Development Aid Programme in Lesotho: Discussion

The minutes of the previous meeting of 29 April have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence to this committee. If you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I welcome our ambassador to Lesotho, His Excellency, Mr. Paddy Fay, Ms Keratile Thabana, programme manager at the Irish embassy in Maseru, Mr. Seán MacMahon, programme countries director of the development co-operation division, and Mr. Kevin Dowling, Africa director of the political division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. I also welcome our visitors in the Visitors' Gallery.

This is the sixth in a series of meetings held by this committee to look at each of Irish Aid's programme countries. Irish Aid has been providing assistance to Lesotho for 35 years. This is the longest running of Ireland's bilateral assistance programmes and it demonstrates an indisputable financial commitment to that country and to its development. I note that the country strategy for Lesotho for the period 2008-12 provides an indicative sum of €85 million. We read through the briefing material provided and we would like to explore in more detail what outcomes have been achieved over that period, particularly in the most recent few years.

I am aware that HIV-AIDS has affected Lesotho to an enormous and devastating extent. The committee is interested in how Lesotho is progressing in the fight against HIV/AIDS and its progress towards reaching its millennium development goals, and how Ireland is supporting the country in achieving these goals.

I now invite Ambassador Fay to speak first and address the committee, before taking questions from committee members.

H.E. Mr. Paddy Fay

Thank you for this opportunity to discuss Ireland's aid programme in Lesotho. I was not going to introduce the team, as the Vice Chairman had done so, but as Deputy Higgins has just arrived, I will do so for his sake. I am accompanied by Ms Keratile Thabana, who is the programme manager at the embassy in Maseru, as well as by SeánMacMahon, the director of programme countries in the development co-operation division of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Kevin Dowling from the political division of the Department.

We had the honour of hosting a visit last November by Deputy Deasy, the chairman of the committee, and Senator Hannigan. Therefore, some members of the committee are familiar with most elements of our programme. Nevertheless, I propose to outline briefly the history and context of our engagement in Lesotho.

Ireland has a long association with Lesotho, predating the engagement of Irish Aid, and in fact going back to the early days of the Basotho nation. The people of Lesotho are known as the Basotho, and Basutoland was the name of the country prior to independence in 1966. An Irishman, Joseph Orpen, was the official mediator between the founding father of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe the Great, and the British Government, and he went on to write a book,The History of the Basutus of South Africa, which demonstrated his respect, admiration and empathy for the Basotho. Another Irishman, Francis Townley Balfour, was the first Anglican Bishop with responsibility for Lesotho. During his visit to Lesotho in March of this year, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, unveiled a plaque to Bishop Balfour in the Anglican Cathedral. Senator Hannigan has taken a particular interest in Bishop Balfour and has located his grave in Drogheda.

The diplomatic and development community in Maseru is very small. Currently, Ireland is the only EU member state with an embassy in Lesotho. There are only eight resident donors in Lesotho: Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany, the European Union, the United States, China, the World Bank and the United Nations.

Lesotho is a small country, about the size of Munster, with a population of just under 2 million. It is ranked 156 out of 182 countries on the United Nations human development index. It is a poor country, with about 43% of the population living below the United Nations poverty line. Life expectancy is approximately 43 years. HIV and AIDS is the biggest challenge facing Lesotho. It has the third highest prevalence rate in the world, after Swaziland and Botswana, with a rate of over 23% for the adult age group 15 to 49 years of age.

Lesotho was one of the first countries included in the Irish Government's aid programme back in 1975. Our current country strategy paper covers the five-year period 2008-12. The programme is based on four areas: first, better quality of and access to HIV and AIDS services and, second, three areas of Government: systems, human resources and accountability. We are also engaged in the areas of education, health, HIV and AIDS, governance and water. Past experience led us to the view that an unco-ordinated approach to these areas was not conducive to improving government systems and services and so, in this programme, we have adopted a more "joined-up" approach, what we call a "whole of government" approach, so that we do not just work with each government department in isolation.

The members of the committee have been provided with more details of the programme in the brief. There are two aspects I would like to focus on today, namely, financial accountability and efficiency of aid. Financial accountability is a key concern with us. There are a number of controls in place to ensure accountability and to guard against corruption. With regard to our government partners, external auditors are appointed by the government's auditor general to audit the accounts. In addition, our own internal auditor carries out audits. In addition to the audits, the progress of our programme under each area is monitored by our advisers and discussed at regular programme meetings. As well as meetings between our advisers and government officials, I regularly meet with Ministers to discuss issues, particularly any problems that arise.

There is a government policy of zero tolerance with regard to corruption. The Directorate of the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences is very active. For example, 18 months ago, it arrested a principal secretary — equivalent to our Secretary General — on charges of corruption in regard to the award of a particular contract. Twelve months later, she was found not guilty of corruption but guilty of breaching the procurement rules, a finding upheld on appeal.

There has also been a famous case involving corruption for which Lesotho has gained world-wide recognition. In 2002, the former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment after being convicted of accepting bribes from international consultants and contractors eager to win contracts on the $8 billion dam scheme. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to 15 years. Since then, a number of international companies have been tried and fined for bribing officials.

The government is implementing a public financial management reform programme to tighten up the finance system. In April of last year, a new integrated financial and management information system was introduced which will improve the payments and accounting systems. Irish Aid, among others, is supporting this reform programme. For example, we are funding training in procurement and in finance and accountancy. Some of the training is being carried out in the Centre for Accounting Studies which was established jointly by the Irish and Lesotho Governments in 1979. When I went to Lesotho in 1975, at graduation in October of that year the centre unveiled a new logo as a result of a competition within the college. One of the rules of the competition was that it had to incorporate the colours of the Irish flag in order to record the gratitude to the Irish people and the Irish Government.

In an effort to make aid more efficient and effective, Ireland has been to the forefront in pushing for donor co-ordination. Many think that the smaller the pool of donors, the easier it is to co-ordinate. However, I can confirm that this is not always the case. One approach we have been promoting is working on joint programmes with other donors. Under one component of our country strategy paper, we are in a joint programme with UNDP — the United Nations Development Programme. This supports the Independent Electoral Commission, the parliamentary committees, which are similar to this committee, the Ombudsman and the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. We are also going into a pooled fund with the World Bank in the education sector and are working towards a more joined-up approach in the water sector, along with the European Union delegation.

Donors do not always naturally co-ordinate, and this is counterproductive to the efficiency of aid. In Lesotho, there is a forum in which all the donors meet but it had become a talking shop. Ireland has been the co-chair for the past four years, along with the United Nations resident co-ordinator. This forum has been revitalised so as to be more effective thanks to the work of the two co-chairs. The donors meet monthly and agree action points at our meetings. Every two months, we meet the Minister of Finance and Development Planning and his team.

For the past three years, the economic and social cluster portfolio committee of the National Assembly, which is the Lower House, has invited the two co-chairs of the donors' forum — in other words, the UN resident co-ordinator and myself — to appear before it to discuss the budget. Arising from the latest appearance before that committee, we are organising meetings between the donors and the Ministries to explain our disbursement procedures.

As an aside, I should note that, under our joint governance programme, the UNDP and Irish Aid have been providing training to the parliamentary committees. We have experienced the effectiveness of this training at first hand this year. When the two co-chairs met the committee to discuss the budget, the questioning was more focused and tighter than previously.

The biggest challenge facing Lesotho is undoubtedly the scourge of HIV and AIDS. As I said earlier, the adult prevalence rate is 23.6%, the third highest in the world. However, this figure masks a lot, as the prevalence rate is higher in certain narrower age bands and affects women more than men. For example, for women in the age group 15 to 24, the prevalence rate is 35% in urban areas and 25% in rural areas.

On their visit to Lesotho the delegates from the committee met with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and the Clinton Health Access Initiative, and saw at first hand how that tripartite relationship works. By the end of this year Irish Aid will have spent €16.4 million since the inception of this programme in 2006. There are four components to this partnership. First is clinical mentoring where health professionals with HIV experience intensively mentor Basotho health staff through in-service and on-site training. More than 85 facilities have benefited from clinical mentoring and more than 300 local health professionals have been recipients of this mentoring. The second component is anti-retroviral, ARV, procurement and supply management, which are the drugs used in the treatments of HIV and AIDS.

The third component is the rural mountain initiative, comprising comprehensive HIV care and treatment and primary health care services in the most remote, inaccessible and underserved mountain districts in Lesotho. So far, Irish Aid is supporting seven clinics in remote areas and two further clinics are planned. When Deputy Deasy and Senator Hannigan visited us they witnessed at first hand how effective these clinics are. Anecdotal evidence points to more than 100,000 people using them as their primary source of health care and records show that close to 35,000 people have accessed HIV testing and counselling services at the centres. Some 5,000 patients are on ARV treatment. In some cases, patients report travelling more than two days to access health services at these clinics.

The fourth component is the nursing initiative. Some 150 nurses were recruited to support the roll-out of ARV treatment to health centres in rural areas and to strengthen health care services. This tripartite partnership has recently been reviewed and, following on from that, it has been extended to 2015 which will lead to even more impressive outcomes.

Food security — or, more accurately, food insecurity — is a problem in Lesotho. Less than 10% of the land is arable, with soil erosion a major problem. Lesotho only produces 30% of its domestic cereal requirements. Irish Aid has provided support to the Catholic Relief Services for their Mountain Orphan and Vulnerable Child Empowerment project, known as MOVE. To date we have contributed €620,000, half of it in 2009. This has enabled 5,500 orphaned and vulnerable children to access essential support services. Under the food security component, the project has worked with households to establish approximately 11,000 gardens in nearly 300 villages.

I am aware that media coverage and public knowledge of the Government's aid programme is a matter of interest to the committee. We are conscious of the need to inform Irish taxpayers of what is being done and achieved in their name. The brief provided to the committee includes details of media coverage of the programme in Lesotho. In addition, I have spoken on the links between Lesotho and Ireland at Féile na Bealtaine in Kerry in May 2008. I have also visited Clongowes Wood College, together with the Lesotho ambassador, Mrs. Manette Ramaili, as well as Schull community college in Cork. Tomorrow I will speak at the primary school in my home town of Ballyjamesduff.

Before concluding, I would like to note the excellent relations that exist between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Lesotho Embassy in Dublin. On a personal level, the Lesotho ambassador to Ireland, Mrs. Ramaili, and I are in regular contact and work together to improve relations between our two countries. For example, last September Ambassador Ramaili organised a trade delegation from Ireland to visit Lesotho. I met with the delegation, both in Ireland prior to its departure and then in Lesotho. I also hosted a dinner for the delegates, which was attended by the Ministers of Finance and Development Planning and of Health and Social Welfare. Ambassador Ramaili and I met again yesterday.

Our team is ready to answer any questions the committee may have.

I thank the ambassador. We will now take questions from members after which the ambassador may wish to respond. What has been the impact of aid programmes on life expectancy in the last five years? In regard to AIDS, the 35% incidence of HIV infection is very high. Is that percentage reducing and, if not, what further action must be taken to address the problem?

I welcome the ambassador and his colleagues. I have been trying to remember what year it was that I visited Lesotho. It was certainly very early on in terms of Ireland's co-operation programme with that country. I visited with the former Minister and then Deputy, Ms Nora Owen, and others and have retained an interest in Lesotho ever since. When we visited the apartheid regime was still in place in South Africa. Although we were visiting several African countries, our visit to South Africa was confined to the airport.

There are aspects of Lesotho that should be very interesting in a specific sense to Irish people. One is the physical terrain which is very different from that of most African countries. Apart from the elevation that is there, the proportion of the country that is available for what might be regarded as normal — by African standards — agricultural production is very limited. I recall there were even issues of access in that there are great distances between particular centres of activities. I remember clearly the establishment of the accountancy school there in which, if I recall correctly, Stokes Kennedy Crowley was involved. I was also interested in the horse breeding initiative which was based initially on the importation of fine white Connemara stallions from Galway. Another initiative of interest to me was the establishment of lace-making as a craft activity to generate income for women.

However, my main interest at the time reflected the fact that I was still working academically on issues of migration. The life statistics for Lesotho are quite disastrous and there is no doubt whatever that a HIV nightmare is happening there. My view now from a distance is that this was powerfully connected to migratory movements. At the time of my visit the issue was the difference in approach in regard to public information about HIV and AIDS to people who were continually on the move. I have never been in any doubt about the significant relationship between a dependence on migratory income and the incidence of HIV. As well as that, the nature of the migratory population was, both in a gender sense and in an age sense, quite specific. Many of the people were in sexually active categories.

If I correctly recall my notes from so long ago, the second point pertained to dependence on South African issues. South Africa entirely encircles Lesotho and people in Ireland should be familiar historically with the manner whereby in many cases, income came from migrants' remittances. However, migrants' income was affected by what was happening within South Africa. There has been a highly eclectic piece of writing about such matters in the literature on African migration, which is slightly relevant to Lesotho. I refer to an article by Elliot Berg, "Backwards-Sloping Labor Supply Functions in Dual Economies — The Africa Case". It suggests that in the case of target workers going to work in the mines, there is a brief moment, were one to increase wages, at which they would reach their target faster. This then gives rise to the issue as to whether, if they were not obliged to work away from home, they would move back faster. In other words, the question is whether, by increasing wages, one in fact reduces the supply of labour. This did not really apply in the case of Lesotho because even as incomes of workers from Lesotho in South Africa increased, they still remained very far short of what was necessary.

The ambassador's presentation is highly valuable, first because he concentrates on the historical connection, which is important. Ireland has been involved for a long time and has a historical relationship that we should cherish. However, the ambassador is frank about two matters. First, a health emergency exists in respect of the HIV-AIDS issue. There also is an emergency in respect of that region, in that because Lesotho is so dependent on the region's gross income, there will be a shortfall in funding. When one considers the cost of running the country and maintaining basic services, it is barely sustainable to suggest that Ireland's allocation, which was approximately €11.4 million in 2009 and is projected to be €10.7 million in the coming year, is adequate. There is a strong case for arguing for exceptional treatment for Lesotho.

I remember the computers arriving in Lesotho and those involved being very impressive. However, the people who should have been sent were specialists to deal with the political system, about which there is an enormous problem. There is no point in putting it in any other way. The system for a population of 1.88 million people that established its independence in the second half of the 1960s has been deeply disappointing. Perhaps this is an area in which the external relationship between donor countries and Lesotho has not been good enough. I understand there has not been general acceptance of the outcome of the more recent elections, there are contests within the legal system and Lesotho is damaging itself by these facts. Moreover, there is more to this than simply disputed outcomes, as there are issues in respect of participation. Similarly, like so many other places in Africa, just because it is high in the sky does not mean the excessive demands being made on women are any less. The demands on women there are very high. In addition, the prevalence rates for HIV-AIDS among rural and urban women of 25% and 35%, respectively, provided to members by the ambassador are quite frightening and the life expectancy figure is horrifically low.

I will conclude by referring to matters on which I have been engaged this morning and yesterday. In respect of the economic partnership agreements and the Southern African Customs Union, I am familiar with the South African reservation on the debate in respect of the economic partnership agreement. Equally however, surely in many cases the Lesotho position within the South African reservation makes it even more vulnerable? My attitude is that Lesotho deserves special attention. However, I note it does not interfere with sovereignty to offer frank opinion to a country that, in dealing with donors and the outside world, produces so much chaos in its political administration. When I was there, there was a ferment of different constitutional difficulties between the King and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister enhanced his position quite undemocratically long after I had left. Different changes have taken place in respect of the introduction of an electoral law.

I acknowledge that involving outsiders from different neighbouring countries and friends is the way Africa must go. While I am not in favour of imposing a western parliamentary system in places where it does not fit, the fragility of the parliamentary system, the unsatisfactory relationship between regional bodies that should have advanced in this area and their impact on Lesotho constitute significant disadvantages. I applaud the efforts of the Irish representatives there and they have my support.

I welcome the ambassador and his team and thank them for their comprehensive presentation and update on how the Irish Aid programme is working in Lesotho. Having scanned through it, I note the importance of the strategy, which incorporates the efficiency of the system of governance. It also discusses human resources and how they can be trained, improving health services, and the issue of accountability. In that context, the ambassador mentioned a "joined-up approach". Such phrases are hackneyed about in that while they look lovely on paper, I am uncertain what is meant by them. I listened to, have read and can follow the script because I am highly knowledgeable in this regard. I have been on many trips to observe these programmes and have been highly impressed by the manner in which our money is being spent. However, who actually carries out the Irish Aid programmes? To clarify, on being allocated its funding, Irish Aid then hands it out to others to implement the programmes. How is this being done, considering that one major issue is that efforts are being made to reform the public service? Although Irish Aid is trying to introduce professionals, it finds that when they have been trained, they move on. Consequently, it strikes me there is a huge problem with regard to the implementation of Irish Aid's programmes.

A considerable amount of money is going towards education and health, towards the joined-up thinking being undertaken with the Clinton Foundation and in respect of the water infrastructure. While this is a huge task, I ask the ambassador to provide me with a little more information on the implementation of the programmes. As I am sure there must be duplication in this regard, what non-governmental organisations are working with Irish Aid there? These are issues because I believe in co-ordination and in the necessity for joined-up thinking. However the latter is a phrase that becomes too hackneyed without any substance behind it and the ambassador should enlarge on this point.

I welcome the ambassador and his team and at the outset, I thank the ambassador for organising members' visit to Lesotho last autumn and for putting together such a comprehensive programme. It illustrated very well to members the real issues and difficulties that are being faced by the people of Lesotho and showed them exactly how Irish Aid money is being spent. Lesotho undoubtedly is one of the most important countries for Irish overseas development assistance. Not alone is it one of Ireland's nine programme countries but relatively speaking, it also is high up on the list. While Ireland spends approximately 16 cent for each Vietnamese person, Vietnam also being one of our programme counties, it spends €5 for each Basotho.

It is very important our country retains its involvement. We saw the impact on the ground. We visited places where Irish taxpayers helped to fund new standpipes providing water to villages that previously had none. We saw our money going to help people become self-sufficient in terms of food by providing little gardens they can work in. People who are not very healthy are able to grow their food with minimum exertion. We also saw the health clinics being opened with the help of Irish taxpayers' money, with 100,000 people having access to health services where previously they had none. At one of the clinics we visited, someone commented that the only person to lose out was the local undertaker because he used to see people coming in the front door of the clinic and take them out the other side dead. People are now receiving the treatment they require and living because of taxpayers' money. Their life expectancy is increasing. I compliment the ambassador for ensuring the money is well spent and targeted at those most in need.

I have a number of questions about our aid programme. The first concerns the retention of staff in nursing and in the health sector in general. When people qualified in Lesotho, they used to travel to South Africa and stay there or emigrate to other African countries. As a result there was a problem with the retention of staff in the health service. Can the ambassador provide an update on this point?

Regarding the general finance of the country, 60% of the government's revenue comes from the Southern African Customs Union. It was under pressure because of a general downturn in the economies in the region. Last Sunday week, an article inThe Observer referred to the Lesotho People’s Charter Movement, which is pleading with South Africans to annex the troubled country. I am sure the ambassador has seen the article, which states:

Ten days ago, several hundred people marched through the capital Maseru and delivered a petition to parliament and the South African High Commission requesting that their country be integrated into its giant neighbour, which completely surrounds it. "We have 30,000 signatures. Lesotho is not just landlocked – it is South Africa-locked. We were a labour reserve for apartheid South Africa. There is no reason for us to exist any longer as a nation with its own currency and army,'' said Vuyani Tyhali.

These are strong words. I am interested in hearing the views of the ambassador on the long-term future of Lesotho and how he sees it developing as an independent nation.

H.E. Mr. Paddy Fay

It is hard to know where to start. The Chairman asked about life expectancy, which has dropped dramatically. In 1990 it was 58.6 years, in 2000-05 it was 44.6 years and in the period 2005-10 it is 42.6 years. HIV/AIDS is the main reason for that decrease.

Senator Ormonde asked a number of questions about implementing and joining up. One of the matters we are addressing is human resources. We are working with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to develop a human resources strategy. When developing the new country strategy paper, the then development specialist and I met the Minister for Finance and Development Planning and emphasised the need for a whole of Government approach. Working with a Ministry in isolation is systemically dysfunctional for the government. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare must work with the Ministry of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to come up with a plan. This is linked to Senator Hannigan's questions. There are plans to recruit the requisite skills and develop a retention strategy. A joined-up, whole of Government approach must be taken. The Ministry of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning must approve ten posts but can only afford to fund seven posts. Donors will fund the other three posts and at the end of the funding period, the Government takes over and the posts are subsumed into the system. That is what we mean by joined-up Government.

Another example concerns co-ordination. They have come up with a very good public service reform programme called a service delivery agenda. After the government secretary unveiled it to the donors, I convened a meeting in the Irish Embassy of the donors working in that area. We still meet as a group and I chair the meetings. I liaise regularly with the government secretary. At the first meeting, I asked those present to explain what each was doing in the area and the flexibility they had. One donor was not at the meeting but I asked him to send a submission. We discovered two donors were working in the same area, with a slightly different perspective but with overlap. We are working much better together and we have got rid of this overlap. Co-ordination is important and that is why the joined-up approach is important.

Who implements the programme? Some 80% of our programme is administered through government. We approach the government when designing the programme and ask what it wants us to do. There are constraints based on our finance and expertise. The then development specialist and I met the Minister for Health and Social Welfare and, based on the expertise we had and the results of a consultancy on the impact of a previous programme, we provided three options. The Minister picked one and 12 months later I attended a meeting with the Minister along with the new head of development. We discussed various issues and she told me that we should never have decided to stop being the lead donor. I told her that we did not make that decision, that we gave her the choice and that she picked. We work with them to do what they want. The Minister for Education and Training or the Minister for Health and Social Welfare knows what is needed and I do not. I am a bird of passage. I am in the country on behalf of my Government to help the country to develop.

Senator Hannigan referred to our visit, which went very well. We are working on a retention strategy in the health sector. Senator Hannigan and Deputy Higgins referred to the finances of the country. SACU revenues are a major problem. It has been reduced by 60% as a percentage of government revenue and will be reduced by 21% next year. The budget in February had a strategy to tackle this problem. The long-term strategy is for domestic spending to be funded by domestic revenue, without being dependent on aid. They have taken some hard decisions this year. Current spending for every government Ministry has been cut by 16%. They have increased the capital budget by 3% to ensure some development. They have been fiscally prudent in recent years and built up reserves. They also used the money from water sold to South Africa to pay back some discretionary debt. They can now use some of the reserves to fill the gap. There are constrained to a certain extent because the 1:1 pegging of the loti with the South African rand means a certain reserve must be kept. They can use some of the reserves to help them through the current crisis. Alternative sources of revenue are also being considered but the Minister for Finance has admitted that he cannot increase tax rates because they are already too high. It will be necessary to broaden the tax base, improve collection procedure and get rid of waste and corruption. He is also considering fines. He gave the example of traffic fines, the level of which were last set in 1982, as something that could be increased.

A number of recent news reports have referred to the movement to annex Lesotho to South Africa. A newspaper article from two or three months ago reported that the Lesotho ambassador responsible for the African Peer Review Mechanism stated at a function that Lesotho should be annexed to South Africa. When my governance adviser showed me the article, my instinctive reaction was that if any ambassador said that, he or she would be out of a job within the hour. The ambassador later denied he made any such suggestion. It is mentioned now and then and a fairly small march was held recently but to the best of my knowledge there is no major movement for annexation to South Africa.

I left Deputy Higgins until last because he raised a number of issues. He spoke about what makes Lesotho interesting to Ireland, including the physical terrain. There are many more similarities. When I first went out, I noticed similarities with Ireland at the end of the 1950s in terms of the culture and way of life. Lesotho's physical terrain offers tremendous scope for tourism in the longer term, although considerable planning will be required on a cross-ministerial basis. At the end of the 1980s, I was private secretary to the then Minister for Tourism and Transport, John Wilson. The then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, set up a committee on tourism and gave it a target of creating 25,000 jobs over five years. I understand this target was achieved. The committee comprised members from several Departments as well as industry representatives.

The Center for Accounting Studies has gone from strength to strength since its establishment in 1979. The Irish Government pulled out in 1999. It was one of only ten African institutions to be awarded gold status by the accountancy body and it is now aiming to join the other three African institutions with platinum status. Last year it unveiled a plaque celebrating its 30th anniversary. Unfortunately we did not have time to take Senator Hannigan to see it but it acknowledges the debt owed to the Irish Government.

I am afraid the horse breeding project has long since been discontinued. I believe the lace making project has also been discontinued. Migration and the brain drain is a major issue. Approximately 50,000 Basotho work in the mines in South Africa. That number has decreased from its previous levels. The remittances sent by these workers are crucial but they are being impacted by retrenchment in the mines. Remittances contribute 25% of Lesotho's GDP. The impact of HIV impacts differently according to age group and gender. As I noted earlier, women are more affected by the disease than men.

Deputy Higgins referred to the contested election in which regard mediation is ongoing. SADC appointed an eminent person, the former President of Botswana, His Excellency Quett Masire, to mediate but he was not successful. The joint governmental programme of Irish Aid, UNDP and DFID funded this mediation as part of its overall programme on democracy. The local church leaders are mediating at present. At the beginning of the year, SADC Heads of State, including the King of Swaziland and the President of Mozambique, as well as the foreign minister of Namibia, offered support to the church mediators in the form of two facilitators. It is not easy going, however. According to an Opposition leader to whom I spoke shortly before I left Lesotho, agreement was reached on amendments to the legislation but it is like the Good Friday Agreement in that nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed. The amendments will not be accepted by the opposition until agreement is reached on the seats. The political system is stable, however, and the issue of the seats will have to be resolved before the next election in 2010.

I mentioned in my opening statement that the UN resident co-ordinator and I witnessed at first hand the effectiveness of the training we have given to at least one of the parliamentary committees when we appeared before it. The questions that members asked were much more focused than heretofore. This is a pretty good achievement given that the committee system was only established at the beginning of 2008 and the parliament has only been multi-party since the new mixed member proportional system was introduced in 2002. On some issues, the committees conduct consultations around the country as part of the legislative process.

I ask Mr. Fay to speak about diamond mining.

H.E. Mr. Paddy Fay

A new diamond mine was opened three or four years ago. A total of three diamond mines were opened but due to the fall in the price of diamonds only the Letseng mine remains open. They found a few big diamonds but they would be better off with a steady stream of small stones. The first diamond was found in shale outside the mine and was sold for $12 million. De Beers had closed the mine and the diamond was in the middle of the shale and rubbish.

I would like to thank His Excellency, Mr. Fay, for his contribution. It has been valuable to hear the Irish Aid perspective. Despite ongoing challenges, a number of good news stories are emerging from Lesotho which perhaps do not receive adequate attention. Particularly in a climate of decreasing funds, it is clear there is need to ensure accountability and cohesion among aid providers and that all resources are allocated wisely.

I am aware that the ambassador is due to complete his posting to Lesotho in the coming months and, on behalf of the sub-committee, I thank him for his dedicated service in Maseru and wish him well in his next posting, which I understand is as ambassador of Ireland to Nigeria. I also recognise in the Visitors' Gallery, Mr. Gerry Gervin and Mr. Brendan McGrath. Mr. Gervin will be the new ambassador in Lesotho, replacing Mr. Fay, and we wish him every success there. Mr. McGrath is due to take up an appointment as head of development in Lesotho. We wish these two a very happy and productive time in Lesotho.

Is there any other business? That concludes the meeting.

The sub-committee adjourned at 1.31 p.m. sine die.