HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc125-7W
Mr. Ian Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the Overseas Development Administration's evaluation work.

Dr. Twinn

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current state of Overseas Development Administration evaluation work.

Mrs. Chalker

As I told the House during oral questions on 14 October, I have written in the following terms to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) about the evaluation work of ODAOn 19 September you issued a Press Release headed "Secret Report shows Government hid the truth about Aid from Parliament". This contained allegations that the report had been "doctored" by removing many critical evaluation statements. I owe it to the public, Parliament and, not least ODA officials who administer the ODA's evaluation programme and who cannot defend themselves, to set the record straight. Though it will no doubt be obvious to anyone who read your Press Release, I should emphasise that what came into your possession was not a secret report but an early draft of a published report. I attach a note explaining ODA's ex post evaluation procedures which are considered by the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD to be a model of their kind. I would like to stress that ODA's evaluation programme is administered by officials with the purpose of learning lessons from the past and thereby improving future aid funded activities. The evaluations are published so that, in addition to disseminating their lessons throughout the ODA, those same lessons can be shared with others outside ODA who have an interest in these matters. As Minister I have no involvement in this process beyond ensuring that a vigorous evaluation programme is under-taken. ODA evaluation reports are published, unless there are particular reasons to the contrary concerning commercial or diplomatic sensitivities. A quick read of our published evaluation reports would reveal that there has been no hesitation in publishing reports which are critical of the work of the Department. It is quite absurd to suggest that ODA has sought to prevent proper scrutiny of the aid programme by Parliament or international bodies. I also attach an analysis prepared by my officials on your Notes to Editors. You will see from this that your allegations of doctoring and misleading Parliament are wholly unfounded. That the final published report should differ from an early draft is hardly surprising, particularly as great care is taken to ensure that the final report is of a high quality and of as much value as possible in feeding back lessons learnt. Had you taken as much care in the preparation of your Press Release, what you eventually published might have been very different. It was most unfortunate that you chose to repeat some of your allegations in the BBC's 'Today' programme on 20 September, including the charge of providing environmentally unfriendly aid to the Third World. You cited the Botswana Power Project co-financed by the World Bank and approved in 1981, alleging that a reference relating to emission levels had been omitted from the published version of the report. But you will see from paragraph 49 of the published report that this is not the case. More important, however, you chose to misinterpret what was said. The point is that the plant did meet European standards (as well as the World Bank's and Botswana's guidelines) at the time the plant was designed and approved in 1981, although by the time the evaluation was undertaken some six years later, environmental standards for new plant had been further strengthened. In commenting on the project in West Bengal, India, you refer to a passage as 'going to the heart of the ATP controversy'. But that project was not financed under ATP arrangements; it was funded under a power sector grant which, as was the practice in the 1970s and early 1980s, gave the Indian authorities considerable discretion over individual projects. This arrangement has now been discontinued. You should understand that the UK firm concerned won the order against international competition. There was nothing wrong with the basic technology; gas turbines can be a cost-effective way of meeting peak demand, but an important lesson we learned from this project is that, in the absence of properly-structured electricity tariffs, management may have a disincentive to use the equipment and may instead allow power cuts. You also appear, in some important respects, completely to misunderstand the OECD's rules. The 'minimum test of development soundness' is a phrase inherited by this Administration from the last Labour Government. It has since been abandoned in favour of more rigorous appraisal. We have also taken the lead in the DAC to seek agreement to adopt more rigorous and comprehensive project appraisal guidelines for DAC members. As the Note points out, you also fail to understand the meaning of the 35 per cent. rule which relates to the nature of the financing arrangements, not the UK content of what is supplied. I very much regret that you should seek to call into question what is an important and valuable part of the professional work of the Department, simply in the hope of scoring party political points. I trust that you will now withdraw your allegations. In the best interests of clear and unequivocal evaluation and of the staff and independent consultants who are involved in this, I am sending this letter and its attachments to the press.

Copies of this letter and its enclosures have been placed in the Libraries of the House.