional mission is unusual: invited in by the Solomon Islands Parliament but exercising an extraordinary level of influence on the government with foreign advisers in key line ministries. Few people in the Solomons, locals or expats, think RAMSI could pull out tomorrow without the country facing problems. Yet Solomon Islanders rightly want to control their own destiny, and the donors don’t want to keep pouring such large amounts of aid in indefinitely.

Meanwhile on the streets of Honiara, Kiwi police are backing up the local police, advising mostly and taking action when needed. The Kiwis I spoke to were up for the job and full of  sympathy for their counterparts but told me how lack of basic equipment makes it difficult for Solomon Islands police to do their job. How would you feel being asked to sort out crime incidents without vehicles, boats, radios, truncheons or handcuffs?

I saw RAMSI police on the streets of Honiara, and on the outer islands. I was impressed by the way they went about their work and got on with the local community. The Solomons faces hard development challenges and it is not clear how soon its regional partners will be able to withdraw with confidence.  In the mean time our police are great ambassadors and helping deliver what Solomon Islanders want most: peace and security.

Kiwi cops in Solomon IslandsKiwi cops serving with the Regional Assistance Mission: (from left) Pauline Jones, Dean O’Connor, Brendan Thomson, PT, Michelle Seager, Aaron Bunker.


This American Life

Posted by on June 6th, 2010

One of the things I miss about living in Washington is listening to This American Life, a radio show on Sunday nights on the US public radio network NPR. It’s a quirky hour-long compilation of stories on a theme: some documentary, some fiction.

Here’s an episode they just did on Haiti where the international community has pledged US$9 bn to rebuild after the earthquake. The first segment sends a couple of economics reporters to Port au Prince to look at some of the frustrations of small NGO aid projects. A woman wants to increase her mango production but needs irrigation – aid budgets have money for canals but it is impossible to get the money freed up. A mango magnate distributes bins and washing equipment to poor farmers so the mangoes can meet US import standards but the gear gets used for furniture. It gives a good insight into the difficulties of development aid.

Click for streaming here. Or if the aid story doesn’t interest you check out some of their other shows.


New aid board to advise McCully – a contradiction in terms?

Posted by on May 20th, 2010

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has recruited philanthropist Sir Stephen Tindall, economist Gareth Morgan, Barry Coates of Oxfam and company director Trevor Janes as a board to advise him on aid matters. They will be joined by MFAT CEO John Allen and the new head of the international development group(formerly known as NZAID) Amanda Ellis.  Given the Minister’s notorious disregard for officials’ advice it will be interesting to see how much he listens to his new advisers.