Irish Aid Programme in Ethiopia: Discussion.

I welcome everyone, particularly our ambassador, Her Excellency, Ms Síle Maguire, to discuss the Irish Aid programme in Ethiopia. Others present are as follows: Ms Colleen Wainwright, head of development at the Irish Embassy in Ethiopia; Mr. Seán McMahon, Irish Aid's director of programme countries at the Department of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Kevin Dowling, director of the Africa section of the Department's political division; Ms Fiona Quinn, development specialist, thematic sectors and special programmes, at Irish Aid; Mr. John Gilroy, Irish Aid's deputy director of programme countries at the Department; and Mr. Ray Jordan, CEO, Self Help Africa. I thank Mr. Donough Ryan, the regional liaison officer with Trócaire for the Horn and east Africa programme for supplying a comprehensive briefing document on Ethiopia to committee members before today's meeting. I welcome His Excellency, Zerihun Retta Sumye, the Ethiopian ambassador to Ireland who is attending in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.

The committee is in the process of examining in a concentrated and systematic way how Ireland's development aid strategy is run in each of the nine programme countries. The meeting today is the third in the series. Today's discussions take place against the background of an emerging food crisis in Ethiopia. Within recent days the Ethiopian Government released figures that suggest the number of people in need of emergency food aid in Ethiopia stands at 6.2 million. The Ethiopian Government has made a call for international assistance. I am glad the Irish Government has responded by pledging €1.35 million in humanitarian assistance funds. I thank the ambassador, Her Excellency, Ms Maguire, and Mr. Ray Jordan for the background information on this new crisis.

Outside the crisis that exists in Ethiopia, the committee is interested in the general aid picture with regard to the money Ireland gives aid programmes in Ethiopia. I refer to our auditing systems and the success and value of the money the Irish taxpayer can see from the tens of millions of euros that have been injected into Ethiopia over many years. This is what committee members will ask about. This is an opportunity for the delegates to lay out a case and make clear the value that exists with regard to the moneys disbursed by the Irish taxpayer. Once the ambassador has made her presentation I will open the discussion to committee members.

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

I thank the Chairman and the members of the Sub-Committee on Overseas Development for this invitation to discuss Ireland's aid programme in Ethiopia. I am delighted to be joined today by my Department of Foreign Affairs colleagues from Ethiopia and headquarters, as well as by Mr. Ray Jordan of Self Help Africa. We work closely with Self Help Africa in Ethiopia and its insights will add greatly to our discussions, particularly concerning rural development. I echo the comments of the Chairman in welcoming the ambassador, His Excellency, Zerihun Retta Sumye, and contacts from the NGO community.

I note the committee is particularly interested in hearing of the impact Ireland's programme is having in Ethiopia. Our intention is to discuss the programme from that perspective. We also wish to give a sense of the scale of our commitment to the reduction of poverty and hunger in the country. Over the past three years the Government, through the aid programme, has provided €126 million for development in Ethiopia. Of this amount, €96 million is being delivered under the bilateral programme managed by the embassy team in Addis Ababa. The remaining €30 million is being channelled through Irish NGOs, missionaries, UN multilateral agencies and other NGO partners.

I propose to offer a brief overview of our programme and to explore a few basic questions such as why Irish Aid is in Ethiopia, what the challenges are and, crucially, what results are being achieved. Many Irish people associate Ethiopia with the devastating famine of 1984-85, during which more than 1 million people died. The images from that time made a searing and lasting impression on people in Ireland and across the world. Some 25 years on, Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world. In the period since our aid programme was established in Ethiopia in 1994, significant progress has been made, and the Ethiopian Government is committed to poverty reduction. Where nearly half the population were living on less than $1 a day in 1990, just over a third are today. However, with a population of 77 million, this still means that 27 million Ethiopians are surviving on less than $1 a day. We remain engaged in Ethiopia because our support is yielding significant results but the needs remain immense.

Our programme in Ethiopia is divided into two broad pillars. The first aims at addressing that most basic of needs, food security. The second focuses on helping poor households to move beyond mere subsistence and on to more sustainable development through accessing better health and education services. Food security continues to be a struggle for millions of families in this vulnerable corner of Africa. More than half of Ireland's funding is directed to supporting initiatives that increase smallholder productivity and help vulnerable rural households to cope better with shocks such as poor rainfall or rising food prices.

As such, Ireland's approach in Ethiopia is very much in keeping with the recommendations of the Government's hunger task force launched in September 2008. It also reflects the challenges facing Ethiopia, where 80% of the population live in rural areas. The agriculture sector, and the millions who rely on it, are entirely dependent on weather and are highly vulnerable to shocks such as drought.

The Ethiopian Government is aware of the need to improve agricultural productivity and is investing strongly in agriculture and rural development. Expenditure in this sector stands at 12.5% of total public spending, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. By way of sharing with the committee a sense of our contribution to agricultural productivity and food security, I make specific reference to our experiences in the northern region of Tigray. This region was particularly badly hit by the famine of the 1980s and it is for this reason that Irish Aid began a programme there in 1994.

Since then, Irish officials have worked alongside officials of the Tigray region in planning, funding and implementing a comprehensive, integrated approach to soil and water conservation. In that time, we have supported the development of integrated watershed management. As a consequence of our support, agricultural productivity and livelihood security has increased. This has been achieved through the development of a network of techniques such as the construction of gullies and dams to slow the flow of the seasonal rains and the planting of trees and shrubs to retain the nutrients in the soil. All of this enables the raising of the water table. Complementary work has involved supporting local communities to diversify crops and to move into new areas of business such as beekeeping or poultry. Development work continues with support to bring farmers and researchers together to test different seed types and other inputs to improve yields.

The results of this partnership are evident. When I visited one of these areas recently, I asked a local farmer how her life had changed. She put it very simply: before the development of the watershed, she was unable to feed her family for more than three months of the year and she was planning to resettle. Now she provides food for her family year-round, her daughter has trained as a teacher and her son is at university. She feels secure in her and her children's future.

While the scale of what needs to be achieved in Ethiopia is daunting, our experiences in Tigray show us what is possible. Ireland acting alone cannot replicate this Tigray experience across Ethiopia but, through our participation in the multi-donor productive safety net programme, we are contributing to the scaling-up of this type of approach. Between 2008 and 2009, Irish Government assistance is contributing €24 million to this safety net programme. In this way we are supporting the provision of a social protection system to 7.5 million people throughout Ethiopia. The programme, which is the largest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, provides food and cash payments in exchange for public works. The public works undertaken largely comprise soil and water conservation projects to improve agricultural productivity, like those Irish Aid supported in Tigray. In any given year, 34,000 public works, which improve community resources, are carried out across the country.

Despite the progress made in building up the resilience of households to deal with food insecurity through the safety net programme and other support for agricultural productivity, there is an additional vulnerable section of society hovering around the poverty line. In difficult years, a varying number of these people slip below the poverty line and need emergency food and nutrition relief. As mentioned by the Chairman at the outset, the situation at the moment is of grave concern. Poor rainfall has led to a severe deterioration in the food security situation in parts of the country. Food prices remain high. Some communities have a significantly reduced ability to cope with these pressures because they are still reeling from the difficulties of 2008 when the number requiring emergency relief exceeded 6 million. Last week the Ethiopian authorities announced that the number in need of emergency assistance reached 6.2 million people. The Government responded quickly with €1.35 million in humanitarian assistance, which was announced last week by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power.

The prospects for 2010 are cause for further concern. This year's summer rains were erratic. Assessments of the impact are currently being undertaken and we should have a better picture over the next four to six weeks. If the forthcoming harvest fails, the numbers requiring emergency relief will increase further. More generally, there is concern that the impact of climate change will increase the regularity of droughts in this extremely fragile part of the world.

Twenty five years after the famine, therefore, food security continues to be a struggle for millions of families in Ethiopia. However, as noted by Oxfam in a report published last week, the severity of the suffering seen 25 years ago has not revisited Ethiopia. This is not to downplay the gravity of the current humanitarian situation, however. It is clear that a serious deterioration has occurred but the manner in which the Ethiopian Government, supported by the international community, deals with food shortages has developed very significantly since 1984. Many Irish people will recall the distressing images from the 1980s of large camps where emergency food and health services were provided to starving masses. We are not seeing those scenes now because emergency food and nutrition relief is provided to communities through established government mechanisms which enable the majority of people receiving assistance to remain with their families.

While progress continues to be made, Ethiopia has a considerable distance to go on key development indicators and a number of complex challenges remain to be navigated in the period ahead. The economy is feeling the impact of the global recession, which is likely to reduce the level of public funding available for poverty reduction sectors. Furthermore, elections are due to take place next year and political tensions, as well as concerns about governance generally, are high. After nearly 2,000 years of feudal and later imperial rule, followed by close to two decades of a military regime, it was not until 1995, or just a year after the establishment of the Irish Government's bilateral programme in Ethiopia, that the first constitution enshrining democratic principles was introduced. For much of the period since then, progress has been made towards deepening democracy but the violent aftermath to the 2005 elections has left a difficult and disappointing legacy. Ensuring that the forthcoming 2010 elections are fair, free and peaceful will, therefore, be a test of the democratic, pluralistic commitment of the Ethiopian Government and of wider society.

The embassy is working closely with other international partners in Addis Ababa to encourage the widest possible participation in the democratic process. For example, as ambassador of Ireland I am currently a co-chair of the Ethiopian partners' group of more than 30 ambassadors. We are maintaining close contact with key political actors. Furthermore, Ireland leads on civil society issues within the donor community. A particular priority at the moment is assisting civil society organisations to adapt to new legislation which limits the types of activities in which organisations receiving foreign funding can engage.

Our close work with civil society also involves supporting citizens to secure access to better quality public services. The most vulnerable sections of society cannot hope to escape extreme poverty unless they can benefit from health and education services. Since the 1990s, Ethiopia has made significant progress in reducing poverty and improving the living standards of its citizens. This has been supported by the strong economic growth which has enabled large increases in public spending on education, health and water but the progress achieved needs to be seen from the perspective of the very low base on which Ethiopia is building.

The commitment of the Ethiopian Government to poverty reduction is clear from the fact that public funding to basic services doubled between 2005 and 2009. Irish Aid supports poverty reduction and improved social services through our support for a multi-donor programme called the protection of basic services. Funds support the delivery at a regional level of health, education, water and sanitation as well as agriculture services and rural roads. Some 70% of these costs are covered by the Ethiopian Government with international development partners covering the remainder.

Good progress is being made. On education, for example, net enrolment in primary schools in 2007 reached 79%. The achievement is more notable when we consider that the level of net enrolment in 1991 was as low as 48%. Progress is also being made in the health sector. For example, the number of children dying before the age of five dropped by a third between 1990 and 2005. Furthermore the prevalence of HIV has dropped from 7.3% in 2000 to 2.1% in 2007. Much more progress is needed, however, especially in women's health, if Ethiopia is to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the millennium development goals. A woman in Ireland has a one in 48,000 chance of dying from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth in her lifetime. In Ethiopia, the possibility of a woman dying from such complications is one in 27. This is why Irish Aid is supporting the Ethiopian Government in its priority of improving women's health. Our funding is contributing to the deployment of 30,000 new health extension workers to provide primary health care for families at the local community level.

In concluding my introduction to our programme, I emphasise that Ireland's aid programme in Ethiopia is making a positive difference to an impoverished country located in an unstable and fragile corner of the globe. In managing our programme we continue to attach the highest priority to rigorous monitoring and accountability to ensure value for money is secured and the programme delivers for the most vulnerable Ethiopians. I am conscious these introductory remarks have provided only a brief outline of the programme and of the challenges facing Ethiopia. I would welcome a visit by members to the country to give them the opportunity to witness at first hand the impact Irish Aid's support is having.

I ask Mr. Ray Jordan, chief executive officer of Self Help Africa, to make his presentation.

Mr. Ray Jordan

I am delighted to be given the opportunity to present the work with which Self Help Africa has been involved over the past 25 years. The organisation originated from the assistance given to Ethiopia through efforts such as Band Aid and Live Aid and our support base of rural Irish communities who wanted to assist their African counterparts. For the past 25 years Self Help Africa has been chipping away with a great deal of success at its vision of an Africa free from hunger and poverty. Today's focus on Ethiopia is timely in terms of the very different challenges the country faces now compared with 1984.

I am delighted to note the attendance of the Ethiopian ambassador with whom I have had long conversations regarding the link between emergency recovery and development assistance. I spent most of the past 17 years working and living in Africa and have considerable experience of working locally in emergency response situations. I worked with GOAL for 14 years as head of its emergency programmes.

When Self Help Africa was established as a small Irish organisation 25 years ago, its fundamentals were rock solid. We have always been grounded in the community. All our staff in Ethiopia are Ethiopian and limited technical and financial support have brought considerable change to the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people in that country over the past 25 years. A key to our success has been our collaboration with local governments through a tripartite agreement between local communities, governments and Self Help Africa. That has been the essence of the success of the organisation.

The other key element of our success over the past 25 years is that Self Help Africa has always been seen as an organisation that treats farming as a business. From day one, rather than considering food interventions at times of crisis, the organisation quickly returned to considering how we could prevent such crises from happening. One of the founding fathers of the organisation, Dr. Awole Mela, took a courageous view in saying we would address the root causes and work with communities through their difficult periods. The approach taken is that we only work in an area for between five and seven years, so there is no level of dependency such as would arise if the organisation were there for 15 or 20 years.

The organisation works as a catalyst for change and it has been an extremely successful model. It is good to go back to places ten or 15 years later and see communities coping better, even in difficult times, in areas such as Sodo where we work now. The shocks taking place in Ethiopia now are the same as those in northern Kenya and northern Uganda. It is the ability of communities to ride out such shocks and not get into crisis that is the key underlying trend of success. In Ireland, when one says "Ethiopia", people think of Band Aid and Live Aid in 1984 and 1985, but the interventions now are dramatically different. The scale of the challenge, even in the current emergency recovery development continuum, is different from 1984 and 1985. There has been considerable progress, primarily by the Ethiopian Government, with appropriate intervention and support from outside.

Access to information and timely and appropriate responses are making these emergency responses less of a shock to the communities concerned. I have personal experience of working in an out-and-out crisis with a colleague, Fiona Quinn, who is now with Irish Aid but was formerly with GOAL, in Gode in 2000, and it was as bad as in 1984 and 1985. I am glad to say we do not see those things happening any more, thank God. We have nine years of investment in rural livelihood and agricultural development, which is helping to prevent these crises becoming catastrophes.

The other point I wished to raise was the link to technical support. The organisation has always been involved in agricultural research and getting the research to translate into productivity at a household level. That is probably one of the greatest strengths of the organisation: the ability to get the best of information and translate it into support for communities to build a rural livelihood. Much of the time, in previous years, agricultural research did not actually get out to the field as there was a blockage in between. The role of Self Help Africa, through its founder Dr. Awole Mela, was to see the link between best practice and the reality on the ground.

Another aspect of the success of the organisation is related to the fact that Irish agriculture has developed from the first co-ops, which were introduced just over 100 years ago, to multinational companies such as the Kerry Group and Glanbia. We have received support from the One51 Foundation, whose support for us as an organisation in Ethiopia arose from the fact that the Glanbias and Kerry Groups of this world came from groups of smallholder farmers in Ireland who collaborated to work and trade their way out of poverty. Two of the greatest benefits we have seen, apart from the support of food security at a household level, are the development of co-operatives in Ethiopia and increased access to savings and credit.

We have a long-term partnership with the Irish League of Credit Unions and we are delighted it supports us financially with considerable sums, but, far more importantly, it mentors us and gives us technical advice and support for our savings organisations and credit unions in Ethiopia. We have more than 125 credit union branches in Ethiopia now, and that is down to the technical and financial support of Irish Aid and organisations such as the Irish League of Credit Unions. The partnership approach between Self Help Africa and key stakeholders in Ireland, whether it is people involved in co-ops, people involved in savings and credit, or those involved in technical research, has benefited our programme by acting as a link to communities in Africa and particularly in Ethiopia.

We must talk about the challenges. People in the NGO community have spoken a great deal about the new NGO and charities legislation being implemented in Ethiopia. I am delighted to see that Self Help Africa represents the integration of a UK charity and an Irish charity. Just two weeks ago we received our full registration as an international NGO under the new legislation with no problems. As our focus is on rural livelihoods and food security, we do not have a specific agenda with regard to rights or advocacy. However, from my experience working in 20 countries in Africa, I know that Ethiopia is a country in which Irish NGOs and the Irish Government can do business. I do not see blocks to progress in terms of engagement at local or national level. We advocate and influence agricultural policy at a national level as well. It is important to put on record that we can work in the country. Let us see how the country goes.

I lived in Uganda for more than six years. The two countries have great similarities in their paths towards democracy, the stresses and strains of elections and so on. I first went to Africa in 1992, and I see a continent that is on the move in the right direction. I am aware there are still significant challenges, but if we consider a country such as Ethiopia, every one of its neighbours has significant challenges to face and, by association, so does Ethiopia.

From my perspective as chief executive of the organisation, we have had a long commitment to Ethiopia and it has been the most successful work we have done in Africa. I hope in the next 25 years we can, through our efforts as a relatively small and modest organisation, continue to support rural communities in achieving a sustainable livelihood, and that we will see in our lifetime an Africa free from hunger and poverty.

I thank Mr. Jordan. He has answered some of the questions I had intended to ask, but I will play devil's advocate. The Ambassador mentioned a figure of €126 million for development in Ethiopia. Have we made any mistakes along the way in our approach? Mr. Jordan mentioned a possible mistake with regard to getting down on the ground and applying the models to farmers. Is our approach as it should be? Have we learned any lessons along the way? Have there been any mistakes, as Mr. Jordan sees it and from the point of view of NGOs, in the way our money is disbursed in Ethiopia?

Mr. Ray Jordan

Mistakes have been made. Countries such as Ethiopia are extremely complex to work in, as are the other bilateral programme countries such as Mozambique and Uganda. If we did not make mistakes we would not be able to learn as implementing organisations, whether on the NGO side or not and whether we are talking about the multilaterals or the bilaterals. The key point is to ask whether we are going in the right direction. It can clearly be seen that in the bilateral countries, where Irish Aid is investing most of its funding in sub-Saharan Africa — we work in at least five of those countries — the overall thrust of where we are going, whether we are talking about missionaries or the NGO community, is in the right direction.

Mistakes have been made internationally and not just in Ireland. We have been trying to reach a balance between emergency recovery and development in an appropriate fashion. The World Bank report from 2007 stated that 4% of overseas development assistance was spent on agriculture. That has clearly been a disaster for the past 25 years. The emphasis of the programme must be on——

The reason I asked Mr. Jordan about this was something on which I picked up last week. It was a curious comment coming from someone from Oxfam and I was surprised to hear it from that source. Mr. Jordan used the word "balance". The comment was made, specifically with regard to Ethiopia, that while food saved lives it failed to offer long-term solutions. I was surprised by that. Mr. Jordan believes the balance is correct at this point in respect of overall development, particularly with regard to the area of food security.

Mr. Ray Jordan

I have been involved for 17 years in this work and it is fantastic there is now a debate going on internationally on how we will feed the world in 2050. Twenty-five years ago that debate was not heard. Perhaps it comes from the FAO.

Ireland could take the lead in the hunger task force, in respect of 20% of our overseas development aid going in that direction, if we truly committed to that as a country. I would love to see Ireland doing that and have said as much to anybody in Irish Aid who will listen to me and to any of the political people I meet. We are uniquely positioned to make the point that our country came from hunger and poverty and has been extremely successful. If I were trying to promote what Ireland should stand for in the future it should be as the country that leads in the area of hunger and poverty.

I would love to see the hunger task force delivered upon and then I would say we were not making mistakes. If we do not deliver on it I would reserve my judgment to say we did not put our resources into doing so. It is a matter, not only of financial resources but of our commitment as a country. We should be known internationally for putting this at the centre of our foreign policy. One could park the Celtic tiger and replace it. There are two things we can give internationally — first, our understanding of hunger and poverty which is unique, and second, working towards conflict resolution in sub-Saharan Africa. We can bring a great deal from our experiences in Northern Ireland to places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. These are the two things we should do as a country.

I thank the Chairman, the ambassador and Mr. Jordan. The ambassador appears to paint a very good picture of the Ethiopian Government and its work in the past 15 years. How good has it been and what improvements have there been in the GNP of the country over that period? How has Irish Aid changed the way it expends funds as a result of the work that was taken over by the Ethiopian Government?

Does the ambassador feel there is conflict regarding how Irish Aid spends money in the country and how the Ethiopian Government suggests it might be spent? I refer to civil society and the assistance the ambassador says is being given to non-governmental organisations in respect of the new legislation being introduced. Perhaps she might expand on the point that only Ethiopian NGOs that have less than 10% funding from abroad will be entitled to do human rights development work and make suggestions in respect of human rights violations, if there are any. What is the situation regarding human rights in Ethiopia compared to its neighbours in Africa? I would be delighted to hear her response.

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

I thank the Deputy for those questions which bring us into other areas and open out the discussion. In commenting, I may pick up on some points from earlier questions.

I shall start with the good picture. Looking at the overall spectrum, when I speak of the undoubted commitment to pro-poor and poverty reduction policies, I can say absolutely we are working in a very positive way and that results are being achieved. Regarding the broader picture, there are aspects concerning civil society and broader governance issues where progress has been more uneven. That is something we discuss frankly with the Ethiopian authorities.

I shall run through the questions in order. The economic situation is certainly part of the good picture. I predicate this, as I tried to do in my presentation, by saying there was a very low base. The current Government has been in place since the early 1990s but many of these pro-poor policies and developments have happened only in the past six or seven years, with the launch of a number of specific initiatives. That probably has to do with the length of time it would take any country to settle down after a very tumultuous period of conflict. The 1990s were a very difficult period of transition.

Regarding the economic situation, over the past five years the annual economic growth in Ethiopia has been about 11%. This has enabled an absolute appreciable increase in public spending on poverty reduction policies. Something in the region of between 60% and 70% of public spending goes on areas such as health services and education. For the latter I believe it is 24%. I am straying into dangerous territory now, using statistics, but something close to a quarter of public spending goes on education.

I mentioned agriculture. This is significant. African countries generally meet and agree and say they should spend at least 10% of public spending on agriculture. Most do not do so but Ethiopia has exceeded that figure. These are very positive things to note. The extra money the Ethiopians have generated has gone into extra money for the health services. We have seen that, manifestly. There are more health posts, more health workers. There is still a huge distance to go but we are used to hearing, "Are we going in the right direction?". The answer is undoubtedly "Yes" in all these areas of social services.

Has Irish Aid adjusted to cope with this? Yes. We are one of many donors in Ethiopia. Again, it is curious that in comparison to the rest of Africa Ethiopia receivesper capita half the average amount of overseas development aid received by other countries. It is a country that says to the nth degree possible it wants to do this itself. When it started in the mid 1990s with a much smaller programme and little less than £1 million the Irish Government worked in particularly impoverished regions in the south and the north. We did that until relatively recently. It was an area-based approach whereby we did projects, built schools and hospitals. However, in the years since 2000 the Ethiopian Government began expanding its decentralised agenda which is extraordinary. The health and education services are delivered by the regions and that has really been scaled up. We had to shift what we were doing to ensure that our money was being spent more effectively. The days of building the schools had to be replaced by supporting the Government in its delivery of the social services. We adjusted our modalities, so to speak, and now support, along with other donors. I mentioned the protection of basic services programme whereby the government provides 70%, essentially paying the salaries and costs of running the health and education services in the country. Irish Aid is one of a group of donors helping it meet the other 30%. That is an instance of how we have changed our modalities.

Deputy Ardagh asked about conflict between how the two Governments feel and I was reminded of an interview I read in theFinancial Times with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The interviewer said that until very recently the donors used to give the Government a harder time and now the development partners seem to give it an easier time. He asked if that was the case. The Prime Minister said, “No”. He said the international community continues to raise concerns and the Government did not always agree. He said the pact is that the Government feels there is a way of developing; of reducing the poverty in the country and that it will always discuss the matter frankly.

The Deputy mentioned conflict. We talk about funding health services. We looked at where our comparative advantages are and are working very much in health and the accessing of social services, but also in the key areas of hunger. We did an audit when the hunger task force came out. We had a sense that we were very much on track. We are split into two pillars. More than half of what we do concerns food security, which makes sense in a country which has an area as fragile as this. When it comes to civil society, governance and supporting communities who demand their rights are very important to us. It has been something Irish Aid and other donors have discussed. At the last meeting European Union ambassadors had with the Prime Minister in June, I led the EU side in raising the civil society concerns.

We will continue to support civil society because like Self Help Africa, Vita and other organisations from Ireland, many organisations we support are involved in service delivery. We are very worried about what will happen to the smaller number of organisations which have received funding from abroad. We talk to them a great deal. Irish Aid is leading amongst the donors in terms of civil society. We chair the civil society working group and are very involved in helping these organisations to adapt to the new legislative environment.

I assure the committee that it is a priority for us. It is an uncertain period because the legislation comes into effect next February. We had a meeting with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, in April. We agreed this would be on the agenda every time the development partners meet with the Government. We will take a health check on where we are on this and if it is having an unintended impact. The Ethiopian Government says these areas of human rights are so important that Ethiopians should be doing it for themselves without funding from abroad and we said as long as the effort can continue we will agree to monitor it closely. It will go into full implementation in February and we expect to have the very open kind of conversations Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says happen. They happen all the time. We talk very frankly.

Is gender equality a major item for discussion?

H.E. Ms Sile Maguire

Gender equality is a part of that. It is an important aspect of social development. It permeates Irish Aid's entire programme. For example, many farmers are female. That is half our funding. In terms of gender equality, the distinction is that advocacy in these areas is not prohibited. What is at issue is the extent of funding received from abroad to support engagement in that activity. We want to see if, post-enactment of that legislation, that activity can still happen.

I have spoken to people active in human rights who have said they were active before they got money from aboard and will continue to be active after implementation next year. In regard to some of these issues the Prime Minister said the proof of the pudding will be in the eating and has said we should see how it is implemented. I will be very happy to report back to the committee in a few months time. We are now at a point in the process where it remains uncertain what the impact of that will be.

The issue of human rights and the assessment of it was raised. A universal periodic review programme, which is a mechanism of the UN human rights council, will come up towards the end of the year and the Government will engage in that. Ethiopia has the legislation and the institutions in place. It has a human rights commission and various processes and structures, but there are concerns about implementation. The institutions are new and the degree to which they have spread their wings and expressed different views to the Government is not as robust as it may be in other societies on that level, but they are in place and are engaged in various cases.

There are concerns arising in regard to Ethiopia in terms of human rights. I have raised the issue bilaterally and in various other capacities through the co-chair of the ambassadors group. There are concerns about the civil society legislation. The region bordering Somalia is highly militarised. It is very difficult to get access to the region so it is difficult to assess, but periodic concerns are raised about the possibility of abuses. As the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, said when he visited in February, any allegations must be robustly investigated. There are issues around the political space as we head towards the 2010 elections. There are allegations and claims of harassment.

None of these pictures is black or white. Where there is concern there are also instances of progress. In the political space, the governing party and various opposition parties have this week concluded discussions on a code of conduct for the elections. Since last September they have discussed issues like how they will handle harassment and campaigning issues. It is a mixed picture because a significant opposition grouping has not participated in those talks. I hope I have answered the Deputy's questions at length.

I thank the Chairman and the delegates, and compliment them on the work they are doing in Ethiopia. We appreciate it very much.

The food supply is a major issue and the cause of emergency from time to time. On the question of the cost of food to individuals, Ms Maguire said 27 million people are still living on less than a dollar a day. How do these people manage their affairs? The rest of the population are probably living on not much more than a dollar a day.

The delegation mentioned the success in Tigray. Does the type of serious drought experienced in recent times also have an impact there or is it immune from the difficulties experienced in other areas? Mr. Jordan referred to drug resistant crops. Is there any down side to those? Why are they not used more?

My other question concerns co-operation, co-ordination and the integrated programmes between all the different donors and agencies, both state and NGOs. Is there room for improvement to ensure we get better value for the money spent? What brought about the reduction in HIV infections from 7.3% to 2.1%? Is Irish Aid involved in supporting the structures of democracy? Is the Institute of Public Administration involved in the region? What work is being done to support the democratic structures?

If those questions could be answered, I will then take Senators Ormonde and Hannigan together. I know Senator Hannigan has to leave.

H.E. Ms Sile Maguire

I thank Deputy O' Hanlon. On the cost of food, Ethiopians are net buyers of food. However, food production does not meet the needs. In the presentation we touched on the fact that in any given year there are between 7 million and 8 million people who cannot cover their food needs for the year and are supported under the safety net programme. In difficult years others need assistance.

As the Deputy mentioned, the cost of food is a significant factor. General inflation hit 62% last August but food inflation hit 92%. While the cost of food has reduced somewhat, it is still above a five year average. The proportion of the income of the millions living on less than a dollar a day which is spent on food has increased. It is part of the reason some people are pushed into needing emergency relief.

On the types of drought, what we are seeing and what is happening in the region, in his contribution Mr. Jordan discussed being in Gode in the Somali region in 2000 with Fiona Quinn and the devastation being close to what happened in 1984. What is still happening is the recurrence of drought. It is happening every three to five years. Oxfam and others think that will increase. There are figures to suggest that by 2030 it will be three out of four years. The capacity to respond to that has changed. Irish Aid is one of only eight donors involved in the safety net programme. We were involved in the discussions to set it up and remain involved. A new food security programme is being rolled out. Mr. Jordan spoke about being advocates at federal level on policy. Two donors, Canada and Ireland, participated in the intensive working group discussions. This manifests our consistent, solid, steady interest in food security.

There are debates about the scientific evidence for drought and climate change. We read an article recently about the town from which most of the Ethiopian athletes come. I do not know if the winner of this year's Dublin marathon is one of them but Haile Gebrselassie and some of the other leading athletes come from this town. The temperatures there will rise by three degrees in the next few years, according to Oxfam and others. Then people who used to provide enough food to keep themselves going for the year will no longer be able to do so. Mr. Jordan spoke about the work of Irish Aid in building up resilience. There are other organisations involved such as Self Help and Vita which is here today. A map of the world produced by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWSNET, which tracks food security shows one red area which has chronic food insecurity, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Northern Kenya. It is an extremely fragile area.

Irish Aid is working on the drug resistant crops. Access to improved seed is a major challenge. The agricultural practices in parts of the country have not changed since biblical times. I hope the members of the committee will come to see this. The people use oxen for threshing and many jobs are done by hand. There are debates about access to fertiliser and other inputs. Ethiopia is full of proud people and there are lobby groups saying that they must ensure that the right types of seeds come in and all the issues surrounding that are thrashed out.

Irish Aid, Vita and Self Help and all kinds of organisations are involved in helping communities use improved seed. We have some projects in the north and the south. We are working with Self Help on a project. University College Cork is also involved. We bring farmers and researchers together in the field so that there is no distance between the two. They are trying new techniques and this is showing results. We need to replicate that work. That is why Irish Aid's role at a federal level is important, we discuss this with the government. Our work in watershed management in Tigray is an example followed in other parts of the country. Study groups come to Tigray to see what happened with Irish support from the late 1990s to the present. Improving access to better inputs is a significant challenge. As Mr. Jordan said the trajectory is going the right way but the constraints on resources are immense. These are expensive projects but the 12.5% the Government is putting into this area is very important.

This is the first time the ambassador has talked about resources and maybe their depreciation. Later she might tell us what effect that reduction has had and the problems that have arisen, if any. That is very important.

I thank the ambassador and Mr. Jordan for their detailed presentations. I have learnt much in the past half hour about how it is all working on the ground out there. Deputies Ardagh and O'Hanlon have raised the questions I wished to ask. I hope the ambassador and Mr. Jordan will bear with me if I repeat some of their questions. The global recession and climate change are the challenges of the future. I never like the term "multi". When I see the phrase "multi-donor programmes" it begs the question that we have to rationalise in the future. That is our thinking in every area but particularly in respect of our resources.

Mr. Jordan touched on this in respect of the links with technology and with the local communities and how best they can manage their lives. Have efforts been made to rationalise the programmes because there may be a perception that there is an overlap in the various rural agricultural production and educational programmes. The ambassador mentioned that 7.5 people throughout Ethiopia are involved in the social protection system. "The Programme, which is the largest of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, provides food and cash payments in exchange for public works." Will she comment on that? I congratulate her on the work being done.

I thank the delegations for appearing before the committee today and giving us such a comprehensive presentation.

Some of my questions have been covered but I will briefly touch on them again. There has been a 25% reduction in foreign aid over the past year. An bord snip is proposing further cuts. How does that affect Irish Aid's work on the ground? Are there any concrete examples that would help us to visualise the impact in real terms?

The Ambassador said she is co-chair of a group of 30 European countries. Could that forum be used to monitor the impact of the new charities and societies law? I would be interested in receiving feedback in the next year on how that affects programmes.

The Ambassador's notes say there is one doctor per 30,000 people. I come from Drogheda and that would be the equivalent of one doctor for the whole of Drogheda. One impact of that is that the mortality rate for women in childbirth is approximately 2,000 times higher than it is here. Are there any programmes under way that we can help to increase the number of doctors in Ethiopia and affect those figures?

Mr. Jordan said that in rural areas we provide a great deal of financial support in the form of micro finance. According to an article inThe Economist, I think, in many rural areas in Africa the advent of mobile telephones is helping farmers obtain better markets and prices. Has that affected rural areas in Ethiopia?

Mr. Ray Jordan

The mobile telephone coverage in the greater Horn of Africa, bar Ethiopia is provided by the private sector. Ethiopia has not liberalised its telecommuncations industry. Liberalisation in the neighbouring countries, Uganda and Kenya, has dramatically transformed those countries to a broader private sector business approach. Access to mobile telephone coverage in Ethiopia is less than in neighbouring countries but the significance of that real time information has dramatically changed people's livelihood. It is one of the greatest changes I have seen since 1992 on the continent because people do not have to sell their product to the middle man on a take it or leave it basis. They can text their friends in Addis Ababa to ask how much a kilo is worth on the market today.

The overall thrust of the aid programme is smarter than it was 25 years ago. It is much smarter with telecommunications than it was ten or 15 years ago. I used to write reports and post them back to Ireland that took six weeks to arrive. It was wonderful because no one was bothering us, we were just doing our work. Now, a person can be on his BlackBerry in northern Kenya being asked to send something today. Smart, knowledge-based development, rather than heavy input-based development, is the way things will go. Through education and ICT improvements, things will change dramatically. There are villages that do not have electricity or a land line but the private sector has made mobile phones available. It is a remarkable improvement to people's power and knowledge in Africa.

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

The budget cut is of interest but we must also put it in context the growth of our programme. It was €1 million in 1994, reached €13 million by 1999 and by 2008 the budget had reached €36 million. There was an exponential increase in funding.

In looking at readjustment, we were coming out of a planning exercise to review our priorities. We had already decided that we needed to scale back the number of partners and move out of some sectors. We wondered where our comparative advantage could be found. We are strong on food security, hunger and health. There are many players dealing with education so we will get out of that sector, perhaps. In the lead-up to 2008, we had rationalised our programme.

What was the cut?

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

In the order of €6 million.

From €36 million to €30 million?

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

From €34 million to €28 million.

You are not setting off alarm bells in my mind with regard to the programmes you are running. You are saying the readjustment had already taken that into consideration.

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

No, our range of partners had narrowed and we had left some areas. Some programmes had come to completion and we had decided to move into other areas.

In 2008, when we looked at the spread of our commitments, we asked where we could readjust and enable partners to continue delivering on their objectives. The safety net programme, for example, has around eight partners and some of them were planning increased funding in 2008. The protection of basic services programme was the same.

We looked at a range of issues. We looked at the hunger task force priorities and what was happening in Ethiopia at the time, last year and this year, with a difficult humanitarian food security situation. We focused on the core of food security and also looked at social services and the protection of basic services. A number of our partnerships with civil society organisations working in a range of service delivery areas were coming to a conclusion. A key thing is that we talked to Government and to our partners and explained our situation but they know of our commitment. Others might appear before the committee to say that Irish Aid is well regarded but, genuinely, we are seen as straightforward and exemplary. We try to be frank. We were asked earlier who decides what we do but we decide together, we are clear that our programme supports the nation's poverty reduction programme.

We have, however, left some areas. We cannot try to do everything everywhere. There is an aid effectiveness agenda that is perhaps not as well developed in Ethiopia as in other countries owing to a range of factors. Irish Aid, however, clearly leads on civil society issues and Senator Hannigan asked how that played out. How will we ensure our discussions with Government are evidence-based? Irish Aid is chairing the civil society group of donors and a monitoring framework is being developed in agreement with Government. We have agreed not to talk about anecdotes but to talk about trends. We are leading the development of that process. We were talking about this all of last year but we are still talking about it. It is happening in a constructive way, we will see how the process develops and be frank about its progress. I will keep the committee informed about that.

On health, there was reference to the scale of the problem related to human resources. Linking it to Drogheda brings home the scale of the problem. Across Africa there is a challenge to keep professionals in rural areas. Almost 85% of the population of Ethiopia lives in rural areas but most hospitals are in urban areas. The challenge is huge and on a regional level Irish Aid is working with the Southern Nations Nationalities and People's Region. We have a specific programme to support it to develop mid-level health workers. Under the programme we have worked on together, we have been involved in supporting the training of 1,000 health professionals.

In Ethiopia there is a need to know who can do a particular thing. There is much that could be done to improve women's health at a more local level but it requires a major effort. There are now 30,000 health extension workers, whereas in 2005 the figure was less than 3,000. These are women who are trained for a year and placed in health clinics throughout the country in the most rural of areas. These women are involved in immunisation, and now 78% of Ethiopian children are immunised. They are involved in rolling out mosquito nets to households, leading to a 50% fall in child mortality from malaria. These women are involved in family planning and areas as basic as health education regarding waste disposal. This is an extraordinary programme that has been rolled out in the past four years and Irish Aid supports that directly through our support for the Ethiopian health services.

There are issues around co-ordination between development partners. In Ethiopia there is a development assistance group that we chaired last year. It is made up of mostly non-African ambassadors — the African ambassadors have their own framework — with more than 30 of us from the European Union and other areas. Assuredly, that, our EU fora and our bilateral fora are places where we talk frankly about issues surrounding civil society and related issues.

There is room for improvement but we work hard not to duplicate work. Within the Irish Aid relationships with the Irish non-governmental organisations, we would meet quarterly to share information so there is no duplication. Sometimes people are working in similar areas in different parts of the country but we try to learn lessons from that with workshops so that models that are successful in one area can be explained to those working in other areas.

We are a questioning organisation. We have a committed team who are getting involved at federal and regional level in developing policy. We punch above our weight because we are uncomplicated.

There is a recurring theme that Irish Aid is a questioning organisation that constantly looks at the programmes it is funding and the ways it could be improved, even before budgetary cuts here. It is looking at how best to deal with programmes it is running. That is a different approach and has not been emphasised as strongly by anybody else who has come before the sub-committee. That is a very positive way of looking at things. It is the case being made on the work that is done on an ongoing basis. Is that fair?

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

Yes, and in part it reflects a very distinctive Ethiopian culture. The Ethiopian ambassador and his colleague are present. That is a country about which I have not been able to give a sense of how distinctive is its culture. It is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that was colonised during the scramble for Africa. It had an incursion from the Italians in the 20th century but it has been ruling itself, in various forms, for more than 2,000 years. We have questioning discussions with them. This is not a country where donors, Irish Aid or anyone else can come along and say "we think you should do it this way". They will hear what we have to say and localise it and they will always be interested in best practice, but it is clear who is developing the pro-poor policies of Ethiopia — it is the Ethiopian Government. There is a very distinctive focus. I know some members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs but I not believe anybody in this room has visited there in the past. I know they have had meetings with Prime Minister Meles and have come away clear on that issue.

There were clear Government changes in policy, for example, when it moved to a decentralised model. When we were receiving more funding we had to ask whether this was the best way to do it. Organisationally, Irish Aid is a questioning organisation. Procedures flow from good development practice around managing for development results. Periodically, we have to examine ourselves. I am aware that the committee spoke with Ambassador Kelly about the DAC peer reviews. It is an organisation that has various structures in place with which we deal. If we want to suggest a different way of spending money we have to go through a very rigorous process.

This is a tough question. We need to find out what the levels are? Some devil's advocate might ask if one could reduce further the budget to Ethiopia and, if so, would one be able to find that readjustment comfortably with the programmes being assisted? At what point would one find oneself in trouble in regard to the people being helped with the budget that is operated?

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

I suppose, as civil servants here and elsewhere, we will do the best we can with the budget we have. Last week, before we came back, Ms Colleen Wainwright and I met the Minister of State in the Finance Ministry — we met him earlier this year — and suggested we keep open the lines of communication. Our message to him and his colleagues was to be part of the process with us in deciding how Irish Aid money can be best spent. That is the kind of conversation we are having with key partners also.

Mr. Seán MacMahon

I will come in on that issue. It is a difficult one for civil servants obviously. Not to labour the point, the ambassador has made it clear to us that there was a time when our input to Ethiopia and to other countries was more than it is now and it did not stop us doing what we did. We take what we can get from Government and, of course, we negotiate. We are very conscious of the difficult position in which it puts us and we have obligations as donors to other donors and to our host governments in terms of predictability and constancy. Those are important aspects of what we have signed up to under the Paris declaration. We try to meet those and when we cannot, it causes a difficulty for us. However, we recognise the current climate is very difficult. What it does for us, among other things, is to show us how to be more focused and to try to make the money we have go further. For that reason there is a constant focus on getting value for taxpayer's money.

Mr. Ray Jordan

Our funding from Irish Aid has been reduced by 20% this year. Going back to the Haile Gebrselassie analogy, the work in which we are involved is a marathon, not a sprint. Having seen Irish Aid set up in Uganda in 1994 and the progress made since then, I take the broader development community. Far more important than concentrating on a specific number in a specific year, I firmly believe that Ireland Incorporated, our image internationally, must not be seen as an organisation that does not honour its commitments. If we proceed in the right way it will be the best money we will ever spend for our international profile for the next 25 years. If we do it the wrong way it will be held diplomatically and very quietly against us. We will lose an opportunity now if we do not stay the course. If there is a blip over one year or two years, one cuts one's cloth to one's measure, the same as every family in Ethiopia has to cut its cloth to its measure in terms of the food on their table. As a country we have to do the same, but if we throw the baby out with the bath water now, I do not think we will be able to make up the ground internationally. We will not be able to get back the reputation we have from the missionaries, through the aid programme, and all the different instruments if we miss the boat in the coming years. If one has to cut one's cloth to one's measure in the coming years, so long as we finish the marathon without losing sight of where we need to get to, that is the biggest political message we need to send to the Government and it needs to be able to communicate it to the Irish people.

The first thing we need to know is where we have to get to. As a country with a GDP growth of 11%, possibly down to 7.5%, and given the progress that has been made, as demonstrated through your examples, specifically the watershed programme, where are we going within the next ten years? What do the witnesses see unfolding over the next ten years so far as Ethiopia's food security is concerned?

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

Senator Ormonde has a specific question about public works. The public works component of the safety net programme has been up and running only since 2005. Each year, 34,000 public works are carried out. These things are said and I am glad to have the opportunity to explain. It is directly related to the food security issue. I have seen it in different parts of Ethiopia. It is about bringing into play techniques that are not new, techniques that Israel and all parts of the world have been using. When there is no difficulty with money, countries which suffer drought will apply these techniques. It will be terracing, half-moon terraces, gullies, channels, depending on the topograph in the area. Certainly in the next ten years the scale of the number of those public works which have a direct impact on a local community — it is the local community itself that decides the technical input from the agricultural services — will be an issue.

In regard to food security, drought is an issue, so too is the environmental degradation. The diversification of the economy will be necessary. At present our focus is on food security in regard to helping Ethiopia to diversify its economy, which will mean opening up financial and communications services. These are structural issues in the economy that are on the table when we have donor meetings with the Government. Overall development is happening and, during the next ten years, that will continue to happen. Progress will continue to be made on health services and education. That is why we are involved in that area as well as in food security. Those are the key steps. I return to the conversation I had with the farmer I met recently. That lady is in an area that ten years ago was degraded and she could not provide for herself and her family the year round — she took out of her pocket the telephone number of her son who is in university. That can happen in a ten-year period, and ten years later that son or daughter will be older. There is a level of brain drain in Ethiopia, as there is elsewhere, but the investment in education means that in ten years' time that problem will have moved in the right direction. All of those issues feed into the food security challenge. Addressing the food security issue must come from a range of different areas and it must happen over time.

Mr. Ray Jordan

We must play our part in a regional sense in what is a complicated picture. We must first have regional stability, which is my greatest concern for the region. We must play our part in collaboration with the Government, and some of the biggest aid instruments must play their part also. I refer to the United Nations World Food Programme going not towards international procurement but local, regional and national procurement. The food for assets projects, cash interventions and pro-poor interventions have a multiplier effect. All we can do is stay the course but we must make sure we are doing our piece in a co-ordinated fashion so that if the regional situation in terms of climate change issues arise they can be addressed.

Mention was made of the UN food programme and in that regard I will ask a broader question of both representatives. In December 2008 we gave €2 million to the UN food programme. I ask this question of the ambassador. When we give €2 million, for example, to the UN food programme, what monitoring systems are in place with regard to where and how that money is used?

On the broader question, in the past two or three years some commentators commented — I do not agree with them — on corruption and our overall aid budget, and intimated strongly that a large percentage of that budget was going into the pockets of corrupt officials. I ask everybody who comes before the sub-committee to respond to that because it is an important question for the taxpayer. Will the representatives respond to that?

H.E. Ms Síle Maguire

On the €2 million to the world food programme, the funding to UN agencies is channelled, in the case of that programme, via Rome. We would be involved in on-the-ground monitoring and field visits. Last year, for example, the €2 million was given towards the end of the year but earlier in the year we would have also given an amount of money to a special operation in the Somali region. There would be field visits and monitoring visits. We receive regular reports from the world food programme down to the level of the amount of food that has been dispatched and when we do a field visit we visit the warehouses.

There is a separate layer of reporting where the world food programme reports through its global structures. The programme in Ethiopia is the second largest world food programme in the world, second only to Sudan. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for example, has a close relationship with the world food programme and in managing the Irish money on that programme.

On the corruption question, I am conscious of the interest and I am glad we have this opportunity to speak on it. In terms of corruption, there is the perception and the attempt to get the facts. When it comes to Ethiopia, what we notice is that, as people living in Ethiopia — we have colleagues who have worked in other countries in Africa and Latin America — there is a sense that it is not as systemic as it is in other countries. One has no sense that individuals are siphoning large amounts of money, but what good is a sense?

Moving on to issues of perception indicators, there is Transparency International and Mo Ibrahim, and the rating they give to Ethiopia is somewhere at the lower ranges of the middle performing group or the upper end of the lower performing group. Ethiopia is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. If taken as a comparison, its corruption rating is higher than that, but the Ethiopian Government believes that rating is not evidence based. It believes that it is a perception. It has been working with the World Bank on doing this in-depth survey, which we are all looking forward to seeing because we are all wondering about our perception matching the perception of others. It is still in draft form but we have been talking to the World Bank and our question was whether Irish Aid money for basic services such as health and education is reaching the areas for which it is intended. What is coming through on the survey, although it is in draft form, is that corruption is not a factor in accessing those basic services in that people are not being asked to pay money for them and that funding is reaching its intended target, namely, the basic services. That would be in keeping with our assessment. If we take any of the programmes we are involved in, there are quarterly reports, audits and monitoring missions, and the Irish Aid team is out there participating in those.

In terms of the financial reporting on those programmes, I am aware the members had an interesting conversation with our audit committee and the financial reporting we are getting on these programmes bears that out. The issue of qualified reports arose and the committee examined that, but we recently examined issues around the €350 million safety net programme, which literally means cash will be given out in a field in a local community.

The World Bank assures us in this regard and, as we know from our studies, the extent of financial management in the region is showing a year on year improvement, which is a major issue in dealing with corruption. Irish Aid is very involved in supporting the development of financial management in a range of ways. We do it regionally with Tigray and federally through our support for the big programmes.

That is not to say there is no corruption. There is corruption, as there is elsewhere, and the question is what happens in that regard. The trajectory, so to speak, on that is going in the right direction. A federal ethics commission was set up in 2001. With other donors we support the Human Rights Commission, the anti-corruption commission and all those types of institutions. Cases are being prosecuted. Civil service reform is sweeping the country and dealing with corruption is at the heart of it. At the most local level in Ethiopia, pinned on the walls in public offices, one can see notices about the budget and the salaries for the health services. This is supposed to encourage civil society to ask whether that money is reaching the areas for which it is intended. Encouraging people in civil society to ask questions is a step in the right direction.

The auditors office and the public accounts committee at regional and federal levels follow up on audits — we know that from our engagement in Tigray. We have met the auditors who do that. They leave the office in Mekelle and go district by district following up on their checklist of issues that arose. We await the World Bank in-depth examination but Irish Aid has its own systems in the office. We have a full-time internal auditor. Our agreements with everyone we fund include explicit reporting requirements, as they do across the Irish Aid programme. We follow up assiduously on issues.

The social accountability we are supporting is interesting from an Irish context in that local communities literally sit and talk about the health services and ask questions such as whether the nurse turned up every day that week. There is that level of expectation in the system from the social services.

Mr. Ray Jordan

I spent most of my time working in the field in Africa and was responsible for managing significant programmes over the years. Cutting to the chase, one will always encounter challenges in every country in which one works. One must have an internal audit, an external audit and a statutory audit and systems underpinning that, particularly in terms of compliance. The three greatest challenges to delivering any programme, whether in Ireland or in the developing world, present in the disbursement of assets, the procurement process and the payment of salaries. Those are the three avenues where there is significant potential for corruption. Those three areas need to be addressed within the organisation and the donor country and its government. The greatest way to do that is through ensuring accountability and transparency through access to information.

We carried out an independent audit in Ethiopia in December 2009. In relative terms, the audit found that matters were very good in Ethiopia. However, a commentary made about the country was that it has a bureaucratic system. While our internal systems in Self Help Africa are bureaucratic, in Ethiopia the checker checks the checker. While that system is very labour intensive, the point was made that this is important to give people confidence at village level that anything that is done is clearly seen to be done. Therefore, access to information, whether it is in the savings and credit groups or——

It might be due to the Italian influence.

Mr. Ray Jordan

I worked in many sub-Saharan African countries, and Ethiopia is probably the most bureaucratic in terms of ensuring transparency. One person checks what another person has done and information is made public, whether such information relates to the distribution of assets, seeds or tools or access to credit or savings and credit programmes. Our savings and credit programmes amount to one of the largest challenges our organisations faces. More than 90% of the loans we give are to women and the literacy and numeracy skills of these groups is very low. The challenge we face is how to empower these savings and credit groups which have limited access to numeracy and literacy skills. A great deal of the training we provide is not about the disbursement of assets but about developing the capacity of these groups. In every little credit union in Ethiopia, which, effectively, is a galvanised shed with mud walls, one sees information displayed on the walls, some of it in writing and some of it showing, for example, three chickens beside the name of, say, Mary, who bought them. Such communication and the community's access to such information is important.

The worst act one can do if one is poor or improvised is to steal from one's neighbour. Whether one steals from one's neighbour or one's local or national government steals from its people, an important power is for people to have the space to intervene and say such money is for all of us. That level of openness and transparency exists in Ethiopia and that represents public accountability. I worked in Afghanistan for a year and a half and such accountability was not evident there. I also worked in the Congo and in Iraq and they are a million miles behind the systems in place in Ethiopia, but one must realise we are working in fragile countries that are on a path. Communication is important, systems must be in place and there must be public accountability.

Having spent 17 years working on the ground, does Mr. Jordan give any degree of validity to the comments on where the money——

Mr. Ray Jordan

The way I would classify that would to be to say that it would be from emergency to recovery to the development continuum. I spent six months working in Afghanistan when it was under the rule of the Taliban and the year after that. We were a subcontractor for the world food programme, delivering food to half a million people. It is very difficult to give cast iron guarantees in that type of a situation.

We have been here for almost two hours and I will bring the discussion to a close unless members have further questions.

Ms Fiona Quinn

I do not have a question and I will not delay members, but I compliment what the ambassador, Ms Maguire, said. It should be known that the Ethiopian people are not passive recipients of aid. Another striking feature of Ethiopia is that every member of the rural community knows who is entitled to a safety net and what makes those people entitled to it, and they, as a community, decide who is included and who is not included in the programme. That is another feature of the country and it relates partly to addressing the issue of corruption.

Who are you representing?

Ms Fiona Quinn

I work with Irish Aid in Limerick on hunger issues and I have just returned from a three and a half year posting with Ms Sile Maguire and the team in Ethiopia. We should be mindful that it is the people who——

The difference involved in the relationship between governance and everyone here has been explained very well. It is unique. There is an identification and appreciation of that. That came across very strongly. Unless the ambassador would like to say anything further, I will wrap up the discussion.

H.E. Ms Sile Maguire

I have nothing further to add other than to express appreciation for this opportunity. It is a great initiative to have these kinds of meetings. I thank the Chairman for that.

I thank all the witnesses for coming in today.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.15 p.m. until 12.15 p.m. on Thursday, 28 January 2010.