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Afghanistan

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 24th June 2009.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 11:30 am, 24th June 2009

What steps he is taking to assess the effectiveness of his Department's programmes in Afghanistan.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

DFID's work in Afghanistan from 2001 to date was independently evaluated in 2008. All DFID projects have clear, measurable benchmarks to ensure accurate and reliable monitoring in accordance with DFID procedures. The office in Kabul has established a dedicated results team to monitor the effectiveness of our work. We are also planning an independent assessment of DFID's ongoing work in Helmand province.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. NATO's Secretary-General said that the problem in Afghanistan was not too much Taliban, but too little good governance. Over the next four years, nearly half the Department's funding to Afghanistan will be channelled through that country's Government. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that corruption in that country is tackled effectively?

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

There are two dimensions to the hon. Gentleman's question. First, he is right to recognise the significance of governance, which is one of the four identified priorities for the approximately £510 million that we will spend between 2009 and 2013. I concur with the view that it is not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the Government that poses one of the significant challenges—along with others—that NATO and the Afghan people face in the years ahead.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about corruption, which we are approaching in a number of ways. First, in relation to UK funds, we are working through the Afghan reconstruction trust fund, which is independently audited by recognised accountants from outside the country. We have a degree of confidence in those systems. We are also supporting efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Government, because corruption is a consequence and a cause of the poverty affecting Afghanistan.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Special Envoy to PM on Human Rights in Iraq

As my right hon. Friend knows, abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad caused untold damage to the coalition at the time. Now, allegations have been made by the BBC about the abuse of detainees at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Will he tell me what action he proposes to take?

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

Not least because I heard the allegations on the radio only this morning, I am not in a position to give my right hon. Friend the detailed answer her question deserves, but I will endeavour to speak to my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and ensure that an answer is forthcoming.

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Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Mr. Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your election on Monday, and may I wish you many happy years occupying the Chair?

Following the Secretary of State's previous answer, may I ask him, in the context of the United States' major reassessment of its strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of the tragic loss of life following the recent drone attack, how we are going to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan and to what extent he is reconfiguring his country plan to recognise those problems?

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman's question has a number of aspects. We recognise that there is a powerful connection between the interests of the people of Afghanistan and those of the people of Pakistan. In the statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made to the House on 29 April, it was made clear that we are taking a joined-up approach in what is colloquially called the "AfPak" strategy, because there is a strong strategic interest in having a stable and secure state on both sides of the border. It is of course necessary for the forces of extremism that threaten Afghanistan and Pakistan to be tackled not solely by military means. That is why, along with the development partnership agreement that we have for Pakistan, there has been a significant rebalancing of our programme in recent months towards the needs of education, in particular, in Pakistan. I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on this matter.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Congratulations on your election, Mr. Speaker. Your interest in international development is well known, and is very welcome.

At the last DFID questions, the Secretary of State claimed that his Department withdrew funding to the United Nations Development ProgrammeUNDP—Afghanistan counter-narcotics trust fund as soon as serious weaknesses became apparent. However, I have obtained an internal DFID memo that reveals that the Secretary of State's predecessor was clearly warned about anticipated problems with the fund before Ministers signed off £20 million for it. Will the Secretary of State explain why Ministers ignored those warnings?

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

It will not come as a surprise to the House that I am unfamiliar with the memo the hon. Gentleman describes. I can assure hon. Members that the UNDP's internal evaluation unit recently evaluated operations in Afghanistan, and it was on that basis that ministerial decisions were reached.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Let me read to the Secretary of State from the memo, which Ministers received before signing off that money. It warned that, in Afghanistan, the UNDP's reporting is "poor", and that it suffers from a "lack of experienced people" who

"only do the minimum in terms of their contractual obligations".

Yet, so far this year, the Secretary of State has signed off another £14 million for the UNDP in Afghanistan. Will he pledge today to launch an urgent investigation into whether UK funds have been misused, and to instigate a full review of the taxpayers' money given to the UNDP in Afghanistan?

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

We are always seeking to ensure that UK taxpayers' money is used effectively and properly, whether through the UNDP or other parts of our aid programme. It is right to recognise that the review that was published identified weaknesses within the UNDP's approach regarding co-ordination, a focus on short-term rather than long-term priorities, and the need to simplify and strengthen financial rules. It is on that basis that we have acted. The review is not a secret document; it is available on the UNDP's internet site, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it informs the decisions that my Department is reaching.

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