Ceisteanna–Questions. Priority Questions. - Overseas Development Aid.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

4 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on this country's contribution to overseas aid. [25685/99]

Over 25 years of involvement in development aid, the Irish Government has established a record of note as a donor. From small beginnings in 1974 the aid programme has grown in content and range. It has built on experience, implementing a variety of programmes, projects and interventions best suited to the talents and resources Ireland can supply.

It is a matter of pride for all of those who contributed to the building of the aid programme in the field and in Ireland that it was deemed earlier this year by the development assistance committee (DAC) of the OECD to be one with a reputation for quality aid. The findings of the DAC validated its work and pointed to the standard which the programme must now maintain.

That standard is built on a strategy of poverty reduction and good governance. In implementation the programme focuses on partnership with recipient countries and co-operation with other donors and with NGOs. All of this is geared towards sustainable development.

The aid programme has been growing continuously in range and volume since 1992. The figure for overseas development assistance for 1999 is expected to reach £178 million, estimated at 0.31% of GNP, by far the largest ever allocation for ODA.

As the DAC report pointed out, this growth has been managed well but the capacity to manage has been severely strained, arising from the unequal rates at which financial resources and management capacity in the Department have grown. As a result of the conclusions of the peer review in this area, specifically those pointing to the need for effective administrative arrangements for a growing programme, management needs analysis of my Department has been carried out in recent months. This will now provide the basis for improved management arrangements which will facilitate effective programme implementation in the future.

Will the Minister of State tell the House her objective for contribution to overseas development aid as a percentage of GNP for this year and why she did not reach it?

The figure of £178 million for 1999 was projected as 0.34% of GNP. Because of a new method of calculation of GNP the percentage of ODA to GNP has fallen back. This has been a difficulty over several years and is connected to the very rapid growth of the economy. Last year negotiations between me and the Minister for Finance managed to secure guaranteed cash increases over a three year period, essentially a multi-annual budget. The purpose of that was to make steady progress towards an interim target of 0.45% of GNP. Unfortunately this calculated upward trajectory towards reaching that interim target has been severely thrown off course by this new method of calculating GNP.

Will the Minister of State confirm that the method of calculating GNP to which she refers was known about a year ago so it is not new? Would she agree that the argument I have repeatedly made that development aid should be taken out of the annual Estimates wrangle and that we should legislate to meet the UN target of 0.7% by 2007 is the best way to proceed? Will the Minister of State tell the House how many children will die next year of easily preventable diseases which could be prevented if we and other EU member states were to increase our contribution? Would ten million be the figure?

The new calculation for GNP was, I understand, known in the Department of Finance last year. My Department was not notified formally until September of this year that the figures for 1999 would be affected by the changed calculation.

I note the word formally.

Or informally. I was not notified that there was a new calculation of GNP until September of this year. I hope the Deputy will accept that.

With regard to the Fine Gael proposal of setting a statutory basis for guaranteeing our upward trajectory to meet the UN target of 0.7%, I have an open mind and I would welcome a debate on that issue. The problem of following a rapid GNP growth affected the last Government and is affecting this Government's capacity to reach our international targets. It may well be that if there is cross-party consensus on a statutory basis for reaching the UN target we could agree to that. The annual wrangle regarding the Estimates is not pleasant and produced deep concern last year. I had thought I had managed to liberate the ODA budget from the annual Estimates wrangle by guaranteeing a three year programme of incremental upward movement towards a particular interim target. However GNP and the new method of calculating it has overtaken that. I am interested in discussing this matter further. I have an open mind on it.

All our development programmes are focused on poverty reduction in the least developed countries, particularly in Africa. For that reason I am glad there is cross-party agreement that our overseas development budget must continue to grow in line with our international commitment and in solidarity with the poor of the world.