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Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to distribute United Kingdom aid in Malawi following their suspension of general budget support for Malawi on 14 July.

My Lords, the UK has indefinitely suspended general budget support to Malawi. We are determined to continue funding other programmes in Malawi that protect the poor. We will continue to work through specific government ministries like health and education and with trusted NGOs.

My Lords, I declare an interest: I am engaged in a number of charities supporting development in Malawi. I thank the Minister for her Answer.

Over the past six years UK budget support to Malawi has contributed to a number of the most successful development programmes anywhere in Africa. The Malawi growth and development strategy has delivered growth rates among the highest in the world. The farm input subsidy programme has supported 1.6 million households and turned famine into food surplus in Malawi. Malawi has one of the best records in Africa for reversing the increase in HIV/AIDS.

I ask the Minister, first, for an assurance that overall aid to Malawi will not be reduced as a result of this decision on budget support; secondly, for an assurance that there will be speedy discussions with those government departments in Malawi to ensure the continuation of those programmes so that money is not underspent by the end of this financial year and these programmes can continue; and, thirdly, whether she would be prepared to meet the Scotland Malawi Partnership to discuss its interest in this very important subject.

My Lords, UK aid to Malawi has not been reduced; it has just been redirected through sector support now. We will look at ways of ensuring that the budget support that we are giving and our aid programmes do not fail the poor, which I think is what the noble Lord wishes to hear. I assure him that we will continue to work with those sectors and with NGOs to ensure that, whatever difficulties we are having with the Malawian Government, we work collectively to ensure that aid goes out to the poor. On his point about meeting the Scottish Malawi Partnership, I spoke to my officials yesterday and they would be happy to arrange a meeting.

What element of general budget support was allocated to supporting good governance in Malawi? In DfID’s good governance fund for Malawi, what element will now be allocated to democracy and parliamentary strengthening, particularly scrutiny, monitoring and oversight of aid effectiveness by the Malawian Parliament?

My noble friend raises a number of key issues here. The support that we were giving was in order to have oversight of good governance and to ensure that economically the country was following the right paths for the delivery of budget aid. However, I bring the noble Lord back to the original Question, the answer to which is that we are continuing to work with the Malawian Government but we will need to direct general budget aid through programmes that we can have oversight of.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while it is vital that our Government continue to support Malawi through the aid programme, it is just as important in the medium and long term for our Government to assist the African Union as well as SADC to promote trading blocs to promote more trade and inter-African trade for sustainable economic growth?

The noble Lord is right. I know that he shares a great interest in that region with the Government. We wish to see greater economic development there, which is why we are encouraging private sector investment but also working with Governments to ensure that they are able to move much more strongly in revisiting their systems and ensuring that good governance overreaches all areas of their government as well as where the budget aid is going.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the DfID press release announcing the suspension of general budget support to Malawi there was an unexpected announcement? It says:

“This comes as the Government reduces general budget support across the world by 43 per cent”.

Will the Minister give us more detail on this announcement in the press release and say which countries are affected, by how much and over what timescale?

The noble Baroness will know that I am not able to answer on each individual country at this moment in time, but I will get someone to write to her. The reductions are a result of our bilateral and multilateral reviews, where we saw that we needed to ensure that whatever moneys we were giving through aid via DfID were being well spent. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but she will know that during her time she faced the same sort of difficulties in ensuring that such programmes were both fully funded and fully scrutinised by the programmes we had in place. Governments needed to build up on good governance, which some were failing to do.

I am sure that the Minister is well aware that Malawi has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios and one of the highest incidences of obstetric fistula. What impact assessment have the Government made of how programmes to deal with these will be affected by the redirection of aid?

I come back to my original Answer. I reassure the noble Lord that we have not cut back on aid but are redirecting the aid that was going through budget support to the health and education sectors, so we will be providing even more support by directing the aid to those sectors and having better oversight of where that money is being spent.

My Lords, I appreciate the real difficulty that the Government have with the increasingly autocratic President of Malawi, but can the Minister give us any indication of whether relations are on the mend following the expulsion of our high commissioner?

My noble friend knows that while we have difficulties, we are continuously working on improving relationships. It is key that our relationship with Malawi is maintained and strengthened. The negotiations will continue but we will not stop our programmes from being delivered, because at the heart of everything that we are doing is the delivery of aid to poor people.