Overseas Development Aid: Presentations.

The minutes of the previous meeting of 24 January and 7 February have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed.

The second item on the agenda is discussions on the current situation in Ethiopia with Concern, Trócaire and the chargé d'affaires of the Ethiopian Embassy. We will give the witnesses an opportunity to take their seats. It is proposed to hear from Concern and Trócaire and then engage in a question and answer session with their representatives, after which the chargé d'affaires will come before the committee. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am obliged to attend another meeting at 3 p.m. If the Chairman does not object, I will leave at that stage and return as soon as that meeting is finished.

Today's business is a continuation of last week's discussion on Ethiopia, when the committee heard from the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and a delegation from Self Help Development International. As already stated, we will hear today from representatives of Concern and Trócaire, as well as the chargé d'affaires of the Ethiopian Embassy. I welcome Mr. Tom Arnold, CEO, and Ms Angela O'Neill, regional director for the Horn of Africa, from Concern and Mr. Mike Williams, head of the international department, and Mr. Seamus Collins, programme manager for Africa, from Trócaire. Following their presentations, we will hear from Mr. Kahsay, the chargé d'affaires of the Ethiopian Embassy and from Mrs. Tsehay Feleke, second secretary at the Ethiopian Embassy.

Before the witnesses begin, I must mention the question of privilege. I advise the witnesses that whereas Members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy such privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly with regard to references of a personal nature. I now invite Mr. Tom Arnold and Ms Angela O'Neill to make their presentation on behalf of Concern.

Mr. Tom Arnold

I thank the Chairman. Members will have received the short paper we produced for the committee. It covers three sections. The first attempts to give some basic facts about the poverty reality and the political situation in Ethiopia. The second is an attempt to capture donor reaction to some of the political and other developments in the past year, particularly since the election.

The third, and final, section is a suggestion on the approaches we believe should inform both Irish and the international community's approach to Ethiopia. There is no need to dwell on this in any detail other than to say the basic reality of poverty in Ethiopia is stark and profound. The reality is that in a normal year, 5 million to 6 million people need food aid and when things are a bit worse, up to 10 million to 15 million need it. That has been a reality for a long time.

The other reality which must be taken into account is the political evolution of Ethiopia. Many people will know the Emperor Haile Selassie was there for a long time and was succeeded by Mr. Mengistu, who presided over a bloody and destructive period of government. The current government has been there since the early 1990s. In effect, we are talking about a young country even though it is an old and historic one in many respects. However, in terms of having some type of practising democracy, it is young.

There appeared to be a number of quite hopeful signs in the lead up to the election last year. There was a greater degree of openness than had ever been witnessed before. However, events post-election have given rise to a number of legitimate concerns, namely, the delay in finalising the result, the loss of life which followed and the clamp down on the opposition. There is a degree of fear in Ethiopia, of which we are aware. The situation is difficult and there is much tension. That is having a knock-on effect on the work of organisations, such as Concern, in terms of being able to work effectively.

A big backdrop to the whole situation is the Ethiopia-Eritrea crisis, if that is not too strong a word for it, although I do not believe it is. It is a long-standing difficulty and it causes a real problem for the whole region as well as the two countries.

What has been the reaction to the post-election results? Clearly, donors and the international community had to take account of, and react in some way to, what happened since there was much unhappiness about it. Yet, they are caught in the dilemma that they do not want to do things which will significantly damage the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people. They have taken a dual approach — at one level, applying a degree of political pressure while at another level, making some changes to donor policy. The political pressure came both post the election and, more recently, post the riots in November. An important dimension of it has been that the pressure has been applied by the EU and the US in, I would think, a co-ordinated and intelligent way.

On the aid policy front, it has taken the form of cutting back on direct budget support but, again, there has been a reluctance to cut back on the absolute levels of aid. The Irish Government had not been supporting the Ethiopian Government through direct budgetary support in any event, so I think it was slightly ahead of the game.

Where does that leave us in terms of the appropriate balance to strike going forward? The problem in Ethiopia is a more general one in Africa. What are the terms of engagement between a sovereign government and the international community when trying to secure human rights, promote democracy and foster long-term development? What types of carrots and sticks are available? We know that in some cases in Africa, there is little one can do if a sovereign government is determined to act in a way which damages the interests of its citizens.

We suggest three basic approaches which should be followed when it comes to policy. We also suggest that policy is one Ireland and the wider international community should follow. The first is a policy of continuing engagement with the government in pursuit of more democratic government, a functioning parliament and a developing civil society. We see the alliance between the US and the EU operating, I hope, in an effective partnership as a key part of that. We expect that the Irish Government would want to use the influence it has developed over a considerable time to support that, both in its own right as a Government and in supporting the EU approach which has been effective through an active head of delegation in Ethiopia.

We would not be in favour of cutting overall aid levels to Ethiopia. We believe the problems of poverty are too great and that should be the last option. However, we believe the tactic — the political signal — in terms of restricting direct budget support represents is an acceptable response at present. We also believe that should be closely monitored to see what effects it has. We must realise that long-term development in Ethiopia must be based on the government increasing its own capacity and civil society increasing its demand for accountability from the government. Aid which would achieve either of those is important.

There is a need for more international efforts to be made to find a long-term, sustainable and regional peace settlement because unless that happens, it will serve as a real source of trouble there. The UN has a critical role to play. I suggest that Ireland, with its role in conflict resolution and economic development, could also play an important role.

Mr. Mike Williams

Seamus Collins and myself visited Ethiopia approximately two weeks ago and spoke to many different actors there, including our partners and colleagues, the agencies with which we work. We spoke to officials, particularly in Tigré. We went to the border to see the situation there. We also spoke to church officials and others as well. We got a variety of views from people, including some strongly held ones, particularly from some of the people on the government side. Our overall conclusion is that there is a need for the Irish Government to remain engaged in Ethiopia. I will not go into the details of Trócaire's history in the country because it is evident from the paper we presented but if any member wishes to query it, we will go into the details later.

Perhaps I will start at the election last May, which Mr. Tom Arnold mentioned. That was the trigger for much of what happened in the interim and the controversy which has arisen. It is worth bearing in mind that the election was generally regarded as pretty free and fair. There were allegations on both sides of some corruption. However, one significant factor in that is the role of external actors. There is a feeling on the ground that the head of the EU monitoring body did not help the situation by perhaps indicating that the election might have been won by the opposition, or whatever, or releasing details in advance.

We asked many people if there was evidence that the opposition won the election but there was not. There is no question but that the election was extremely close — much closer than the government had expected — but nobody has proved the opposition won it. There is also a feeling of disappointment that the opposition leaders did not go into parliament because it would have helped the situation if they had.

Having said that, there are some big issues. It is clearly not acceptable, under any circumstances, for government forces to shoot people in the back or to arrest people arbitrarily where there is trouble. We formed a strong impression from people closely allied to the Ethiopian Government, as well as its officials, that there was real fear in respect of the deterioration of security throughout the entire country. We must remember that there are various factions and groupings within Ethiopia and, at times, holding it together is a fairly delicate and fragile operation. We always state that democracy is a long-term process. It takes a long time to develop it in countries and sometimes, as external actors, we tend to overlook that because we want instant results.

There have been some questions regarding the provision of space for civil society within Ethiopia. A major debate is under way there as to what is the role of civil society. Officials have informed us that it will take time for them to come to terms with its true role. Our impression is that while the Ethiopian Government views civil society as being acceptable when it consists of youth groups or women's groups working at a fairly low level, it does not so do in respect of stronger groups that would actually challenge its policies. There is a need for greater recognition of civil society at national level. However, there have been instances in which civil society leaders have abused their position for their own political gain. For example, the director of one of our partner agencies — the Christian Relief and Development Association, CDRA — abused his position. Hence, there is often a fine line between the role of civil society and that of political opposition. Sometimes, as members are well aware, it is quite a delicate line. On one hand, the Government must be more open, while on the other, we recognise that some civil society actors have committed wrongs that have not helped the situation. We must, therefore, consider that contextual background, while bearing in mind the fact that considerable divisions still exist within society as a whole in Ethiopia.

As far as direct budget support is concerned, as Mr. Tom Arnold mentioned earlier, the Irish Government does not provide it at present. It was ahead of the posse in terms of producing a form of regional budget support. We spoke to representatives from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, DFID, as well as to representatives from the EU. Even the World Bank is now considering the adoption of a policy of regional budget support, although it might not be called that, whereby the disbursement of funds is moved to a regional level. It is a logical way to operate because one of the arguments against budget support at a national level is that funds can be siphoned off into defence spending or for a conflict, particularly where the potential for the latter exists. This issue can be avoided by placing one's funds at a regional level because, in general, funds for defence purposes will not be allocated at a regional or district level.

With regionalised budget support, however, it is important to possess mechanisms to measure it and to assess its appropriateness on a continual basis. One of the issues raised with regard to regional budget support concerns the question of the baseline. If funds are intended for basic services such as food, water, shelter, etc., how can one be in a position to know whether the situation improved as a result of that money? It is particularly important to set down the baseline criteria and indicators in order that they may be tracked over a number of years. It is good that the Government, through Development Co-operation Ireland — or Irish Aid as it will be known — has considered the establishment of sentinel districts, where the indicators will be tracked at local level. This is a positive development and the Irish have been leaders in this regard, even if that is not always acknowledged by the other donors.

Although the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia has not been mentioned, it always forms a backdrop. While they have had a better harvest this year than in other years, up to 3 million people may be still be in trouble in Ethiopia, even in a good year. This cannot be forgotten either and is always a factor there. Another issue that is often raised is the possibility of bypassing governments altogether in favour of allocating the funds through non-governmental organisations such as Concern and Trócaire. This matter also arises in the context of countries other than Ethiopia. Our simple answer is that this is impractical. Funding through international non-governmental organisations such as Trócaire, Concern, Oxfam and the others is useful in itself and missionary organisations can also play their part. However, to state that this should be the only channel for funding is similar to suggesting, in an Irish context, that the Taoiseach should request the Simon Community or the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to manage the entire national budget. In many of these countries, a major proportion of the national budget actually comes from external aid and it would not be practical for it to be managed by non-governmental organisations. While there is certainly a role for non-governmental organisations, there is also a role for bilateral support. We strongly advocate that this role must be maintained, even if the situation must be closely monitored.

It is also fair to state that civil society in Ethiopia is dominated by international non-governmental organisations, which constitute a strong group. We would like to see national or Ethiopian civil society organisations playing a greater role. We want to make our partner agencies on the ground stronger, so they become more vocal and take a greater role in developing local issues, rather than relying on external actors such as ourselves.

As for Trócaire's recommendations regarding the way forward, the Ethiopian Government must be held to account by the international community with regard to a number of issues. When speaking to officials from the EU, Britain, Ireland and so forth, it was heartening to find that there now appears to be a concentrated approach. It is extremely important to avoid having one external donor doing something, while another completely undermines it with a different policy. A co-ordinated policy is essential and now appears to be in place. While it may have been precipitated by the events of the past six months, it is extremely important that donors maintain a consistent and coherent position.

A response is required from the Ethiopian Government in three areas. First, there are some questions about the fairness of the ongoing trials of civil society leaders concerning the opportunity to have proper legal representation, as well as proper timing for the trials. It is absolutely essential that the correct procedures be applied and are seen to be applied. Second, it is clear that there appears to have been some overreaction to the street riots. Where mistakes have been made — and officials acknowledge that they felt mistakes were made — it is very important to address those issues. People must be brought to account for shooting on the streets and for the reasons individuals were shot, beaten up or thrown in prison for no reason. Third, as I mentioned earlier, the Ethiopian Government must create greater space for civil society actors. This will be an ongoing process which will take time. However, it is important that the external actors maintain the pressure in these three major areas.

It is important for the Irish Government to consider broadening its support within Ethiopia and to ensure that if the money is to be allocated on a regional level, it will not simply be directed to the Tigré region. Obviously, the association of Tigré with the current Ethiopian Government is a sensitive issue locally. While Development Co-operation Ireland, or Irish Aid, provides funds in other parts of the country, it is important to develop strong programmes in other regions, to avoid the perception that the Irish Government is taking sides in this respect. Monitoring and assessing where the funds go and how the situation is developing, particularly in terms of human rights, governance and accountability issues on the ground, is crucial.

The Irish Government and other actors should use their influence with both Eritrea and Ethiopia as far as the conflict issue is concerned. When we travelled to the border, it could be seen that the trenches have been dug and that the armies are ready. More than 350,000 people were killed on one side in the previous conflict. Another war would be an absolutely calamitous event. Unquestionably, it would be a complete disaster for both countries. There was First World War-type trench warfare on the previous occasion and we cannot permit that situation to arise again. Hence, it is absolutely critical that international pressure be brought to bear on both parties to seek a solution. The border dispute is a complex issue and different people have varying attitudes to it. However, it is absolutely essential that it be resolved and the Irish Government has a role on the international stage, at both EU and UN level, in this regard.

It is important to consider the complexity of the situation in countries such as Ethiopia. Not all countries are the same. For example, Ethiopia is not the same as Zimbabwe and each has its own individual context. In considering the future aid programme, that context must be taken into account. Broadly and on balance, we feel the Irish Government is justified in continuing its support at the current level. Perhaps my colleague Mr. Seamus Collins will add one or two points.

I reiterate two points made by Mr. Arnold and Mr. Williams. Two issues of context and complexity need to be borne in mind when seeking solutions in Ethiopia and the region in general. The situation in Ethiopia cannot be considered outside the historical context. Ethiopia is not a homogenous society, as it has many ethnicities and languages. These complexities must be taken into account when seeking a solution.

Are NGOs completely free to operate in Ethiopia currently, as they were in the past?

Mr. Williams

We have not had difficulties operating in Ethiopia. There is constructive dialogue with government at all times. We have issues about the freedom of some of our partners to operate. We very much operate a partnership model where we work with, fund and build the capacity of local organisations. The government's recognition of the role of civil society can be an issue but we have not had problems.

Ms Angela O’Neill

Concern has had operational difficulties. The security position has meant that the implementation of programmes had to slow down during the various riots. Subsequently, people had to attend political education events throughout the country and, therefore, community training of local administrations, officials and ministries has had to be done at a much slower pace. There is a certain level of fear among local NGOs and partners. There have been knock-on effects but we have maintained most of the programmes. There are additional issues.

I thank the witnesses who have contributed. Their contributions were clear and balanced. The work of the organisations has not been compromised by fear of retaliation against their workers or other knock-on effects.

I used the word "balanced" because there is a serious conflict of opinion between the documentation provided by the delegations and the e-mails and letters received by members from one African-based group. I do not intend to ask for opinions on the appalling political incidents that took place following the elections, especially those concerning Mr. Nega who visited Ireland prior to the elections when a number of us had the privilege of meeting him.

My questions relate to direct budget support and the overall allocation of €35 million to Ethiopia. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan, told the committee last week that no direct budget support is provided for in this allocation and most of the funds are devoted to sector ministries, local government, civil society organisations and trust funds. A sum of €10.5 million is set aside for sector ministries. I was a little confused following that debate regarding where the moneys were going. Have the NGOs an input into the spending of those moneys? Are the NGOs happy that the €35 million is being spent in an accountable way? I acknowledge the comments about the low level of corruption but that conflicts with a report produced by International Transparency, which highlighted Ethiopia as a country that lacked transparency. However, the experience of NGOs on the ground is the most useful guide. Are they happy at the end of the day the money is going to those most needy and qualified to receive it? It is refreshing to hear such balanced and clear presentations to the committee.

I concur with Deputy Allen in thanking the witnesses for their balanced contributions. Mr. Williams suggested Irish aid should focus more on Tigré. Will he elaborate on that? We constantly hear from different sources, including via e-mail and the press, that journalists are not permitted to operate freely in Ethiopia and opposition members are constantly jailed. Will the witnesses confirm whether that is the case? If so, should that influence how and where we give aid?

The delegations are most welcome and their presence is valued but unless the committee holds an unstructured series of meetings, a few fundamentals need to be straightened out in our approach to what is going on. We need to establish what are matters of international policy such as the conduct and reporting of elections, international law, international legal representation, attendance at trials and so forth and separate them from aid. We also need to establish what are matters for mainstream diplomacy outside the realm of aid and then we need to turn to an appropriate response to the current situation as it affects aid organisations.

Neither is there any point in dancing around other straightforward questions. For example, one presentation stated that cutting off aid to Ethiopia should be a last resort. What is meant by that? I made a case at a previous meeting for ring-fenced accountability and transparency on Irish aid. A universal feature, acknowledged by both presentations, regarding Ethiopia is that a high proportion of total aid is devoted to humanitarian assistance while a small proportion is devoted to development aid. That tells us the poorest of the poor consume most of the aid. Under what conditions, even as a last resort, should such aid be cut off? What would be the NGOs' basis for doing so? Would it have anything to do with aid policy or something else?

We were all asked six or seven questions in preparation for this meeting in documentation sent by another organisation, GOAL, which was not invited to appear but which I hope we will have an opportunity to hear from soon.

GOAL was invited to appear today. Its representatives were unable to attend.

I am not interested in misrepresenting the organisation. However, I would like to address the issue so that, at some stage, the committee can come to a conclusion on our discussion on Ethiopia unless its intention is to discuss Ethiopia every fortnight for the next 12 months.

The first question put by GOAL was: "Have you asked rank and file people in your constituency for their view on government to government aid to Ethiopia?" I have, and my constituents would be horrified to think we could cut off aid from people who need it.

I declare my interest by saying my sister-in-law is working in Tigré. She is the longest-serving Irish worker in that part of Ethiopia.

I have a second question. Does the delegation believe the government-to-government aid represents real value for taxpayers' money when there is proof of endemic corruption or savage abuse of human rights? I am opposed to savage human rights abuses, all human rights abuses and endemic corruption and I have a question, en passant, for the two agencies. I wrote to all the NGOs and most European governments regarding a campaign on the signature and ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption which I announced at this joint committee. I have received two replies to date. I presume the agencies will agree that the best way to oppose corruption in a general campaign would be to look for speedy signature and ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption. The European Union is in favour and, to date, France and Belgium have signed but Ireland has not. Before people take the high stool, be they NGOs or otherwise, it would be nice to hear them campaigning for ratification of the UN convention.

On whether, if the entire Irish aid delegation and the GOAL expatriate team were among the 83 murdered, the delegation would press for the Department of Foreign Affairs to alter its policies towards the Ethiopian Government, I find that a very unfair question. The loss of life of anybody on the planet is a loss. Certainly none of us, if we are interested in addressing with the respect it deserves the complexity of the Ethiopian issue, is in favour of the loss of life or the unfair incarceration or the abuse of anybody's human rights. That we are in favour of continuing aid to Ethiopia does not mean we are in favour of keeping people in jail, people being shot on the street or being denied their human rights. It is a complex issue.

On the question of what evidence exists to suggest that government-to-government support reaches the poorest of the poor when that government has shown little interest in the human rights of its citizens, does the delegation accept that continuing to channel funds through the present Ethiopian Government could damage our reputation as a caring nation? We should deal with the reality. If one says, for example, that the majority of aid is in the form of humanitarian assistance — approximately €790 million out of €1.34 billion — what is left when this is subtracted is not very much. The elementary geography of Ethiopia shows that the aid agencies are in contact with regional and district authorities that are quite autonomous. To those who want to cut off aid, I ask them to tell us which aid is being corrupted in which region and in which district. Can one be assured that when aid to education, health or water is cut off, the NGO structure will be entirely independent of either state, central or local government and will deliver aid as an alternative? It is time to speak very plainly. I want to hear from the people who are on the ground. It is time we heard about the number of children who are reliant on either regional, district or local aid or NGO aid, aid which has nothing whatsoever to do with the government. What proposals will be put in place to protect them?

I am very worried that we are asking the aid end of the Department of Foreign Affairs to do things that should be a matter for the legal division. We are asking people to do things through poverty projects that should be matters of diplomacy. It is right to condemn abuses but it is interesting to note the hesitancy. What does this language mean, that matters have not been helped because the EU monitor at the elections leaked the wrong results? It was a heinous abuse of a position to leak results that were unofficial. It caused immense grief and was grossly irresponsible. We have a direct possibility of calling that to account. What kind of dingbats went to the election and what were the consequences of their stupid behaviour? This is what we should address. If I thought for one second that instead of addressing this issue, we would have an endless stream of a campaign, day in and day out, through e-mails and elsewhere, to simply cut off aid to Ethiopia, I would regard this as irresponsible and as ill-informed. I would also regard it as extremely dangerous. I agree we should keep up pressure on the Ethiopian Government. We should attend the trial, talk to the opposition and to the African Union. We should talk to the neighbours and intervene and set up an international body to look at the dispute with Eritrea.

This is not as a last resort. How would one know what was a last resort? How many people in how many remote villages, however scattered, would have to be dying? How many wells would have to have dried up? How many children would have to have ceased coming to school? How could one judge it? It is time people made a decision on how to deal with Ethiopia.

I think the last resort here was not really intended in that way. The point was made in the presentation that given the scale of poverty in the country and the need for long-term development and humanitarian assistance it will not be possible for Ethiopia to meet the millennium development goals.

On a point of information, our distinguished colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, referred to the leaked report. I raised this issue with the Minister last week. I believe there is a case to be answered as to who leaked this report. There were Irish members on that delegation who must have had some knowledge that an interim report was being circulated and that it was not factual. I am not looking for heads, on a plate or otherwise, but I believe this is relevant. The Chairman may wish to pursue the matter on behalf of the committee.

We asked questions about it. I am not sure of the exact timing of the interim report. We took it in the context of the election, in the immediate aftermath of the election. There seemed to be what a politician would regard as false grounds for saying that because the opposition in Addis Ababa won 90% of the seats.

It was the catalyst for the subsequent violence.

It happens here from time to time where one end of a constituency shows a trend in a particular way and victory looks certain. Deputy Michael D. Higgins suggested there may have been some other motive. The person concerned was the EU head of the delegation. I do not think the Irish people were there at the time as they were working at a different level.

I would have thought it was accidental. The Deputy is suggesting there could have been something more behind it.

No, I am not. I am simply saying that it was negligent. If one is in a sensitive situation where, for example, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of opposition seats that will eventually be won — up to 176 seats — the idea that whoever is in charge would be so irresponsible as to leak results is, as Senator Mooney said, something that must be answered. I am familiar with election observation as I have often acted as an observer.

It was the catalyst for the subsequent violence. There was no other reason, other than the opposition believed that the election was stolen from it, on the basis of the leaked interim report. I do not wish to labour the point but it was raised.

It certainly seems to have contributed to the situation which arose subsequently and this was accepted at our last meeting.

I welcome the delegations from Trócaire and Concern. It is always good to hear a considered response from long-standing agencies engaged in Ethiopia and in many countries where Ireland has long-lasting partnerships with developing and emerging democracies.

The human rights agenda is a very complex area which involves international diplomacy, the high politics of international affairs and the separate, but not unconnected, issue of long-term development and humanitarian assistance. We talk so much about civil and political rights as they apply to the human rights agenda but we must not lose sight of the right to development, which is the most fundamental human right. The Irish aid programme and the other international players aim to vindicate that basic right to development by the poorest of the poor. We have done that over many years in a respectful partnership with emerging democracies. The area is so complex that it is difficult to have radio-style debates, particularly when players like GOAL tend to come out with tabloid generalisations about corrupt governments in Africa, and how the Irish Government is allegedly funding them. That is false and dangerous propaganda. It undermines the efforts of the Government to build up solid support for our own programme and to develop ownership of that programme by our people. If people regularly hear that the Government is funding corrupt governments, which is a falsehood——

——we lose aid and will lose support among our own population for it. That is not to say that there are not governance issues in Africa — of course there are. However, mature members of this committee and anybody who knows about the complexity of aid and the fragility of these emerging democracies, will know that it is all part of the development challenge.

Governance, electoral and democratisation issues, which we fund as part of our aid programme, must be taken as part and parcel of the challenge of development. We who know about these matters are constantly having to defend our programme against — let us not avoid this — one person who has an agenda that the Irish Government should pull out of Ethiopia and Uganda. This is an exercise that Mr. O'Shea has been carrying out for many years but successive Governments have held firm to our commitments.

Without minimising the importance of issues such as governance, our diplomatic staff liaise with all the stakeholders, including the respected aid agencies here. We talk to our donors and partners. We have endless reviews of our programmes and ensure the money goes where it should. We focus our support in a long-term manner on the poorest communities in the poorest countries. We have endless amounts of accountability checks and mechanisms. Our entire aid programme is accountable to this committee, to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

We are operating abroad with other sovereign governments. There is always an element of conditionality but there must be respect for sovereignty as well. Trócaire's representatives mentioned that much of the civil society work is dominated by outside players such as international agencies and NGOs. Is there not a danger, however, that at some point international players could be seen by the sovereign Ethiopian Government as being about regime change — funding or supporting the opposition to take out the Government? What would happen if we had a weak democracy and EU money was being spent on consistently funding Opposition parties here to take out the Government?

Thankfully, we have a very evolved democracy. We also have good accountancy mechanisms but that is the danger in emerging democracies, which are fragile and fearful.

Whatever one may say about the election in Ethiopia in May 2005, it was competitive and tightly fought. The opposition won 173 seats and took control of Addis Ababa city council. Even though there was unrest afterwards — flowing from the alleged leak which fomented unrest among the opposition and then led to a repressive response from the Government — it was a legitimate election. It was held validly and was internationally observed. There were recounts in 31 constituencies and the outcome was plain: the Government won the election fair and square. As donors, we must accept that, respect the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Government and people in this regard and get on with it.

While we support civil society as part of our democratisation and Government supports in Ethiopia, we must be careful not to cross the line and start mobilising the opposition to take out the Government. Neither must we in some way cross the line between supporting democratisation and civil society, or actually supporting regime change.

I agree with what the respected contributors have said today. We must continue to use our international clout, particularly on the war with Eritrea and the disastrous consequences if hostilities were to break out again. We must support the peace process and use our relationship with the United States which has been a serious player at a high level concerning conflict resolution in Ethiopia. We should also move at the same high international level, continuing to act diplomatically by using our respectful relationship with the Ethiopian authorities. We have strong links following our respectful partnership with them for so many years.

We must also continue to use our local knowledge to support the provision of regional aid, as we have been doing. We have no direct budget support for Ethiopia. When I was a Minister of State this was a key issue in reviewing the entire programme of assistance. Budget support is a difficult matter. We have been careful not to become involved in direct budget support, in other words, directly into the Ethiopian department of finance. We do not do that because of the danger of fungibility whereby aid can get lost and moved into other areas over which we have no control. We are extremely careful in ring-fencing aid to all recipient countries so that we know which sectors we are supporting. I am happy that the aid is monitored and tracked.

The principal agencies, which are represented here, can be forthright and defensive of our aid programme. They can stand up to the people who are making false claims about the Irish assistance programme for Ethiopia, Uganda and elsewhere. We need to stand together in supporting the poorest of the poor.

As regards the notion of last resort, under no circumstances would it be appropriate to withdraw our funding from Ethiopia. The scale of unmet needs in Ethiopia includes the fact that the country is almost constantly experiencing famine, even in good years. The balance between long-term development assistance and humanitarian aid is skewed in favour of the latter. That is a measure of the fact that it would be unconscionable for Ireland, of all nations, to pull out of a country which is close to famine at the best of times.

I look forward to further discussion on this issue. We must be robust in our defence of our aid programme and not listen to people who are fomenting a lack of support for our programme and propagating falsehoods about the Irish Government's programme of assistance.

I wish to endorse what has been said. As members of the joint committee and others, including our distinguished guests, will be aware, we had an extended discussion on this matter last week in the presence of the Minister. Many of the issues that have been debated here were aired at the earlier meeting. I am sorry I was not present to hear the dialogue on the submissions but having read the recommendations, I think I am correct in saying that representatives of both organisations have come to the conclusion that the Government should not withdraw its aid to Ethiopia. That raises the question as to what agenda is being pursued by the other aid organisation operating in Ethiopia. That seems to trumpet the fact that it is saving lives in the Tigré province as if that somehow gives it the right to embark on an all-out assault on the aid programme of the Irish Government. Listening to the Minister and those working in the field, as well as a distinguished former Minister, the programme is working. It is being transmitted through NGOs and bypassing governments directly. I understand from last week's statistics that direct Government aid was suspended in 2004 and that the amount involved, even up to then, for the two year period, was possibly of the order of €300,000 or €400,000. It was not much more.

I have always had great admiration and respect for John O'Shea and GOAL. Anyone operating in the Third World and doing the work the delegates are doing needs to constantly bang the drum and beat on the door of the political establishment and the media to ensure this important issue is kept on the front pages. However, people sometimes get used to enjoying the sound of their own voices. I say this as someone involved in a broadcasting environment. They somehow become addicted to the idea of appearing on the one o'clock news. This latest e-mail — this list of questions — was circulated to all members of the committee in the past few days.

Let us be clear. At 6.25 p.m. last night I received an e-mail which began with the words "Dear Michael"; it was not addressed to the committee. I intended to bring it up later under correspondence because on several occasions we have invited GOAL to attend and make a presentation. Let us be clear about where the e-mail was sent. I do not know if it landed with Senator Mooney earlier.

I am sorry. The significance of the timing was lost on me. I just checked my e-mails yesterday and it had been received. Perhaps GOAL is still sending e-mails to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The e-mail was not addressed to me as Chairman of the committee. It asked me about my constituency, and other questions such as whether Government aid represented value for taxpayers. There is nothing wrong with this in its own place. We could have had three presentations today, instead of two which were made fairly and openly. We will shortly have responses.

I did not wish in any way to detract from what the Chairman was going to do.

I welcome the opportunity to explain.

I will not elaborate and do not wish to have my remarks interpreted as an attack on an aid agency which is doing very important work. One might somehow be tempted to attack the political head, the public face, but one must also reflect on the many hundreds of aid workers in the field and the implications of what one might say. However, my colleagues have rightly demolished much of what is contained in this. The Chairman is correct is saying GOAL has been invited to come before this committee and has either refused, absented itself or given no reason.

GOAL may attend later.

We were here last week when the Minister was present. We are here this week with two of the major aid organisations. GOAL is not. I also remind the committee with regard to Uganda — as the Chairman and other members will no doubt recall — that at the height of the criticism of corruption at the highest level in the Ugandan Government, the Prime Minister or President dispatched a number of senior Ministers to this country on a charm offensive because the country was in danger of losing its aid. At the time John O'Shea of GOAL was given the opportunity to meet those Ministers face to face, both in an informal setting and on radio, but he refused. He had his own reasons for refusing. I do not want to break any confidences by repeating what he said to me, namely, his reasons for so doing. However, those are two instances where, in two areas where he has been a regular and consistent critic of Irish aid, he has failed to take the opportunities which other aid agencies have taken and continue to take to present their case in public. It is all very well to sit on the sidelines, to snipe and attack. I ask John O'Shea to come out into the open, to talk to the people's representatives on this committee, to put his case and fight it, and to engage in a question and answer session. If he believes he is right in what he is saying, he will find a ready audience here. For the moment, disappointingly, he has gone down in my estimation, specifically with regard to what is happening on this issue and Ethiopia.

I am pleased that the two aid agencies have come to the conclusion, after a measured approach, based on their experience in the field, that the Irish Government should continue to maintain the policy it has initiated. That is also in tune with the majority view on this committee.

The personality of John O'Shea should not be a matter for this committee. We should concentrate, as most speakers have done, on the desperate situation affecting the people of Ethiopia. It is a country of astonishing poverty where various agencies, church groups and NGOs have done very good and important work. We cannot close our eyes to this difficult situation, given that 40 people were killed in June and 80 more in the autumn. There was a huge reaction when people were massacred in Tiananmen Square. We should not react differently to the Ethiopian situation.

It is appropriate to ask questions about the disproportionate aid allocated to Tigré, where most of the members of the Ethiopian Government come from. If, for example, we had a situation where the Taoiseach was directing disproportionate amounts of European Union aid to his constituency, I would be delighted because I am one of his constituents. However, I imagine the rest of the country would kick up hell and that other public representatives would do likewise. That even happens with national lottery moneys. It is appropriate and perhaps useful to ask these questions in order that the Ethiopian Government will be aware of the fact that we know there is a massaging of aid and that it is directed towards its supporters. That is a natural human trait which needs to be restrained. Although we must be aware of considering ourselves the Skibbereen Eagle, our views may have a minor impact in this regard.

An interesting point was made with regard to the need to co-ordinate policy on funding for various countries and international agencies. In a way, some of these appear, at least to the outside observer like me, to be going in the direction of Mr. O'Shea. Various governments have frozen funds. Therefore, he is not as much out of step as has been suggested.

It was direct aid which ceased. There is a major distinction.

Yes, and I will come to it. I am sure the Senator will have an opportunity to snipe later.

Senator Norris should be factual.

I prefer to make my points and let you make yours but you should do so in an honest manner. I am being factual. You are replying with regard to some of the facts as is your entitlement, but you might do so afterwards.

The Senator should address his remarks through the Chair, please.

The Chairman might also direct that remark towards Senator Mooney, whom I know is a member of the same party.

We have a serious situation in Ethiopia. The two groups represented today have dealt with it sensitively and talked of a balance between expressing concerns and not damaging those who are most vulnerable. That is a delicate balance and a difficult one to achieve.

Part of the problem is that a very large proportion of aid goes to what I call fire brigade activities and that little of it towards real development aid programmes. It would be good if there were a possibility of this being rebalanced. It is also true that 80% of Irish funding is allocated to governments. This is contained in the submission. I must put that in the context of Deputy O'Donnell's comments about the proportions given to direct budgetary aid and so on. At least 80% is going to government and only 15% to 20% to NGOs.

I recognise the difficulty, which has been expressed quite dramatically, in terms of people saying it is like asking the Simon Community to administer the entire State budget but perhaps it is a question of rebalancing. Concerns were expressed by several of our guests about the fact that, when aid goes directly to the government in question, it is quite difficult to determine what it is being spent on and if, for example, it is being spent on preparations for a war. If there is this doubt, there must clearly be a consequent doubt that this money is actually reaching the people. I am not being hysterical. It is a clear and logical consequence of what has the committee has been told today. I am not suggesting that this is a reason for pulling aid, rather a reason for monitoring it as closely as possible. I welcome the indication that so-called sentinels are being established.

I was intrigued and interested when Mr. Williams said that strong views were expressed, especially by the government side. When anyone gives a tease like that I always rise to the bait. If it is not too insensitive, I would love to know what these strong views were and if equally strong views were expressed back. If the Ethiopian authorities feel they are entitled to express strong views to us, good for them. Let them be robust. We should be equally robust. We should not be afraid and should be prepared to examine how feasible it is, not to suspend aid, but to rebalance, acting on the advice of people such as our guests while also taking into account the views of Mr. John O'Shea. Yes, he is shrill. Who of us in politics can claim to be completely free of that particular sin? Our friend here, the ex-lord mayor, thinks he is. Other people can judge that.

My good friend, Deputy O'Donnell, said that people should not listen to John O'Shea. I will listen to absolutely anybody and everybody and, having done so, will make up my own mind. A policy of not listening would not be part of my nature, just as not speaking would not be a part of my nature.

If Senator Norris will just listen to me, the money does not go directly to the government. That was the point Deputy O'Donnell was making.

She was trying to say that it goes to regions.

Yes. It is very closely monitored.

I understood that as Deputy Michael Higgins explained it too. However, I am happy to say it again.

Senator Norris should listen. It is very closely monitored and a report has been written on it. We went to Ethiopia, examined the matter and visited Tigré and the excellent projects. Tigré is a world example of what should be happening in water management for growing crops. Irish aid there was so successful that people in other provinces and regions wanted the same and wanted it yesterday, not tomorrow.

Tigré was a pilot study, which we here understand very well. We accepted it as a good study and said we wanted to get on with business. The next step was to spread it to other regions. A point made by one of our contributors, Mr. Williams, is that it is important to spread some of the money to the south and carry out similar projects in other areas. We must be very clear. We spent much time in Tigré and the comments currently being made about putting money into that region are not in keeping with what we found on the ground in respect of NGOs and others, including GOAL, whose work we hold in the highest regard.

We were told by people on the ground that it is important that government-to-government relationships are good, as they need these to do their work. I know Deputy Michael Higgins is familiar with this matter and he has invested much of his time in it over the years. He has been very helpful to the committee in other areas. However, we examined this matter in particular, as written in the two reports of our visit and our examination of the whole region.

We must be clear that Irish funds are well spent in Ethiopia. There is a need to do something similar in other areas. The aid is closely monitored and spent through the regions and the NGOs. The elections were not perfect but were the best ever held there in a democratic sense. Almost everyone commenting on it agrees in this respect. We know about the problems arising from the elections. The Opposition increased its seats from 12 to 176, which we would have regarded as a significant gain for it. We exerted influence while we were there to ensure that the Opposition was given the freedom of the airwaves before the election and to ensure international observers were present.

We need to get back on course. We want to give every support we can. In this context, I will mention the excellent work done by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the current and previous attaché.

In his last visit, the Minister of State suggested that the committee should travel and update itself on the situation.

We must do that soon. I hope the Deputy will be free to go.

I will ensure that I am free. We could go on St. Patrick's week.

In some way, the Deputy is questioning our going through these meetings. They are a very good preparation for us before going there as we want to have as wide an understanding as possible if we are to be helpful. At this stage, I will hand over to Mr. Arnold, the chief executive of Concern.

I have an interview scheduled for 4 o'clock. I do not mean any discourtesy if I must leave then.

Mr. Arnold

I thank the Chairman. I will be relatively brief and should finish well before 4 o'clock.

I will make three points. First, the phrase "last resort" might have been in our paper but the whole sense of the paper is precisely along the lines talked about by Deputy Michael Higgins, namely, that the scale of the need in Ethiopia is such that we would not see a cut in aid levels coming on the agenda. The reality is that humanitarian aid must be given on the basis of need and we see no prospect of need diminishing over the short term.

The first time I was in Ethiopia was in 1983, when there were slightly over 40 million people. There are now over 70 million. The real problem is that Ethiopia has been caught in a vicious cycle of poverty that is very difficult to get out of. Part of the cycle is that, of the aid given — precisely as Deputy Michael Higgins said — perforce most of it is going on humanitarian responses. The capacity to use other aid to tackle the causes of the problem is too limited. More, better and longer-term development aid, allied to a private investment climate, is crucial if Ethiopia is to begin to get on its feet. The government has a responsibility to create that climate. If that happens, there is the possibility of more progress being made.

There are some general questions about whether we feel the Irish aid programme is effective, accountable and giving good results. Every member present is clear that this is the case. From our perspective, that is the case in Ethiopia and all other countries in which the aid programme is operating.

Deputy O'Donnell referred to the emphasis in public discourse on corruption. It is important to face up to this issue for a number of reasons. No one is advocating corruption, which is part of governance but which does not equate to governance. During a 15 to 20-year period, the overall trend is of more countries having increasingly democratic and accountable governments. Continual pressure from outside and the development of civil society in the country is necessary to create more accountability. There is a risk that the focus on corruption in public discourse is undermining potential support for the aid programme in Ireland and is a misstatement of the facts. I agree with Deputy O'Donnell in that respect. The core issue is that the Ethiopian Government has a case to answer for a number of incidents but the way to deal with this is to continue to engage with it.

Mr. Williams

Deputy Allen referred to Transparency International, a very reputable organisation that has done some excellent work on corruption. The company produced its annual report two weeks ago and the index used is a corruption perception index. This required a subjective examination of countries by external actors and, while its objectivity can be questioned at times, it is useful. On the basis of this index, Italy is more corrupt than Botswana, Greece is more corrupt than South Africa and Poland is more corrupt than Ghana. Three EU countries are more corrupt than three African countries, so we could argue for disengaging from some EU countries if we work purely on the basis of these indicators. We must be careful about branding all African leaders or governments as corrupt. Corruption exists in Europe but we know the scale is different and that these are exceptions. We must be careful.

Some of the good work Transparency International does is on transnational corporations. Many conflict situations in Africa are created by the involvement of transnational corporations and Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to the need to sign up to the UN Convention against Corruption. This is long overdue and everyone should sign up. The OECD has produced an anti-corruption agenda for companies, which is long overdue. It is important this should also be applied.

Tigré is a poor, border region of the country. Some 39% of the people who died in the last war came from Tigré. It was severely affected. Trócaire advocates that the Irish Government should spread the money around the country rather than focussing on Tigré but it is legitimate to support programmes there, which Trócaire does. We have a major programme there with civil society actors.

Concerning Senator Norris's point on the strong views expressed, officials were bewildered by the behaviour of external agencies. The British Government had just withdrawn its funding when we were visiting. There was anger and a lack of understanding regarding why this was happening. They had a sense that external allies had let them down. We raised significant issues such as fair trials, no impunity where wrong has been done and the long-term role of civil society in the country. We raised those issues and we always raise them where we feel it is right to do so . However, it is important to understand the context.

Regarding Senator Norris's views on rebalancing aid, the scale of the need for national infrastructure in Ethiopia or any other country must be addressed by governments, although NGOs, missionaries and others can play a role.

I attended a meeting in Germany, at which representatives of many African states were present, which discussed the corruption index. For corruption to exist, one needs someone to pay the money, someone to take the money and someone to bank it. Some of the countries furthest from the top of the corruption perception index are those that bank most of the money. People responsible for the index did not have a response in respect of that point. Until governments begin to root out money from the banks, we will not get to the bottom of this matter. That is where the real problem lies. We have started to do this and the committee inquired about the UN Convention against Corruption. We were told progress would be made in January and we will pursue it again after this meeting. It was indicated that nothing will happen before February.

Like everyone else, we admire the work of Trócaire, Concern and GOAL. We should make an effort to invite the chief executive of GOAL to discuss these issues. It is important that his voice should be heard and while his views are strong, he would not make them if they were not deeply felt.

I served as an election monitor in Bosnia-Herzegovina and some of those in charge were anxious that the Serbs would not win. I was there as a neutral observer and accepted the outcome of the people's choice. Leaders or monitors should be the most neutral persons involved and should not try to pre-empt the result of elections.

Our major focus should be on the 70 million people, half of whom are in need of support, in Ethiopia. The extra money provided by the UN through this Government should be channelled where it is most needed. A good case has been made for working in Tigré and perhaps there should be more unity of purpose among the NGOs in this regard.

To be clear on the situation concerning GOAL, it was the first organisation to ask us to hold this session. Its representatives were unable to attend the first and this session. It is possible that they may attend later. However, the absence of representatives of GOAL is not for want of effort on the part of the secretariat or the committee.

I accept that. I read the report, which stated that Mr. John O'Shea was unable to attend for personal reasons. It did not state that he was refusing to attend.

I appreciate that. He stated that on the previous occasion and in respect of this meeting.

I look forward to visiting Ethiopia and meeting Trócaire, GOAL and Concern personnel working there.

That is correct, as we met them before and as we reported. I thank the delegation for coming before the committee and for their contributions.

I endorse what Senator Leyden stated. John O'Shea has been before the committee and has robustly defended his position on issues. I am disappointed that, having taken the initiative to have this meeting, he was not present.

I now invite the chargé d'affaires at the Ethiopian Embassy, Mr. Goitom Kahsay, to come before the committee.

When a group comes before the committee the members of that group should not be spectators to a session. There should be more interaction. We spent most of the time making Second Stage speeches.

It is hard to include everyone.

As we all know, part of the Irish aid programme involves working in partnership with the Government and people of Ethiopia. Mr. Kahsay has heard the discussions and we look forward to his presentation.

Mr. Goitom Kahsay

I express my gratitude for the opportunity afforded to me to express my Government's view. I have prepared a short document which reflects the position of the Government. I will read it out to convey the Government's views on development in Ethiopia, particularly following the May election.

It is to be recalled that on 15 May 2005, the first openly contested elections in Ethiopia's history were held, with some 35 parties vying for seats. The pre-election period saw open and unprecedented public debates between the ruling party and the opposition parties. On election day, voting was remarkably peaceful according to international observers, and voter participation was high.

However, in the election aftermath, the country was faced with major challenges posed by some hardline opposition leaders under the guise of allegations of voting irregularities and vote rigging. Leaders of one opposition party, CUD, called its members and supporters to take part in street action and insurrections to realise its aim of bringing the Government to its knees. These street actions and insurrections, carried out under the full instruction and guidance of CUD leaders, regrettably resulted in the deaths of civilians and security personnel, and further loss of Government, public and private properties.

It must be frankly stated that long before the election, it was clearly understood that the leaders of the CUD were not ready to engage in the electoral process peacefully or to contribute to making the election a success. During the run-up to the election, they made it clear in their election manifesto that their objective in participating in the election was not to win seats, but rather to use the opportunity to mobilise the people to change the constitutional order.

Their main problem is the country's basic constitution, and not the ruling party. The current constitution is a complete redefinition of Ethiopia from its past. The Government is under no illusion that the CUD will accept the new reality created following the overthrow of the previous military junta. However, its position is clear and unambiguous. If the CUD wants to reverse the present reality it must only do so through peaceful means.

The opposition alleged that fraud in vote counting took place, despite the fact that everybody agreed it won more seats than expected. In order to address the allegations of voting irregularities, an extremely arduous and protracted process of investigation and verification was carried out outside of the regular election system. The ruling party and the opposition negotiated and agreed to institute mechanisms for the investigation of election complaints, which were conducted for several weeks. Accordingly, the National Election Board investigated complaints in 140 constituencies, and elections were re-run at several voting stations.

The final results showed a victory for the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF. The opposition won 175 of the 547 seats in Parliament, compared with only 14 seats previously, and gained complete control of the Addis Ababa city administration. However, the opposition hardliners refused to take up their seats in Parliament or to administer the Addis Ababa city administration.

Following the cycle of street violence and insurrections in Addis Ababa and other areas of the country incited by CUD hardliners, most of the elected parliamentarians who won seats on the CUD ticket have joined the Parliament. Only a few of the party leaders, who face criminal charges, remain outside the Parliament.

At first, the Government restrained itself from taking legal measures against those conspiring to illegally overthrow the constitutional system. However, when they instigated violence to advance their objective of snatching power through violence and dismantling the constitutional system, the Government had no alternative, as it is the Government's responsibility to protect the constitutional system from hardliners when the constitution is publicly attacked.

Those hardliners facing criminal charges were brought before the court within 48 hours as per the law. All were charged in an open court and the court proceedings were facilitated in a transparent manner. Access to their lawyers and family members has been fully granted. The Ethiopian Government has made it absolutely clear to friendly countries, and the international community at large, that interfering in the judicial process for the release of the hardliners should never be contemplated. Releasing them by interfering in the judicial process would be illegal and unlawful. These people are detained as a result of their actions, not for their political view.

The Ethiopian Government is doing its level best to address some of the problems which surfaced during the post-election era. These are mainly parliamentary procedures, the National Election Board, and the media. Accordingly, it is trying to address the opposition's concern by committing itself to reviewing the parliamentary processes on the basis of the experiences of some established democracies.

An international consultant, previously working with the National Election Board, will publish a report detailing the weaknesses of the NEB. The consultants will suggest solutions based on best practice. The same is also true for laws regarding the press. On completion of the study, a draft press law will be prepared through dialogue and negotiation among the parties who participate in the Parliament, and will then be submitted to the House.

The Government established an independent commission of inquiry to investigate whether the security forces used excessive force in endeavouring to maintain law and order. Unfortunately, the image of the country recently portrayed abroad has been extremely negative. This is for a number of reasons.

The opposition has a massive network of support among the diaspora who are well educated and well connected. These are people who lost something with the demise of the previous regimes. Leaders of the local human right groups, civil societies and NGOs have abandoned impartiality and politically allied themselves with the opposition. I refer only to the local NGOs and not the international ones.

The EU-EOM chief observer failed to maintain strict impartiality, as per the agreement signed with the Ethiopian Government, in the conduct of her duties. She finally abandoned her pretence of neutrality and openly and officially campaigning for the opposition further complicated the matter. There was a failure of the Ethiopian Government in explaining its actions and views. It was always dependent on the truth rather than carrying out a successful public relations campaign.

Despite concerns by development partners, including Ireland, over post-election violence, the May election has been recognised as a turning point in the country's drive for democracy which started more than a decade ago. It is glaringly obvious that the cycle of violence and street actions that have raged the capital were incited and stirred primarily by the politicians for their political ends. However, the presence of unemployed youth in towns, as a result of the cumulative effect of socio-economic problems, created fertile ground to aggravate further the political unrest. In this respect, full economic assistance from Ireland is very much required to deal with the root of the crisis.

When the incumbent government took hold of political power 14 years ago, the country had a completely devastated economy, including an under-developed infrastructure. Civil war, in tandem with command economic policies during the dictatorial regime, had ravaged the existing infrastructure and devastated the economy.

Given the financial resources needed to achieve the goals set down by the Ethiopian Government in the poverty reduction strategy, financial support must increase dramatically. Ethiopia's aid flow lags far behind others countries in the region. It is approximately $13 per person compared with an average of $23 per person in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. This shows that Ethiopia's aid flow is almost 50% less than that of other sub-Saharan African countries.

Despite all these difficulties, however, thanks to Irish and other development partners' support, the economy is doing quite well. We expect double digit economic growth in 2005-06, for the third year in a row. We also expect to pass the billion dollar mark in external trade this year. Furthermore, foreign investment has continued to flow, access to primary education has increased from 20% 13 years ago to 79.2% in 2004-05 and health coverage has increased to 82.9% from 41% five years ago.

It is true that democracy has been a recent development in Ethiopia but in the past 13 years, we have made significant progress. We are undoubtedly heading in the right direction. I would like to reconfirm that there is no possibility of the democratic process in Ethiopia being reversed. We are all convinced that the only way to keep the country together is by accommodating diversity and the only way to do that is through democracy.

I thank Mr. Kahsay. He mentioned that the EU-EOM chief observer failed to maintain strict impartially as per the agreement with the Ethiopian Government in the conduct of her duties. Will he explain that further? We welcome Mr. Kahsay's statement that despite the current difficulties, the democratic process will not be reversed. We are certainly ready to offer our support to achieve that.

Mr. Kahsay

The Ethiopian Government invited foreign observers when the May election was called. I remember there was much pressure from Irish friends and at a meeting with officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, I was advised to invite foreigners to observe the election as that would create a good opportunity for the Ethiopian Government. As a result of that, the Ethiopian Government allowed foreign observers to come to the country to observe.

The Ethiopian Government concluded an agreement with the EU, as a group. According to the agreement, there was a list of obligations by which the host country, Ethiopia, and the European Union would abide. One of the obligations was that the observers would respect the rule of conduct which had been agreed by both parties and that the observer mission would maintain its neutrality when observing during the election and, in fact, before the election when preparations were being made by the Ethiopian Government and also after the election.

As everybody knows, the chief observer of the European Union established a very close relationship and contact with the opposition groups. One of the things mentioned was the leaking of information and whether it was the result of the problem which had been created as a result of her personal relationship with the opposition groups.

In a previous contribution, we were told that after the election, the response of the government had been unacceptably repressive, that there were deep concerns in relation to the current political and human rights situation and that the views were shared by many of the European Union Development Ministers. Those are not my words but those of the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, when he addressed us last week on these issues. He also informed us that he met Mr. Kahsay on these issues. Will Mr. Kahsay tell us how he assured the Minister of State that his assessments were incorrect as far he was concerned?

As regards the investigation commission set up by the parliament to examine the behaviour of the army and the police, on what basis can it be termed an independent investigation commission when at that stage most of the opposition members of parliament had not taken their seats? We met Mr. Nega here prior to the election. What are the specific charges being made against him? On what basis is he still imprisoned?

Mr. Kahsay

I am not sure whether I understand the first question. Regarding the investigation commission, members of the commission were appointed by the parliament. Those people are not members of any political groups. Their experience and background are well recognised.

They have not affiliated themselves with either the opposition political parties or the ruling parties. We believe that they conduct themselves well, are well respected within the community and their educational background is high relative to others in the community. Hence, we believe they will carry out the responsibilities entrusted to them by the parliament.

Regarding the other question concerning Mr. Negga, my understanding is that he is one of the members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, CUD, political party who have been charged by the Ethiopian Government. As has already been mentioned, they have not been charged because of their political opinions, beliefs, or differences with the ruling party. He has been charged in a group, together with his colleagues. I understand that approximately 13 members of that political party are involved. No specific charges have been laid against that particular person.

My first question was in respect of the comments made to this joint committee last week by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan. He stated that the response of the Ethiopian Government to the disorder after the elections was unacceptably repressive and that the current political and human rights situation in Ethiopia was of deep concern to him. How does Mr. Kahsay react to those statements?

Mr. Kahsay

One must consider the political reality in Ethiopia before reaching a conclusion. We had an extremely difficult time immediately after the May elections and the Government was not in a position to control the situation in a peaceful manner. The situation was out of the Government's control. Members may be aware that a number of security police were killed by opposition supporters in Addis Ababa. Approximately eight policemen were killed in Addis Ababa alone. The number of casualties which were inflicted on the police force was extremely high and approximately 230 to 240 police were injured. Moreover, a number of hand grenades were thrown at the police force. Hence, the situation was out of control and the Government was obliged to act in a timely fashion before matters got out of hand.

In Ethiopia, the political situation is extremely delicate. We have approximately 80 different ethnic groups, speak different languages, have different cultures and have different political orientations. Hence, had the Government not intervened and checked the situation, it could have spun out of control. Its spillover effect would be extremely marked. As members may be aware, Ethiopia is a parent state for many of the ethnic groups from neighbouring countries. For example, we have approximately 4 million Somalis, a couple of million Sudanese as well as the Eritreans. Hence, the situation was extremely delicate.

I thank Mr. Kahsay for his attendance.

I welcome the representatives of the Ethiopian Government to the committee's proceedings. I also welcome the statement which has outlined the Ethiopian Government's response to criticisms which have arisen internationally with regard to the conduct of the elections and subsequent events. The chargé d'affaires has made a serious allegation and a comment which will require serious investigation, that is, the Ethiopian Government claims that the chief observer of the EU's electoral observation mission was biased and broke the agreement as to the protocols governing how that mission should operate, in the context of observing this democratic election. This must be tested and joint committee members should pursue the matter. Can the chargé d'affaires inform the joint committee whether the Ethiopian Government has made a formal complaint in this regard to the EU electoral observation mission? The leak was to the effect that the opposition had won the election but was being prevented from claiming victory by some sort of subterfuge, or corruption of the electoral process in the counting of votes. That spilled over into political unrest, which in turn spiralled into a threat to the security of the state. Clearly, the chargé d'affaires has stated that the response to the post-election unrest was so repressive — it has been so described — because the situation was getting out of control. It had gone beyond normal democratic protest and perhaps it was perceived by the Ethiopian authorities as having turned into a threat to the security of the state and an attempt not simply to protest about electoral grievances but to destabilise the state.

There was loss of life on both the side of the state and the opposition, which is to be regretted. More importantly perhaps, in terms of the matters under discussion today, the reputation of the Ethiopian Government has been brought into disrepute because of the unrest. Moreover, the aid programme which has the capacity to deliver assistance and sustenance to the poorest people in Ethiopia, as well as the solidarity of the international community has been threatened.

If the claim that a line was crossed in terms of propriety and compliance with international protocols regarding election observations is true, this is an extremely serious matter. It calls other elections that the EU will monitor in coming years in countries such as Uganda, Tanzania or wherever we have election monitors, into question. We must ensure that this process actually helps the situation, rather than contributing to social unrest, being involved, albeit indirectly, in regime change, or in taking sides, which is inappropriate for an international observation authority. Hence, I wish to ask the Ethiopian Government's representative whether his Government has made a formal complaint. If so, what has been the response? Perhaps the joint committee can inquire through our own Department as to whether the allegation on the part of the Ethiopian Government to the effect that the observer in question failed to observe the protocols concerning impartiality has been tested and if this matter has been raised with the EU by our Government.

Mr. Kahsay

As I have mentioned already, we were encouraged to be transparent and to invite our European colleagues to examine the democratisation process on which we have embarked. As a result, we believed in the participation of the European Community and invited the observer mission. However, we feel that we have been betrayed by the commission. The Ethiopian Government has presented a formal protest to every member state of the European Union. I recall that I submitted that particular letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs through the African political division. Thus far, we have not received any response. This will create a bad precedent for the credibility ofthe European Union.While we have been fooled, other African countries will not be, as they will have learned their lessons from Ethiopia. The 2005 elections in Ethiopia were considered to be one of the best projects of the Ethiopian Government. However, as a result of the incorrect action by the chief observer, the image of the country has been completely damaged.

This matter should be clarified as quickly as possible. As I understand it, following a meeting in Brussels between the Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the European Commission, Mr. Louis Michel will meet the Prime Minister in Ethiopia later this week. It is important that the facts of the issue be resolved at that meeting. A further point of information, to be of assistance to the committee, is that other international election observation agencies such as the Carter Institute were present in Ethiopia. All international groups present for elections of reckonable standard usually lodge their findings and proceedings on elections with the Canadian lawyers group which has published a handbook on appropriate behaviour and procedures for observing elections, both long-term and short-term. There is not much ground for ambiguity on what is supposed to happen in observing elections and the distinction between participating in and observing an election, which is very tightly circumscribed in the regulations. That issue needs to be resolved this week. I agree with Deputy O'Donnell that if the representative from the European Union has not behaved properly, it has immense implications which should be acknowledged and corrected.

To deal with issues past the point of the elections, it would be useful if information was put into the public realm on how many are being detained, whether international agencies such as the Red Cross have access to everybody who is detained and whether they all have access to lawyers. One of the difficulties in detaining people in disturbances following an election is that it looks as if one is detaining the opposition or the contestants to the election, which is very different from detaining a small number involved in public order disputes. It would be useful to establish how many are being held; where they are being held; in what conditions they are being held and the contacts available to them.

It is difficult to charge somebody who has taken part in an election process. To illustrate the point, I will give an example. In the unhappy times of General Evren in Turkey it was very easy to be accused of crimes against the Turkish constitution. It did not mean much but it told one a great deal about General Evren. In regard to the charges being brought against those who are being detained, it is very important as to whether one is suggesting they participated in the constitutional process. Under international law, it would require a very great burden of proof to uphold the suggestion people sought to subvert the constitution. I am simply saying there is a bad history internationally to this charge.

I find it very difficult to understand the reason the Ethiopian-Eritrean border commission cannot resolve the issues that regularly bubble up in border disputes. There is a mechanism for solving disputes which should avoid the deployment of troops on both sides.

Following elections, the international community has expressed its concern on the freedom of the press, which is very important. It is very clear that the party which won the election has more than a two thirds majority and that there is very significant representation of, admittedly, as Mr. Kahsay rightly points out, a diverse culture and an ethnic population. Would it not be better to seek to move past this point, rather than having trials on charges calling into question people's commitment to the constitution? This has happened previously in other countries but they have gone on to have structured political differences rather than people in power and people in prison.

Mr. Kahsay

The central point concerns the constitution. The ruling party and the opposition must base their position on the constitution which is the basis of discourse. Unless the opposition accepts the political reality in Ethiopia, it will be very difficult for the government. As I mentioned, it was clearly expressed in its manifesto that its main reason for participating in the elections was to mobilise the people to rise up against the constitution. At one time I remember the leadership of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, CUD, openly stating the party would not abide by the current constitution and wished to dismantle this new political system. It does not respect the constitution. The government wishes to apply its policies peacefully but the opposition does not want to play by the rule of law. That is one of the reasons the opposition party has been brought before the court of law.

I endorse the remarks of my colleagues in welcoming Mr. Kahsay to the committee. I think I am correct in saying there is tremendous goodwill among the Irish people toward Ethiopia and its people, dating back to the 1980s, a residual affection and interest since the days of Bob Geldof and Band Aid. Having said that, I cannot help but express surprise — if that is the correct word — at his analysis of the crisis the government is facing following the elections.

The question relating to the European Union has been dealt with. Is Mr. Kahsay aware that a document has been circulated to members, listing questions which the head of one aid organisation wishes to be put to him?

Mr. Kahsay

No.

Three major Irish aid agencies operate in Ethiopia — Trócaire, Concern and GOAL. GOAL has been highly critical of the Ethiopian Government and its actions and e-mailed a list of questions to individual members of the committee. One which exercises me and others, is the withdrawal of direct aid by several donor countries as a result of the police crackdown and arrest of people representing all aspects of civil society. I understand that journalists, elected MPs, members of NGOs and ordinary citizens have been arrested as a result of the violence.

Keeping in mind my earlier remarks about the goodwill towards the Ethiopian Government, I am disturbed by the statement that leaders of local human rights groups, civil society and NGOs have abandoned impartiality and politically allied themselves with the opposition. This, together with the other allegations about the EU, are very serious.

Down through the years, whenever one read about regimes which wished to maintain a grip on power, or where there was any threat to that power, they immediately locked up all the usual suspects and accused them of attempting to destabilise the government and the country. Mr. Kahsay appears to have indulged in a trawl of the legitimate opposition that would be ordinarily present in any democracy on the grounds that they have been attempting to destabilise his country through not recognising the constitution. I would like Mr. Kahsay to address this fundamental issue. He indicated in other statements that the Government intends to act openly and transparently in regard to the manner in which it will provide for due process. I would like Mr. Kahsay to address that issue and the reason he believes a number of donor countries have withdrawn direct aid.

Mr. Kahsay

Regarding my statement on leaders of local human rights groups, NGOs and civil society, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between politicians, civil servants and leaders of human rights groups. For example, the Ethiopian human rights group is led by one of the current leaders of a political group. The CUD is a coalition of four political parties. The leader of the rainbow political party used to be the leader of the Ethiopian human rights commission. He resigned from the human rights group and formed a political party.

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Kahsay

He had already created his own political cliques and had supporters from among the Ethiopian human rights group who have their own political allegiance. They formed a coalition party. All the propaganda propagated by the opposition party is channelled through the Ethiopian human rights commission. All the statements are carved from the Ethiopian human rights commission, which is more or less identical to the opposition political parties.

The other local NGOs ally themselves to the political parties. We read a number of statements in the manifesto but it is probably difficult for the foreign editor to identify who made statements and why they did so. In Ethiopia, we are aware of what people are doing. There is no distinction between leaders of the Ethiopian free press, leaders of the other groups and the Ethiopian opposition parties. However, it may be difficult for members of the committee to understand this aspect.

Is Mr. Kahsay by inference saying that all the groups to whom he referred form the political opposition in his country, that the Government is certain about this and that no representatives of human rights groups, civil society or NGOs support his Government?

Mr. Kahsay

Yes, we know them and the Government knows them. They are working for the opposition, which is why I said so in my statement. It is obvious to everyone.

It appears to me that there is a real difficulty about the definition of the state and civil society. I have always felt this in regard to societies in transition. I can think of several regimes in Central America, with which I am familiar, where people went from a junta, so to speak, to a parliamentary system, to an elected government and a cabinet or whatever. Ultimately, the transition requires certain fundamentals in regard to uncomfortable freedoms that must be allowed in the separation of powers.

Any human rights organisation worth its salt in any continent is continually pushing for the extension of political rights to economic, social and cultural rights and so on. It is also a fine grounding for political life.

Equally, the free press is important. In the Western world, we often do not have a free press because we are threatened by monopolies. We do very little about it so we cannot give too many lectures. It is strange to find oneself saying that everyone is against us, including most of the civil organisations in one's society. In a way, you are either perfect, and these people are all wrong, which is close to disqualifying the public.

I am sure Mr. Kahsay can appreciate that one would be concerned about this. I presume the meeting with Louis Michel, for example, will discuss the positive agenda of creating a dialogue with the press, civil society, NGOs and human rights organisations. Otherwise one will be simply writing them off and regarding them as people to whom one cannot talk, which would be a backward step.

Mr. Kahsay

I referred to most, not all, NGOs and members of civil society in Ethiopia. Most of these groups are highly vocal and highly critical of the Government. For example, the media is playing a negative role. Ethiopia is a very sensitive society, comprising 80 ethnic groups and the press should respect the culture, history and so on of the ethnic groups. Historically, we come from a difficult background. Ours was a feudal society. Some ethnic groups oppressed other groups. We draw a clear distinction between what the media should respect but they have violated all the rules and regulations.

I said in my statement that the ruling party and the opposition have agreed to revise the current press law. When the recommendations have been made, the matter will be referred to the national parliament for discussion on what type of press law should be introduced. I do not wish to generalise or to condemn every aspect of the civil society but some organisations are dangerous in terms of their extreme political propaganda.

Perhaps Mr. Kahsay could reply to my second question regarding the withdrawal of direct government aid by the international donor countries. Has he any comment on why they did that?

Mr. Kahsay

A number of Ethiopian officials have commented on the cuts in direct budget support. We have not heard about the diversion by donor countries of development aid for various reasons. I have not heard the accusation that the money was kept by the Ethiopian authorities. We respect the decision of donor countries to channel aid in a different way.

The aid has not been withdrawn; it has been redirected.

There has been no withdrawal of aid. The donor countries have redirected their aid in the same way as Ireland has. The media have printed articles stating that aid has been withdrawn but that has not happened.

With respect, in framing my question I specifically referred to direct Government aid.

Aid has not been withdrawn, it has been redirected.

I am asking why moneys previously given directly to the Ethiopian Government have been redirected in recent weeks. That was and remains my question. Why, in Mr. Kahsay's opinion, have donor countries operating on the ground in Ethiopia, who traditionally, as far as I am aware, donated money directly to the Government, now redirected or in some instances suspended direct aid? Perhaps he could comment on why be believes they have done this.

Mr. Kahsay

We are not happy that the aid is being rechannelled through different sources. We do not agree with the reasons given for the rechannelling of money. If it has been done for reasons relating to the political situation following the May election, we do not accept that. We do not agree with the decision to rechannel the money through other means.

Has the Ethiopian Government conveyed that view to the donor countries who have taken the action?

Mr. Kahsay

Yes, we have done so.

What was their reply?

Mr. Kahsay

I have received no replies from the donor countries so far.

I thank Mr. Kahsay for his presentation. The questions I was going to ask have already been asked. Nevertheless, I will restate them.

I welcome, as outlined in the submission, Ethiopia's commitment to the democratic process. Is the Ethiopian Government concerned about the need it perceives to jail the free press and supporters of the opposition? I know Mr. Kahsay will agree that if democracy is to flourish one must have a free press and a healthy opposition. Is the Ethiopian Government concerned about its need to put such people in prison?

Mr. Kahsay

We have not detained journalists based on their publication of press reports. They have been detained as a result of their involvement in violence in Addis Ababa and other parts of the country. No journalist has been imprisoned as a result of his or her reporting of the political situation in Ethiopia. They are not political prisoners or prisons of conscience; they were involved in violence in Ethiopia and were brought before the courts.

We are aware, having visited Ethiopia prior to the election, that much was done in the lead up to the election and that there have been many improvements in this area. We had great hopes that democracy would continue to grow following the election. While we are aware that certain things happened, we are concerned about the reaction to those events. It is important, as stated by Deputy Michael D. Higgins, that Ethiopia should move on and build on the democratic processes which have been established. Are any charges pending or being considered against army or police arising from the demonstrations? Eight members of the police force were killed. Is the independent commission considering charges in relation to the murder of members of the security forces?

Mr. Kahsay

The independent commission will investigate everything that happened.

Mr. Kahsay is not at this stage aware of any prosecutions in that regard.

Mr. Kahsay

No.

The matter is being investigated by the independent commission.

Mr. Kahsay

The independent commission has not yet finalised its investigation. It has commenced its investigation but has not yet reported to parliament.

Mr. Kahsay will be aware members of the joint committee met during their visit to Ethiopia with the Prime Minister who agreed to the appointment to the election of international and EU observers. He may recall we were accompanied at the time by Ireland's Chargé d'Affaires, Ms Pauline Conway, and that following that meeting the Prime Minister instructed Ms Conway to inform her colleagues in the European Union that he would welcome the appointment of observers. Would the Ethiopian Government welcome, as suggested by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and others, a visit by a delegation from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs which could meet with the Prime Minister and other members to offer assistance in that regard?

Mr. Kahsay

The Ethiopian Government would be pleased to receive a delegation from the Irish Parliament and to provide them with firsthand information of the situation through discussions with the Ethiopian authorities. I discussed this issue with Deputy Carey on the last occasion we met. We are always happy to welcome an Irish delegation to Addis Ababa.

This has been a long session and I thank Mr. Kahsay for attending today and for being so open and co-operative in the spirit of partnership in which Ireland is working with Ethiopia. We will certainly consider a visit in the near future and will be in contact with Mr. Kahsay about that.

The joint committee went into private session at 5.01 p.m. and adjourned at 5.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 21 February 2006.