Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Wednesday 18th April 2012
Senator Mark Daly:
I welcome the Minister of State to the committee. Some of my colleagues raised the question of how to define poverty. One of the interesting parts of the contribution of the Minister of State is how the number of households with insufficient food in Malawi was reduced from one in four in 2006 to one in ten today. I am a supporter of Irish Aid but when we read in The Irish Times that one in five children go to bed hungry, it puts into stark contrast the battle to make Irish Aid more effective. The chances of a child receiving a valid education when the child cannot concentrate because he or she is going to bed, waking up or going to school hungry is of serious concern. What is more startling is that it only accounted for a relatively small number of column inches on page 6 of The Irish Times and I have not heard much about it since. According to this benchmark, the children in Malawi are doing better than the children in Ireland. There are major differences in measurement but I am concerned that it is hard for us to say we should spend €600 million.
Ireland is allocating €250 million to the European external action programme for six years, which was approved by this committee in March. This is a problem in that much of our overseas aid budget goes en bloc to the EU. We must provide 1.17% of what the EU will spend on external action or other programmes such as IMF programmes. There are plenty of other examples. Since we started at the beginning of this year, the committee has committed €1 billion to various EU groups and organisations because we must give 1.17% of whatever the EU institution decides the overall budget should be. That is my concern. We are giving more and more of a limited budget because we must give it to these various organisations and less of the budget is available to go to direct partnership aid, over which we have control, and to NGOs, where we see more bang for our buck.
Who reviews how the EU external action spends the €250 million we give it? Does Irish Aid do so? I take it this is part of the overall Irish Aid budget. Will Irish Aid come back to this committee and say it is terribly disappointed with the way €250 million of Irish taxpayers’ money was spent? How will we have oversight on these monoliths to see how we will get any value from it? When the Minister of State takes into account our overseas aid budget, we are borrowing money to give it away. Are the borrowing costs of the €600 million we are taking as part of the overseas aid budget included in our aid budget? If we are to borrow money from our EU partners and then give it back to another EU institution, does the latter decide that we do not have to give 1.17% because we are borrowing it in the first place? Should it be counted as part of our overseas aid budget?
I do not have a grasp on the audit and oversight aspects. External reviews are carried out. I understand auditing is done by British universities. Is a British institution paid by Irish Aid to carry out the audits? The banks appoint auditors who, because they would like to be reappointed the following year, give a clean bill of health. That is the auditing process. Perhaps the witnesses could clarify how auditors are appointed. Rather than Irish Aid spending money on the appointment of auditors should the Comptroller and Auditor General not do the work?
My colleague, Senator Walsh, referred to the Charities Act which despite being passed has not yet been implemented. The NGOs are urging it to be implemented because they do not want rogue players who have not been properly scrutinised using the good name of Irish NGOs and people’s good will towards them. I believe the statutory instruments to be put in place under the Charities Act would address this issue.
We previously discussed the millennium development goals with representatives from Irish Aid. I have previously asked if when it comes to partner country reviews it would be possible to use our work in Zambia with the Dutch and Swedes in the prevention of HIV and AIDS as a benchmark. For example, could we during that process use as a benchmark the level of the problem in regard to HIV and AIDS prior to our going into Zambia as a partner country 20 years ago and could we also in this regard use the effectiveness of our programme there? Ireland is the lead country in HIV and AIDS prevention, which is one of the millennium development goals. The same applies in respect of Lesotho where previously primary education completion was only 20% to 30% and is now 74%. These are the type of benchmarks that could be used in future reports in regard to achievement of the millennium development goals. We are not involved in all of the millennium development goals in Lesotho. We are involved in particular issues. Perhaps the witnesses would take my views on board.
It is ironic that we are borrowing money from EU institutions to give back to EU institutions. I wonder if the interest payments on those borrowings could be counted as part of our overseas aid budget.