Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:28 am on 6th December 2016.
On a point of order, Mr Streeter. May I clarify something? The Minister made a comment a moment ago about me allegedly texting. I have actually been checking his written answers on my phone, which allows me to check the parliamentary system.
I am Sir Paul Collier. I am professor of economics and public policy at Oxford University.
I am Tom McDonald. I am the National Audit Office director responsible for value for money audits of the Department for International Development.
I am Terry Caulfield. I am an audit manager at the National Audit Office, responsible for our work on the Department for International Development.
Thank you, panel. This question is for all panel members. Do you feel that CDC is sufficiently focused on poverty eradication in line with DFID’s outcomesQ ?
In a word, yes. I have been working on Africa for 40 years and it has been frustrating, because Africa is still poor. This year, per capita GDP in Africa is falling. We have a quiet crisis of trying to rekindle African growth. There is no secret about what rekindling growth and getting out of poverty means: it means raising the productivity of ordinary people and we know how to do that. Raising the productivity of ordinary people is what proper firms do. They perform a miracle of productivity every day by bringing ordinary people together at scale and specialisation, and making them dramatically more productive than they would be as isolated individuals. Africa is desperately short of proper firms, and the public interest in getting proper firms to go to Africa is enormous. That is the underlying rationale for CDC, and that is what it is doing.
CDC went through a very poor patch with this fund of funds idea, which was a crazy idea. It now has really expert management. What CDC is doing, and what DFID is doing to support it, is absolutely standard. This is what International Development Association money, which is the collective, concessional money given by the world’s rich countries to the World Bank, is being devoted to. The transfer to the International Finance Corporation—[Interruption.] I will shut up.
Thank you for having us on this panel; we appreciate it. Oxfam recognises the importance of investing in economic development and the private sector as a fundamental part of our development efforts. Economic development needs to be a core part of what DFID and the British Government do with regard to aid. Our concern is to make sure that any aid funds that are invested in those causes really support the right types of jobs, growth and investment that reach the very poorest. The international community agreed at the UN that all development effort should be focused on reaching those left behind. That needs to be the prism through which we see this. Given that prism, we recognise that the reforms agreed in 2011 to CDC were a really important step forward. They focus CDC more on the poorest countries and strengthen its focus on looking at development impact and its investment standards, but we also think that that is the start of a journey that CDC needs to go on in the coming years to ensure that it is focused not only on DFID’s mission of development and poverty reduction, but on the international development community’s focus on leaving no one behind.
We want to note a number of areas where we think CDC can do more. The first point relates to its focus on the least developed countries. Only 12% of CDC’s investments currently go to the least developed countries—the most economically and socially vulnerable countries as measured by a comprehensive index by the UN. We have some questions about whether the sector focus is right. Agriculture, where the majority of the world’s poor make their livelihoods, accounts for only 5% of CDC’s investments at present. A decade and a half ago that figure was one third. There needs to be a re-engagement in sectors such as agriculture.
War on Want’s position is that we believe that UK taxpayers’ money should not be given to private funds that are going to be investing in projects, because that is basically getting returns on poverty—off the backs of the poor. It makes us very uncomfortable that UK taxpayers’ money is being used for that purpose. However, as we heard from the first panel this morning, the percentage of projects in which CDC is investing in Africa has reduced significantly. We were talking about agriculture; we have moved away from projects that were supporting small-scale farmers to those supporting large-scale agribusiness. That is causing displacement of people whose lands are being taken away and it is also creating a loss of livelihoods. I wonder how that goes together with the whole question of poverty eradication, when we are actually perpetuating it. I will come back to that later and maybe talk about a case study that we are looking at.
Q I have a question to the National Audit Office. You have visited a number of CDC projects as part of your review, and you obviously saw some very positive examples in CDC’s portfolio. I think we discussed one in Sierra Leone, but you also visited a number of those in India—I believe it was Terry who visited those projects. Could you say a little bit about the projects that you visited, particularly with regard to the investment in healthcare? I know that CDC is investing in a lot of private healthcare in India, but not necessarily specifically in stuff that benefits poorer people—it is more a kind of general investment.
Yes, we visited two healthcare facilities in Bangalore in India. One of them was perhaps more intended for middle-income families and one was more down the lower end. We came away with the feeling that they were doing a range of things. At the lower end, they were trying to provide maternity facilities for families who would not otherwise have access to them, perhaps for financial or educational reasons or because of other hurdles that they might have had to get over. In that particular case, they were looking to expand the facility in that location and then use that to expand further out. Against the backdrop of an understanding of how access to Indian healthcare works, they were coming in at a number of different levels. There is a diversity there.
Q You make a big point about the issue of prospective development impact and whether CDC can prove its impact. Were you concerned when you heard the earlier panel talking about investments in richer places that theoretically will lead to jobs for poorer people, as people perhaps move to cities and take advantage? Do you think that is a bit too hazy? Can you explain a bit more about where you felt the CDC could be doing better to demonstrate impact?
One of the things that struck me from the projects that I visited in Uganda and Kenya was the need for a portfolio approach. Some of the projects clearly will have more of a development impact, and some will clearly do better financially. Some of them are harder to measure than others, particularly if the investment is through a fund or an intermediary.
What we say in the report is that, despite Parliament having expressed some concerns in 2008 and 2009 about how CDC measures impact, CDC has still been a little slow to put together a comprehensive picture of the approach it would expect to take, together with DFID, to provide Parliament and the taxpayer with a good view of what impact looks like. I should say that we are not suggesting that there is some simple way of doing that. Measuring all the different indirect and direct effects of the investments is complicated. For example, to answer your question directly, there was a commitment in 2012 to put together a measure of what quality of employment would look like. It has not made much progress on that. It has plans in place to try to evaluate some of its major investments and to improve the impact reporting, but for us, it is about the pace and comprehensiveness of that reporting.
Q May I ask Sir Paul Collier a question in relation to the amount of capital that CDC has? There seems to be a view that CDC can absorb about £1 billion a year. Given your work on urbanisation and the vast amount of infrastructure investment that is needed, do you think that CDC could be challenged to spend much more on an annual basis or to ramp up to that point? That relates in particular to funding the urbanisation that Africa needs to attract the companies that you referred to earlier.
Africa is going through a rapid and very necessary urbanisation. Africa’s future is urban, but not all cities are environments in which ordinary people can be productive. You can have a mega-slum. At the moment in Dar es Salaam, the modal enterprise has one worker: scale zero, productivity zero, specialisation zero—doomed. Cities need to become platforms where proper firms can function. They need energy supplies and decent connectivity. That is what the infrastructure is there to do, basically: energy and connectivity. That is expensive.
Q CDC could spend £1 billion just in Dar es Salaam.
CDC needs to scale up and scale up fast. I am hesitant about tying it in knots trying to get precise measures for this and precautionary measures for that, when the reality is that there are no techniques out there. Everyone is trying to build better measures. The International Finance Corporation has just hired for the first time a chief economist at vice-president level, designed to do that. People are trying to develop techniques, but it is difficult. To my mind, CDC’s priority, now that it has got sound, motivated management, needs to be to scale up. The task ahead for Africa is to get both the infrastructure and the private firms in before it is too late.
Q Should not we be encouraging it to give more than £1 billion a year?
Yes, of course. The future of aid is to get decent firms to go to places where they will not make much money until there are lots more of them.
Q Very briefly, obviously there is a massive need for capital in Africa, and the question is how we should spend UK taxpayers’ money. I would like to come back to you, Tom. As we heard in the previous session, we are asking CDC to take increased risks with quite a lot of increased capital, but we do not yet have its strategy. Do you think that that approach is probably the wrong way round?
There is a cart-and-horse problem here, is there not? One of the things that we saw in the 2015 recapitalisation business case was that the Department did go through a thorough process of assessing, in collaboration with CDC, the art of the possible. There are good foundations on which the Department can build.
One of our worries, which we set out in the report, is that CDC has to be comfortable that it can absorb this money in two ways. One is internally: does it have the capacity to grow, still be agile and make decisions in the way it has done in the past? That is its internal operating model, if you like. The other is whether it has access to all the opportunities for investment. Now that it is again in the business of direct investment, that requires a lot more effort from the teams that are putting together these deals. There needs to be a discussion between the two bodies over the remainder of the spending review period, or the Parliament, about whether DFID is clear about what it wants from CDC, where it wants CDC to operate, and the principles on which it wants it to work. From CDC’s perspective, can it cope with the volume of money and can it, in good faith, invest all that in a portfolio of deals that will still allow it to meet its targets?
I have a very quick point to follow up on that. As well as our mission to tackle the injustice of poverty around the world, we are very keen in our work and our engagement with the development community to push for adequate public scrutiny and trust in the work that the British Government and institutions such as CDC do. We think that needs to be central to this debate, so these are really good issues that we are discussing. The absence of this investment strategy is making it a little difficult to get a fuller perspective. There is clearly a dynamic situation around CDC. I have looked at the business case for the last capitalisation last year, which said,
“CDC has previously determined that given investment needs, it could productively deploy up to £1bn of additional capital.”
We heard from this morning’s witnesses that that situation seems to have changed. An additional point was made in the business case that, of the £735 million that DFID allocated to CDC last year, it would need to go beyond that only in 2019. It is a very fluid situation, and the lack of clarity over that investment strategy and how the situation on the ground with CDC is changing poses challenges. It is important to get that clarity.
A very quick question for you, Tom—probably a one-word answer. If I got you right earlier, you were calling for a more effective measurement of the quality of jobs generated by CDC. Do we have such a measurement in the UKQ ?
Q Thank you. Saranel, it is clear that you would not want to see any money going from the taxpayer to CDC that would mean either selling it or closing it down, or possibly both. How would that help DFID achieve its goals of supporting businesses and jobs in the developing world?
I think we differ in how we see development. However, the fact that CDC is operating without a strategy begs the question of what it is prioritising. Why would one prioritise private education or schools, or private healthcare, in countries where the majority of people are not getting access to that? How does that justify the better use of UK taxpayers’ money? I think the question was raised earlier about whether we are choosing poverty reduction or profit-making.
Q Okay. So you are against specific investments that have been, or might be, made. Are you against investment in businesses full stop?
Q So you do not believe that creating jobs through business is a constructive way of meeting development aims?
I don’t think that that is the only thing that should be done in terms of development, but from CDC’s point of view, that seems to be not just about job creation, but about supporting projects that have absolutely nothing to do with poverty reduction. I cannot see how supporting top-level real estate in Kenya, for example, is about poverty reduction.
Q I just want to ask any panel member who might want to reflect on the levels of transparency in CDC and the opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny. I particularly want to ask the reps from War on Want and Oxfam how their transparency in reporting requirements from DFID have changed in recent years and whether they have any views on how they should apply to CDC.
Oxfam is a signatory to the international aid transparency initiative, which is the comprehensive aid transparency framework that is applied across the development community. The initiative was started and promoted by the UK Government, who have obviously played an important leveraging role in promoting transparency across the world.
We are ambitious implementers of IRT and in our dialogue with DFID right now, we are being encouraged to look at how we can apply those standards and the standards introduced by the initiative further down our supply chain with our local partners. It will be a challenge, but one that we shall pursue head on. Throughout the chain of delivery partners we work with, we will look at ways we can address those standards.
One of the questions we think it would be really useful for the Committee to think about is, how—whatever is agreed through the legislation—can we help to ratchet up the level of transparency of CDC? It has made progress, but the last time it was assessed against IRT standards, it scored “poor”. We have not seen a fundamental change in the level of information that is currently reporting, so it has some catching up to do. We hope this legislation can help.
That is a really good question, because while listening to everybody talking, I was thinking that when we have to apply to DFID for funding, there is absolutely no way we would get funding if we just went and said, “Can I have £500,000 and I will give you the strategy later?” That would never happen for the development sector.
Q You are not owned by DFID. It is not like for like at all, is it?
No, DFID subjects the development sector to a number of processes involving deep scrutiny of all our work. It does not do that with CDC. The fact is that a case study such as Feronia, for example, can exist. Either CDC can say that it did not know that it was happening or DFID can say that it did not know that it was happening. It seems to me that there is a lack of oversight.
Q Can I ask Terry and Tom about value for money? How should CDC be scrutinised by the various bodies that will scrutinise it, assuming it gets this increased money—DFID, Parliament, the International Development Select Committee, ICAI and the Sub-Committee on the Select Committee, which I chair, which scrutinises ICAI? In view of the increased funding, how can we ensure that we scrutinise value for money effectively? What measurements should we be using?
That is a very good question. The first duty is with DFID as the shareholder. What we have seen of the reforms that have been put in place since 2012 is an increased volume of reporting from CDC back to the Department, characterised by a non-surprises policy. CDC is very clear that if it is thinking of undertaking something new or innovative it will consult with DFID first. Similarly, it will have quarterly shareholder meetings and with the shareholder produces a significant volume of information. These are all improvements from the previous regime that Members have talked about before and they help to mitigate the risk that CDC at some point in the future might engage in some of the poor behaviour that we saw previously.
That is the first line of defence in terms of scrutiny. Who else might do that? We will clearly continue to have an interest. We have been writing reports on CDC for at least 20 years. Obviously, it is up to Parliament how else it wishes to do that. The difficulty, as with other aspects of DFID’s spending, is following the money. We have this problem with multilateral expenditure. When DFID makes a payment to a CDC or a multilateral body, it is quite for us as the auditors to track that money through to the eventual point of impact. We have to be creative about it and find ways of doing that. It is not straightforward.
Q I am probing a little, if I may. You say that it is up to us how we do it, but you have just spent eight months looking at CDC day in and day out. I am seeking to glean the benefit of that detailed insight when the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and our Sub-Committee, which scrutinises it, looks at the issue. What should we be focusing on? Where should we be asking questions?
If you look at our value for money conclusion, we essentially divided it between, on one hand, the economy and efficiency with which CDC was being run and with which DFID was overseeing it, and the effectiveness of CDC. Looking at the first two e’s, we concluded that DFID’s oversight of CDC has improved considerably, and that CDC’s operating model is now pretty economic and efficient. It is a pretty good way for CDC to organise itself and spend the money that DFID has allocated to it.
On the subject of effectiveness, which we discussed at the beginning, this is clearly not an easy thing, but we still think there is more to do. There is more on which DFID could press CDC, and there is perhaps more on which Parliament could press both DFID and CDC to give a better picture of what CDC itself says is its ultimate objective: changing people’s lives, not just creating jobs.
Q Just a further question to Ms Benjamin from War on Want, to follow up from colleagues. I am slightly lost. Are you saying that you are principally against the development finance institution model—that would considerably weaken where I thought you were coming from—or are you concentrating on specific instances where you think the money was not spent well and most efficiently to target poverty alleviation? You gave the example of the Republic of the Congo. Can you elaborate on that and be more specific about where you are heading? I am slightly confused about where you are going with it.
As I said, we come from very different development backgrounds. For War on Want, a charity that works with partners in the global south, it is not about creating jobs; that is our approach. We are about supporting grassroots communities and organisations to allow them to envision the change that they want to see in their own countries. For me, when I see a private firm like CDC investing or looking for opportunities, I see it looking for an entry point for the UK to make a profit in the global south. For me, that is what it looks like. Given the use of tax havens, those countries are not really benefiting from what is being invested in those countries.
Again, look at the quality of jobs being created. Feronia in the DRC is one example. Workers are being paid less than $2 a day. Are you telling me that that is poverty reduction? Is that job creation? There is a dispute about the land on which Feronia operates; it is a 100-year-old land struggle. The largest investor in Feronia is CDC, which holds 67% of the investments owned in Feronia. The land dispute has been going on for a number of years, and communities have been displaced off that land. CDC claims that it is all legitimate, but it refuses to make the lease agreements or concessions publicly available. We have requested them from CDC, and have yet to have an acknowledgment that the email was received.
Q Very quickly, for Tom McDonald and Sir Paul Collier, Saranel has just said that CDC exists for the UK to make a profit in the global south, and the countries are not really benefiting from those investments. Do you agree with that?
We did not assess the whole portfolio, in terms of the impact that it was having. We have to rely to some extent on the prospective assessment of impact that CDC is now doing on a regularised basis for all its investments. I honestly cannot give a yes or no answer as to the impact on the south.
Q Do you agree that the prime purpose of CDC is for the British Government to make a profit in the global south, and that our investments are not benefiting the people in those countries, which is Saranel’s claim?
From what we saw when we visited the projects in east Africa and India, there is a clear desire to benefit the people of those countries, as well as for CDC to achieve its own targets.
I am sorry. It is self-evident that the path out of poverty involves business. It is also self-evident that not enough modern business is going to these very poor countries. So it is a very strong public interest to use public money to try and encourage firms to go to areas where they are needed but where they will not make much money. That is the rationale for the whole of the development finance institution enterprises. Clearly, CDC is controlled by DFID; DFID is controlled by Parliament; and the objective of getting people out of poverty runs right through both organisations.
Q Just as a quick follow-up, Sir Paul, you have used the phrase “public risk capital”; would you expand a little bit on what you are saying about the need for public involvement?
Yes. These environments are risky environments, in which there are not great amounts of money to be made by private enterprise. That is why so few firms go there. So one of the purposes of public money is to bear some of the risk. I believe we should be prepared to lose some public money in incentivising firms to go to places where there is a public interest. Parliament has not, and DFID has not, authorised CDC to go that step—yet. I very much hope that that will happen. In the negotiations for the latest International Development Association round—IDA 18, which is being signed this month—the World Bank’s aid arm is authorised to lose money in International Finance Corporation investments, to get firms to go to places where there is big public interest. We are on a journey, and scaling up CDC is part of that journey.
Q Just on the issue of low-tax environments and tax havens, and their use by CDC, I am not sure if you were all present for the earlier evidence session, in which a question was asked about that, but essentially the point was that in a number of the locations in which CDC operates they do not have the financial infrastructure or probity to encourage either CDC or other investors around that. Do you think that CDC makes effective and good use of tax havens in its investing, and do you have any concerns about that?
I should say that I was instrumental in the British G8 trying to clamp down on secrecy havens and get the compulsory register of beneficial ownership, so I had a lot of fight to push this agenda forward. The use of the overseas territories for registering companies has a triple function: sometimes it is a tax haven, which is bad; sometimes it is a secrecy haven for banking, which is worse; and sometimes it is a neutral administrative centre for a lot of third-party investments. If a company from the middle east wants to invest, along with a company from India and a company from Singapore, along with CDC, they try to find a neutral territory.
Q I think we understand, but I appreciate you clarifying. Mr McDonald, from the point of view of the NAO?
Q I think one can infer that you did not have a concern, as you have done an extensive review of CDC and you did not even think about it as a topic to look at.
You are quite evasive, Mr McDonald, in your answers. I mean, just in the answers to the Minister you were quite evasive.
Q Specifically on this, Mr McDonald, you should have told the Committee right at the start, yes, you thought about it, but you didn’t think it of concern to look at in your inquiry, shouldn’t you?
When we start a value-for-money audit, we have to consider a huge number of issues. This was one of the ones that we considered at the beginning but didn’t undertake any detailed field work on. Apologies.
Q I have a follow-up question for Oxfam or War on Want. I do not agree with everything War on Want says, but a good point it made was about the differing standards that appear to be applied to the CDC as opposed to non-governmental organisations, other multilaterals and so on. The multilateral aid review is pretty robust on how we should deal with multilaterals—publish every item of spending over £500 and so on. Gideon, perhaps you could say a little more about where a double standard might be going on here in expectations.
I have made the point already: it is clear and on the record that the CDC has a bit of catching up to do on transparency. One of the reasons why it would be helpful for it to make progress on transparency is that everyone would then know a lot more about where it is investing, what it is investing in, what the justifications for those investments are, and why it thinks it is providing financial and value additionality in those investments. We would all be starting this debate from a different position if there was greater awareness of what the CDC was doing and how it is working.
The other point that we are keen to emphasise is that if there is some way in which the Bill can leverage that additional transparency to include encouragement of reporting around a wider range of development impacts and indicators to help secure our confidence that the CDC is focused on the right investments, that would be very valuable. The type of indicators that we have to report against in our programmes could be rolled out more broadly in some of those investments.
Q May I ask a separate point, Paul? You said, “Take more risk. Get in there. Get things done.” Are you not worried that the CDC’s profile appears to be declining in Africa and still heavily focused on middle-income countries? Looking at the projects in lower-income countries, there appears to be quite a lot of diversity, but do you think that they ought to be even more risky, more poverty-focused, or more focused on Africa than on, say, India?
Yes, I do. I should also say that with risk comes an incidence of failure. The CDC is in a risk business in difficult environments; we should all get used to accepting a rate of failure. The CDC should not be judged by the fact that it will have some failures. If it has no failures, it is not doing its job.
Q It is too risk-averse at the moment, do you think?
That may be true, actually. The emphasis on scrutiny, scrutiny, scrutiny, without any understanding of context, drives people into that sort of risk-averse behaviour. Yes, we need transparency and scrutiny, but that has to be in the context of an understanding that the basic mission we want the CDC to do is difficult and will involve a rate of failure.
Q On scaling up and the challenges of recruitment and retention, which are highlighted in the NAO report, I am interested to know whether you think that CDC will be able to meet the recruiting challenge and what particular skill sets are needed for CDC, as opposed to other international development work, bearing in mind that a lot of people want to work in this field. Why will CDC have particular challenges?
CDC does face a significant challenge if it is going to make use of additional capital to recruit and retain the people it needs to manage that money. In the past, CDC has found it to be quite a slow process to recruit people at the senior level, but it gets there. The real difficulty is recruiting and retaining people at the middle levels of management, because CDC is competing, effectively, with other funds and private equity employers who can afford to pay a lot more. What CDC has changed is that whereas it used to benchmark its salaries against the private equity industry and therefore pay people a lot more through their overall benefits packages, now it benchmarks pay against other DFIs, which we think is a good step. The danger is that as average pay has come down, CDC is in the process of reconsidering its remuneration framework with DFID. That would be something we would want to watch very carefully, because the pressures on retention and recruitment might start to force that average pay up again next year.
Q I was not so much concerned about pay levels—well, I am concerned about pay levels, but I am particularly concerned about the skill sets that you are saying there is potentially a shortage of, or there could be a shortage of, for these particular appointments.
I don’t think there is an absolute shortage of skill sets. It is about finding the right packages and opportunities to get the right people in to do the job. Because of the change in strategy since 2012, CDC needs a lot more people with experience of making direct investments—understanding the context, as Sir Paul was describing, knowing what an opportunity looks like in a local market, and then being able to put a deal together that makes commercial sense, but also has a development impact. There probably are not that many people who have both of those skill sets.
On a point of order, Mr Streeter. In some comments earlier about Mr McDonald, I used the word “evasive”, which on reflection I think was overly strong. I would not like those to remain without correction.