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Department for International Development: Georgia

Volume 704: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they still plan to close the Department for International Development office in Georgia this year; and, if so, why.

My Lords, the Department for International Development’s bilateral programme and office in Georgia will close on 31 December 2008. This is in view of Georgia’s economic progress and shift to lower middle-income status, as confirmed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2006. UK development assistance will continue primarily through our membership of multilateral organisations.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. We all know that the world is a very different place since DfID took that decision. If the Government are set to close the DfID office, what discussions have they had with the major multilateral donors to Georgia, particularly the EU, to make certain that there is continuity in development assistance? Will those organisations take over the kind of work that DfID was doing? Are there plans for a phased handover, or is DfID simply letting things drop? Georgia has suffered from a war in which many people have been injured and displaced. Does the Minister agree that this is a time not to close the office but to extend further humanitarian aid?

My Lords, the office related to the bilateral programmes, which we do not believe are the way forward in these difficult circumstances. There has been a review since the summer of whether the office should remain open and we have decided that it should not. We have, however, made a £2 million contribution of immediate aid for work in other areas. That includes about £1 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is one of the few organisations working there, and £550,000 for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We will also be involved in the donors’ conference later this month, which will consider the long-term needs of Georgia. We are convinced that the situation is entering a phase where a multinational, rather than a bilateral, effort is called for.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Georgians and the Russians have both used cluster bombs in this recent conflict—something that the Georgians have admitted to but the Russians have as yet denied? In the light of the closure of this office, what are the UK Government, together with international partners, doing to get both countries to sign up to the recent UN agreement on cluster bombs and immediately to map where those cluster bombs were used so that they can be removed?

My Lords, as noble Lords will know, the whole issue of post-conflict resolution is being handled through a Geneva conference, which meets today and is reviewing the agreements of 12 August and 8 September. I do not know whether the mapping of cluster bombs will be on the agenda but I hope that it will be. The Halo Trust is one of the various organisations that we are supporting now to help immediately with the issue of cluster bombs and unexploded bombs.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the plight of the probably long-term refugees from South Ossetia—up to 30,000 according to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Is he confident that there is adequate co-ordination between the various international organisations involved—the UNHCR, UNICEF, the ICRC and the OSCE? More particularly, what contribution are we making to the need for specialist human rights monitors to look after these long-term refugees?

My Lords, I am aware of the refugee problem, which we are addressing with bilateral aid. A donors’ conference will take place in Brussels on 22 October. Considerable aid is coming together and Her Majesty’s Government’s input to that aid will be announced at that conference.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say how much of our total aid goes to multilateral organisations and how much goes directly to countries for specific projects, which is much more effective and involves less waste?

My Lords, I will write to the noble Viscount on that specific question. However, we do not accept that multilateral aid is a bad thing. We see bilateral aid as being for low-income countries in particular. It is about providing intensive-care aid, where we go in and provide advice and support for real projects. When a country moves into the middle-income group, it needs international institutions; it needs a better voice on the stage for trade and it needs technical experience. The multilateral agencies are best at providing that aid and it is those agencies that we support in those circumstances.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be helpful if at least one DfID official could be attached to one of the three embassies that we maintain in the south Caucasus region because of the human needs arising from wars and frozen conflicts?

My Lords, my understanding is that DfID concerns are part of the embassies’ responsibilities, and much of our ability to affect things is co-ordinated through embassies. Whether there is one official between the three, I do not know. Of course, an important question is what happens if there is a crisis. We are not expecting one, but centred in the UK we have a specialist team available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which is able to give immediate help with experts, funding and relief supplies if a crisis emerges. That is what would happen in Georgia.

My Lords, does not the Mines Advisory Group, supported by DfID, have a role to play in mine clearance in Georgia?