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Afghanistan: Aid

Volume 715: debated on Monday 14 December 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the Department for International Development’s aid in Afghanistan.

My Lords, DfID’s latest Afghanistan country programme evaluation was published in May 2009. While the challenges remain daunting, life for many Afghans is improving with support from the United Kingdom and the international community. A majority say that they are better off now than under the Taliban.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. According to the DfID website, strong systems have been put in place to make sure that UK aid is not misused. Can the Minister tell us what and where are these systems? Further, can he confirm that 70 per cent of our aid is going to Kabul and not towards reconstruction in Helmand?

My Lords, President Karzai requested at his inauguration that all donors should aim to spend 50 per cent of their assistance money through the Afghan Government’s systems in the next two years and urged other donors to join DfID in meeting that target. Our support for the Government of Afghanistan is tied to a series of benchmarks that need to be met in order to receive the total available. The World Bank’s initial review of those benchmarks this year shows that the Afghan Government are on track to achieve all of the benchmarks, and the World Bank has called that a quite remarkable event. We therefore believe that maintaining strong systems with the Government of Afghanistan is the best way of ensuring that value for money is achieved and that UK aid is used for the greatest level of humanitarian purpose in the country.

My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, one of the principles of post-conflict stabilisation is that the reconstructors should get in immediately after the fighting has finished. As he may also be aware, however, DfID took six weeks or so to get on the ground after British troops took Musa Qala in April 2008. Can he describe to us how things have changed so as to improve this performance?

My Lords, the current situation is that DfID and the Foreign Office are both closely involved with the Government of Afghanistan. We are fully involved in that process. However, the noble Lord is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that we are on the ground as soon as possible. We have already seen a military surge but we also need to see a political surge. The conference that the Prime Minister has called for the end of January will give us an opportunity to build on that and to ensure that structures can be put in place in Afghanistan to bring forward development, further stability and do all that we seek to achieve through humanitarian aid and development in the country.

My Lords, how much of the fertiliser given by DfID and other aid agencies has ended up being used in explosives by the Taliban?

My Lords, do the Government agree that the Kajaki dam project—which has cost many millions of pounds, has been set up in an area that has always been insecure, and, subsequently, has been repeatedly sabotaged—was ill-conceived?

My Lords, as I said in my initial response to the noble Baroness, the situation is daunting, but we should not be deterred by that. We need to work with our allies—all 43 ISAF countries or the 60 countries that are seeking to assist in the area. I do not think that it was ill-conceived. We have to take on the situation with the Afghan Government and in terms of the five commitments that President Karzai’s new Government’s have adopted—on security, governance, reintegration, economic development and regional relationships. I am not sure that discussing whether things are ill-conceived is the best way forward. In my view, the best approach is to look at the problems we have and then at how to solve them.

My Lords, the Minister rightly quotes President Karzai as wishing 50 per cent of development aid to be routed through the Afghan Government. Has the Minister any figures on the percentage of development aid allocated to the Afghan Government that is actually applied to development?

My Lords, I shall answer my noble friend by talking in terms of amounts of money and where it is spent. Some £60 million this year goes to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund—the ARTF—which finances the salaries of over 320,000 public servants of whom over half are teachers. Some £32 million over an eight-year period from 2003 is being spent to elect almost 22,000 community development councils and initiate 50,000 locally generated projects to improve water, roads, health and education. More than £40 million over 2002-09 has gone to the microfinance investment and support facility, which is benefiting 1.5 million entrepreneurs with women being 60 per cent of the total.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that one reason for the haemorrhaging of public support for military engagement in Afghanistan has been the perception of widespread corruption in the Karzai regime? What protocols are being put in place to ensure that public money is used in an honest way for the reconstruction of the country, and is not used for corrupt purposes?

The noble Lord makes a good and important point, which is recognised by many people in Afghanistan as well as many outside it. President Karzai made a renewed commitment to the Afghan people that he would tackle corruption in his second term. We have heard the words in his inaugural address; we now seek the action, which I think will come when we see the formation of the new Government supporting him, and the appointments to governorships and other positions. At the moment, funding to Afghanistan through the Government is very much based on seeing the results; in other words, for teachers, we repay the Government of Afghanistan when those teachers have been paid their salaries. That is the best way forward. Also, we called for a new anti-corruption commission and look forward to the appointment of the new body for that task, which the President has announced.

The noble Lord referred to results. Does 40 per cent of the money that goes to Afghanistan still go to consultancies?

I do not have an absolute figure for that. That amount—40 per cent—sounds tremendously high. We need civilian specialist staff in Afghanistan to assist in the DfID programme and others, but if I may I will get back to the noble Baroness with detail.

My Lords, I shall put the question of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in another and perhaps a more focused way. Is an audit trail being constructed on President Karzai’s performance that can be examined to see whether he honours his commitments? Can we see those answers?

We share the noble Lord’s anxiety to ensure that we convince our people in the United Kingdom who are financing the humanitarian development costs, convince the international community and convince—not least—the people of Afghanistan. We believe that we will see new Ministers with a clean track record presenting policies that will be put through without the corruption that people suspect has taken place in the past. There have been arrests of senior police officers and investigations of Ministers. Afghanistan is moving. We want it to move much more quickly and resolutely.