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UK Aid (Uganda and Rwanda)

Volume 553: debated on Monday 19 November 2012

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on UK aid to Uganda and Rwanda in light of renewed conflict by M23 rebels in Goma, eastern DRC, and the Secretary of State’s announcement that she has suspended aid to Uganda as a result of serious allegations of corruption.

The Foreign Secretary and I are deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo—DRC—caused by the military activities of the March 23 Movement, known as the M23. On 17 November, the M23 launched an attack on Congolese army positions at Kibumba, a key defensive position 30 km north of Goma, and fierce fighting then ensued. The UN forces—MONUSCO—have also engaged to seek to prevent the M23 advance. We understand that the M23 has not taken Goma, but the situation is deeply unstable and the local population extremely worried. We do not yet have clear figures on casualties. I understand that up to 80,000 people are moving around Goma to refugee camps on the other side of the town, but we have not seen any major movements of refugees across the border.

As the Foreign Secretary said in his statement at the weekend, the Government

“strongly condemn the M23’s advance towards Goma and call on it immediately to desist from further violence. I am particularly concerned by the risk to civilians, the population of Goma and refugees in surrounding areas. I urge those with influence over the M23 to call on them to stop fighting and not to provide them any external support.”

The UK Government call for a cessation of hostilities and for all parties to engage to resolve this crisis without further bloodshed.

On aid programmes in Rwanda and Uganda, as I said to the International Development Committee at its evidence session on Rwanda last week, I will be reviewing all the evidence—including, of course, the latest evidence on renewed fighting in eastern DRC—and look at how the situation develops before making any further decisions on the next disbursement of general budget support.

As I announced last week, following the suspension of aid to the office of the Prime Minister in Uganda in August, I have now suspended all aid that goes through the Government of Uganda’s financial systems. That is as a result of initial evidence emerging from our ongoing forensic audit of the office of the Prime Minister, which indicates that aid money may have been misused, and an additional report by the Ugandan Auditor General into the misuse of aid by other donors. I have suspended £11 million of our aid programme, including general budget support, although other aid that is not channelled through the Government is continuing. The driver for that decision is obviously distinct from the situation about which the hon. Gentleman asked regarding the M23 and activities in DRC.

I am sure the House will share my concern, and that of the Foreign Secretary, about the situation in eastern DRC. We remain committed to working with the region to find durable solutions that bring stability and remove causes of conflict that currently leave space for armed groups to prosper. Solutions could involve security sector reform, work to return refugees to their places of origin over time, or work to extend the state reach of the Government in Kinshasa to all parts of DRC. Solutions must be led by the Government of DRC and will need the support of the region to be implemented. Our role is to try to assist in creating conditions that can bring durable peace, both through our development programmes in the region and our diplomatic efforts. However, there is no magic bullet to solve the crisis.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer, but she is developing an unhealthy habit of making important announcements via the press, rather than directly to Parliament. That was the case in relation to aid to India a couple of weeks ago, and now with Uganda. Will she reassure hon. Members that in future all important statements will be made first to the House of Commons?

As the right hon. Lady has said, we heard disturbing news overnight that the M23 militia is advancing on Goma. Its activities have terrorised the civilian population, led to the displacement of thousands of people, and caused yet another tragic humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC. Successive UN reports have been damning in their criticism of direct support for those activities by the Government of Rwanda, and have also expressed serious concern about the involvement of the Ugandan Government.

The Government’s policy on this crisis has been nothing short of shambolic and has seriously undermined the international effort to send a unified and unequivocal message to the Rwandan Government that their actions are entirely unacceptable. The answer today was incredibly complacent.

First, will the Secretary of State now acknowledge that her predecessor’s decision to reinstate budget support to Rwanda was a profound error of judgment? Secondly, will she explain why—according to her predecessor’s recent evidence to the International Development Committee—the decision was taken despite Rwanda’s failure to meet two of the conditions laid down specifically by the Prime Minister? Those two conditions were a public condemnation of M23 and a cessation of all support for its activities by the Rwandan Government. Thirdly, will the Secretary of State today stop dithering and make it clear that the next tranche of budgetary support will not be released to Rwanda unless it fully complies with the Prime Minister’s own conditions? Finally, what steps has the Foreign Secretary taken to indicate our serious concerns to the Government of Rwanda? Is it not now essential that he or one of his Ministers calls in the Rwandan ambassador to the UK for urgent talks?

On Uganda, when the Government came to power, they made a strong commitment to be tough on corruption. That is absolutely right; British taxpayers have a right to expect that their hard-earned money goes to the poorest, and not to the bank accounts of the rich and powerful. However, in November last year, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact, which was set up by the previous Secretary of State, identified a major gap between the Government’s rhetoric on corruption and the realities of the measures being taken by the Department for International Development.

Will the Secretary of State therefore tell us in some detail when the allegations of corruption first came to light? How were they brought to the attention of her Department? What estimate has been made of the amount of UK aid that has been siphoned off for inappropriate purposes? What steps are being taken to recover any losses of British taxpayers’ money? What criteria will she apply when deciding whether to reinstate direct financial aid to the Ugandan Government? Finally, does she not feel in the slightest bit embarrassed that, when the rest of the international community is suspending budget support to the Government of Rwanda because they are actively supporting a militia that is undermining the civilian population in eastern DRC, she is a member of a Government who have departed from that international coalition and who have sent entirely the wrong message to the President of Rwanda?

I am disappointed by the tone that the hon. Gentleman has taken on this important matter, and by his attempt to politicise something that is of deep concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that, as you know, I make written ministerial statements whenever we believe them to be of a substance that is warranted in the House—[Interruption.] We did indeed make statements to the House, and I will endeavour to continue to do so. I am always happy to answer urgent questions on any issues, as you see fit, Mr Speaker.

On Rwanda, I should point out that, under my predecessor, the Government reduced the amount of general budget support from the levels we inherited. That support will continue to fall over the coming months. The shadow Secretary of State mentioned the President of Rwanda, but a Labour predecessor of mine called him a “sweetie”. Labour therefore has no ability to criticise the Government in relation to tracking the results of our aid or in relation to being clear on whether it is being spent appropriately. Whenever we have needed to take action to curb aid, we have done so.

The shadow Secretary of State may disagree with the reasons for partially putting through some further budget support earlier this year, but I have been clear with the International Development Committee, including last week, that I will take a look at all the evidence on the ground from all sources when I come to make my decision in December. I will not pre-empt that. When I met the Committee last week, the situation on the ground in eastern DRC was different from how it is today. He might want to pre-empt where we might be in December, which is when I will take my next decision, but it would not be correct for me to follow suit, as he wants me to do.

In relation to what conditions we will seek to see adhered to, we have been clear cut about both the partnership principles that we struck up with the Government of Rwanda and the PM’s conditions. I think they are absolutely right, and I will again look at them when I come to take my decision in December.

The hon. Gentleman asked what steps the Government had taken in relation to the Rwandan Government regarding the M23. The Foreign Secretary spoke with the Rwandan Foreign Minister at the weekend.

On Uganda, I have to say that we have taken action in a timely fashion in relation to suspending aid to Uganda. I presume the hon. Gentleman does not disagree with the decision I took. No, he clearly does not. I am delighted he supports the decision we have taken. If I can set out the chronology of what happened, in August we had initial reports of fraud and corruption in relation to the office of the Prime Minister—not in relation to our money, but other donor money. At that stage, we duly suspended our further funding to the office of the Prime Minister. After that, we initiated a forensic audit, and the initial results of that forensic audit have led me to suspend all aid, more broadly, to the Government of Uganda.

This has been a logical process that has taken account of all information, but has sought always to consider the fact that we still want to make sure that our development work in countries such as Uganda and Rwanda helps to alleviate the extreme poverty faced by the people on the ground on a day-to-day basis. These are often difficult decisions to have to take, but we take them based on the facts that we have at the time, and in discussion across Government. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s questions, and I look forward to other questions from my colleagues.

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House agree that what matters in this conflict is the needs of the people of Rwanda, Uganda and eastern Congo, and the need for them to receive the support and assistance that aid provides and also have some kind of trust in their own Governments. What steps will the Secretary of State take to consult all other donor agencies to try to ensure that we co-ordinate our response?

May I remind the House that this is not the first time that aid has been suspended to Uganda because of corruption? The previous Government had to do this, too. This is a disappointing development that suggests that the Ugandan Government have not learnt very much. I remind the House that the Select Committee on International Development is currently conducting an inquiry into the situation in Rwanda. We hope to have a report ready in time to help the Secretary of State with her decision.

I appreciate the work the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee has done to help inform these important decisions. He is right that we discuss with other donors, both at official and ministerial level as appropriate, all views that are held about what is happening on the ground, and, critically, the implications for aid. As he rightly pointed out, we must always bear in mind that the point of development programmes is to help people on the ground. Surely, we have to bear that in mind before we simply turn off the tap. That is precisely what I intend to do.

Over the past 10 years, I have worked in Uganda and have seen the impact of DFID’s direct budget support, particularly on health care. Will the Secretary of State tell us what impact assessment DFID has carried out in Uganda on the possible reduction of vital services to the Ugandan people as a result of the suspension of direct budget support?

To provide the hon. Lady with some reassurance, let me say that the vast majority of our aid goes not through the Government of Uganda, but through other non-governmental organisations on the ground. We are looking at what we can do to ensure that we continue to achieve the same results in relation to the programmes that we had planned to have undergoing at the moment in Uganda. Again, I have to steer a balance in ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent appropriately and is not withdrawn from the system by corruption and fraud, while, as she pointed out, making sure that we bear in mind that the programme was there to make a difference and that we still want that difference to be made.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that no effort should be spared in bringing to justice the wicked and evil Bosco Ntaganda, a convicted war criminal? What extra efforts are being made to apprehend him?

Will my right hon. Friend also reinforce the point that her predecessor, our right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), behaved honourably and correctly, as he made clear to the International Development Select Committee the other day?

Yes, and I will start by reiterating the points I made to the Select Committee. I believe that my predecessor went through an extremely robust process and took a robust decision on Rwanda, and I fully support his actions. Of course, I will have to go through a similar process and reach my own conclusions about the next tranche.

On those who have led the horrific violence on the ground, which has included sexual violence against women and getting children to sign up to armies against their will, we should absolutely leave no stone unturned in bringing them to justice

The Secretary of State referred to a conversation with the Rwandan Foreign Minister. Did that conversation include discussion of the implications for services on the ground—my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) mentioned this—particularly in relation to health care? Rwanda has made considerable progress, but does the right hon. Lady agree that that is being undermined by the current situation?

The Foreign Secretary’s discussions were clearly aimed at discussing what could be done to alleviate and resolve the situation on the ground. The hon. Lady is right that by working with the Rwandan Government many donors have made combined efforts that have substantially reduced poverty in Rwanda. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that 5 million people are still living in extreme poverty, which is precisely why we would like that progress to continue. However, the Government have a memorandum of understanding with the Rwandan Government that includes partnership principles, which we will focus on greatly when we make our next decision on whether to disburse further budget support in December.

I echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham).

As the Secretary of State may be aware, I have been travelling to Rwanda for seven years, working on primary education projects. International development is about reducing poverty, not playing politics with the poor. Does she agree that with the support of the Department for International Development—under the last Government and our Government—we have made huge strides in reducing poverty in that tragic country?

I believe that the Government have worked extremely closely and successfully with the Rwandan Government, as did the last Government, and obviously it is of concern when there are issues that put that progress under threat. We would like it to continue. I am clear, however, that the partnership principles set out in the memorandum of understanding with Rwanda are important, and it is those that we will consider when we decide whether to disburse further budget support in December.

When the Secretary of State looks at the issue of aid to Rwanda and Uganda, will she also reflect for a moment that the fundamental cause of instability, misery and poverty in the eastern DRC is the greed of mineral companies and many others for the natural resources of the region? Will she look carefully, therefore, at the role that any British-based mining companies have played in promoting militias, supporting inappropriate development or extracting large untaxed profits from the region?

The hon. Gentleman touches on an important issue. The Government have been clear that progress on the extractive industries transparency initiative is very important to ensuring that, critically, when countries with clear mineral or natural resources want them exploited for the benefit of that country, that happens, and that they are supported in getting the most out of the revenue stream that those minerals can help unlock. There are several causes of the particular situation in eastern DRC, but I can assure him more broadly that the Government take seriously the issue about extractive industries and are seeking to make more progress on it, along with our international partners.

Nothing enrages my constituents more than the prospect of Britain’s international aid falling into the hands of corrupt officials, because my constituents want the money that we provide to go to the poorest people who need the help the most. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that her Department has a sufficiently robust early-warning system, so that she is advised of any potential corruption in any of Britain’s aid programmes?

I am going through that process right now, so that I can assure myself of that, but it is worth pointing out that in the case of Uganda we suspended donations and aid to the office of the Prime Minister when fraud and corruption issues were seen by other donors, not in relation to our budget, so we have always taken a precautionary approach wherever we can.

I raised the issue of reinstating aid to Rwanda with the Prime Minister on 17 October at Prime Minister’s questions, because of the Rwandan Government’s support for the M23 rebels, who are murdering, maiming and raping in eastern Congo. The Prime Minister said he had spoken personally to President Kagame about it, but it obviously did not make much difference. Why is the Secretary of State not acting now to ensure that we are in no way supporting the Rwandan Government, who are supporting the M23 rebels?

The hon. Gentleman is making some statements of fact; the reality is that we have a leaked report from the UN group of experts which makes some assertions about what may be happening on the ground. That is going through the UN sanctions committee. Bearing in mind the implications that the report may have on the aid programme in Rwanda, the right thing for us to do is to wait for the UN sanctions committee and, indeed, the UN Security Council to go through that full process and not jump the gun.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), I also went on Project Umubano—twice—and learnt a lot about the genocide. Given that the world allowed the genocide to take place in Rwanda, does my right hon. Friend agree that the world, and especially the United Kingdom, has a responsibility to help Rwanda recover from it? The question is not about cutting aid to Rwanda, but about targeting it carefully.

My hon. Friend is right, but at the end of the day we need to be clear that many of the structures through which we can get change on the ground in Rwanda and alleviate poverty for the many millions who still suffer from it will ultimately also be part the Government systems there, which is why many donors have worked so closely with the Rwandan Government to pursue their development programmes. However, clearly he is right, given the history of Rwanda, and the work of the last Government, along with the work that this Government have undertaken with the Rwandan Government, has clearly been successful. It has been one of the most successful aid programmes we have had. Nevertheless, we will look carefully at the outcome of the UN process on the deeply concerning issues involving the M23 and eastern DRC.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor, in giving evidence to the Select Committee on International Development, was asked whether he believed that the Rwandan Government had ever given practical support to the M23. He said he could not say, putting him at odds with the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who have called for an end to practical support. Where does this Secretary of State stand—with her Prime Minister and Foreign and Commonwealth Office or with her predecessor?

I have to say that I will make my own decisions about what I think is happening on the ground when I take my decision about the future aid programme to Rwanda in December. I can assure the hon. Lady that I will look at what is happening then, not at what has been happening in the past.

Will the Secretary of State say a little more about the context of when this country ceased giving aid to the Ugandan Prime Minister’s office in relation to some of the other donor nations that were providing aid?

We took steps to stop our money going to the office of the Prime Minister before we had any evidence of a problem per se, particularly in relation to our own money. Other donors took steps once it became clear that there had been fraud and corruption with their money, so I like to think that we acted pre-emptively. The forensic audit that is currently under way will give us the information we need to understand what has happened with UK taxpayers’ money and what steps we may be able to take should any money prove not to have been disbursed in the way we wanted.

When I was in Kinshasa in September, I made it clear to the high commission that more than 30 Members of Parliament whom I had met there had independently raised this issue as a serious concern that was disrupting their programme of government. Because of the amount of money we have invested in the Congo basin forest fund and other work that the Secretary of State’s Department is doing to great effect in the region, giving aid in Rwanda that undermines the capacity of the aid in those programmes to deliver is a serious problem.

I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Gentleman’s work in the area of international development, but we cannot escape the fact that much of the work that has been done alongside the Rwandan Government has been extremely successful in lifting people out of poverty. That is why I need to ensure that all the proper processes are gone through, and that I look at all the separate facts and evidence bases when I reach my decision in December. I can assure him that I will approach that exercise incredibly thoughtfully, and I will make an announcement to the House once I have reached a conclusion.

Will the Secretary of State not forget, in the midst of all the politicking, that the militia in the eastern Congo have an horrific record of sexual violence? Can she assure me that, while trying to square the circle that the Opposition are creating about all the money being spent in Rwanda and Uganda, the steps being taken will be monitored for gender-based violence in the Kivus? What measures are in place to trigger early intervention to protect the local communities wherever possible?

DFID Uganda is very aware of the humanitarian issues that are arising as a result of the violence that has restarted in the Kivus in recent days. Alongside other partners, we will play our role in ensuring that we provide all the support that we can to the victims of sexual violence. We have focused on playing our role in that way in countries such as Syria as well, and we will certainly want to do that in the DRC as appropriate.

Further to the question posed by the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), will the Secretary of State tell us more about the action that is being taken to put the leadership of M23 where they deserve to be: facing charges at the International Criminal Court in relation to the conscription of child soldiers and other war crimes?

That is something that our Government have raised at the United Nations. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the group of experts’ report contains a number of aspects relating to M23, and those are being considered by the UN Sanctions Committee right now. Once the committee has completed that process, I am sure that it will give its assessment of whose involvement has led to these crises, and of the implications for the action that needs to be taken. We have raised this matter at the UN and we are determined that people should be brought to book, when appropriate, and have international law brought against them.

There has been an international arrest warrant against the leader of the M23 since 2006. What steps have been taken over the past six years to bring that horrific person to justice?

I have no doubt that there have been significant efforts, and I can write to my hon. Friend with further details. The areas in which those people are being tracked down are often hundreds of thousands of square miles across. The lack of success in tracking them down has clearly had profound consequences in relation to the M23 being able to cause this kind of havoc, chaos and violence.

The M23 rebels, who the United Nations experts say are being directly supported by named individuals in the Rwandan Government, are attacking Goma as we speak. Far from our Government “jumping the gun”, as the Secretary of State unfortunately said a moment ago, is it not the case that people are dying as a result of their providing finance to the Rwandan Government? What will it take for her to make the decision to stop that aid, given that it might be used to support those M23 rebels?

I have set out very clearly, both today and to the International Development Committee, the measured and thoughtful approach we will take in respect of any future disbursements of budget support to the Rwandan Government. The hon. Gentleman is commenting on a leaked report, which may or may not be the final report that the UN sanctions committee publishes. I think we should wait for that, and in the meantime I can assure him that our Government are playing their role in working diplomatically to encourage all those involved in the violence to bring it to an end.

The Secretary of State was at pains to say that the M23 had not taken the city of Goma, but local reports overnight suggest that a large refugee camp to the east of the city, which is a home for 30,000 people, was being evacuated urgently with people streaming to the west. This is a very serious and large-scale humanitarian crisis. Will the right hon. Lady urgently review what can be done to minimise the suffering of innocent people in and around the city of Goma?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we in DFID are looking at what we can do to play our role in any humanitarian support that needs to be provided for those people.