Sunday, October 28, 2007

Parliament wants tighter grip on EU aid flow

The European Union, the toothless economic giant, pumps millions of Euro every year to Third World countries in the name of aid through different agencies, especially EuropeAid, but the question that keeps nagging concerned European citizens is how much of the European taxpayers’ money is put to good use. The translucent nature of operations is nowhere more visible than where they are needed the most: on the African continent.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, has been managing hundreds of millions in humanitarian and development aid but it seems it is yet to learn the importance of linking aid to accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights based on the local culture and civilisations.

European citizens are firm believers in respect for human rights, and, to appease them, there is always a lot of talk on the subject, but without access to potable water, basic foods and bare essential drugs, is it possible for the hungry suffering masses to visualise a rosy picture of democracy, human rights and power to people portrayed by the Commission? The answer is an emphatic no.

In recent times, the West has been claiming China has made big inroads into the African continent, forgetting that one of the oldest projects that Beijing did was the Tan-Zam Railway from Tanzania to Zambia. There is no doubt that China today is acting in the form of a hungry monster gourmandising on available raw materials and energy resources, and is bulldozing its way through Africa, intentionally ignoring the human rights records of regimes which are pariah to western aid for their dictatorial governance methods.

But we forget that we are expecting human rights evaluation from a single Communist-party ruled state which ruthlessly nips in the bud even any smell of dissenting voices in its domestic arena. This is the simple reason why Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Omar al-Beshir in Sudan are getting what they get from China. But the EU, the preacher of human values and upholders of democratic traditions, needs to get its act together and for that the European Parliament, the only democratically- and-directly elected European institution, has started doing the needful.

The Development Committee of the European parliament has had a legal right to scrutinise “the Country, Regional and Thematic strategy papers and Annual Action Plans” since this year. To be more accountable to European citizens - to whom the European Parliament is answerable - the Development Committee got the legal element, added to the political right of parliament, to control the EU executive, which is taken for granted as “God-given” in any functioning democracy.

According to committee sources, the EP has taken up the possibility to do this by organising into workgroups and systematically scrutinising the mentioned documents. This has already resulted in four resolutions in 2007 that have gone through plenary which indicate that the executive has overstepped its mandate.

Commenting on the subject, Maria Martens, Rapporteur of the Committee on Development said, “In my recent report on EUAfrika relations I strongly argue for more insight in and accountability of European development commitments. As parliament we must be able to control where and for what money is spent.”

Highlighting the lack of basic principles of accountability and transparency, Martens added, “On several occasions we have found that the Commission is using development money for other purposes than poverty alleviation. This is very worrying and makes the parliamentary control function even more necessary. My ambition is to do even better, and make sure that the development policies of the EU help more people more effectively.”

Moreover, there has been “serious concern” expressed by the parliament that the “governance profiles” developed by the Commission for each ACP country, which will guide programming for development assistance in relation to the 2.7 billion Euro additional funds under the 10th EDF, have been prepared without any participatory element. In this sphere again the parliament has asked “The Commission to consult and inform the European Parliament and the Council on the follow-up and the implementation of these funds in order to make sure they are allocated to governance initiatives” and allied programmes.

There is hope, as the Development Committee is set to produce in 2008 an important report which will consist of the main political conclusions of the Committee regarding the Commission’s actions in development.One of the main concerns expressed by development pundits is that the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) is often used for other purposes than strictly for poverty reduction.