International Development Select Committee - 16 May 2011

Given her extensive experience and knowledge of Sierra Leone, it is not surpirsing that our Chair, Dr Claire Curtis-Thomas should have supplied detailed written evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee on International Development. We set out that written evidence on Infrastructure and Development in full below:

“I would like to start this submission by congratulating the Committee for undertaking this important inquiry. Infrastructure development is central to the efforts to reduce poverty . However the relationship between DfID and major infrastructure investments undertaken by third parties on behalf of DfID and other UK government departments is tenuous at best and completely absent at worst ; I understand the reasons for this situation but it is unacceptable. I would like to confine my remarks to my knowledge of infrastructure investments in the poorest countries in Africa, focusing on my work in Sierra Leone.

I first visited Sierra Leone as a member of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Delegation in 2003, just after the British Army (at the request of the President) had intervened to bring the civil war to an end. I have visited the country on at least three occasions a year ever since. During that time both DfID and the FCO in country offices have been led by three different individuals of varying abilities and with different degrees of commitment. The DfID office then and now was generally devoid of business, engineering and industry experience focusing on the resolution of conflict rather than the imperative of development to address the economic crisis facing the country. In 2009 the FCO hosted an inward investment conference in London, the main participants included the banking and mining sectors with some charity presence.

Whilst in Parliament , I regularly met with a number of Government Ministers including Secretaries of State within DfID, FCO and the Treasury to discuss my concerns about the lack of infrastructure development and technical capacity in Sierra Leone. The conversations were by and large fruitless ; we didn’t speak a common language. My professional experience is rooted in the private engineering sector and I was having conversations with either political researchers (now Ministers) or professional diplomats, neither of whom had any interest in or experience of commercial activity or contracts.

Despite my best attempts I was unable to persuade ministerial colleagues of the absolute imperative to ensure that any infrastructure investment in post – conflict nations had to include a significant number of training opportunities for people within the country. I singularly failed to convince anyone of the merits of ensuring that we had to extract a training benefit from every pound invested in Sierra Leone or any other poor African country where public sector investment had been on its knees for generations.

Countries that lack public sector investment over a sustained period of time, through either war or economic mismanagement also lack the technical expertise that is necessary to oversee major or even minor infrastructure projects. This lack of experience means that the country cannot then maintain any infrastructure development once the donor developer has pulled out of the country. For example , the EU funded a new road that runs from Sierra Leone to Guinea, officials of the Sierra Leone Government were not part of the team that either drew up the contract for the work, nor were they involved in the execution of the project or ensuring that the work delivered was in compliance with contractual terms. All the intellectual value associated with these activities were retained by the investing authorities and not shared with the ultimate recipient. The failure to share this knowledge is very expensive for all concerned in the long – term, it denies individuals the dignity of autonomy. We are complicit in maintaining a culture of dependence. Even at a very basic level , because members of the benefiting government were not party to drafting the initial investment contracts they then do not have the experience to draw up contracts of their own when domestic funds become available which would allow them to do so. Currently the staff supporting the government of Sierra Leone does not include one qualified highways engineer or town and country planner. How do we expect this country to deliver infrastructure which will attract the type of diverse investment which is necessary for economic recovery if the government doesn’t have recourse to an expert highways, planning or sewerage resource within its own ranks? When we think about infrastructure development are we thinking about the development of intellectual technical capacity within the nation to sustain the development in the longer term?

Looking beyond contract development and management there has been no insistence that contractors winning infrastructure projects are required to offer training opportunities to young people through an apprenticeship programme. This failure means that thousands of young people are being denied the opportunity to learn on the job. Sierra Leone is investing millions on the education of their children, but the country completely lacks the opportunity to offer young people participating in engineering course ’s the opportunity of work based experience. I have visited most of the technical colleges in Sierra Leone; most of the practical courses are delivered on a blackboard, simply because there is no money for equipment or materials. The closest a young construction graduate from an FE college might get to build a brick wall might have been to witness its construction on a blackboard.

So whilst it is commendable that we were investing in failing or struggling states our failure to ensure that this investment is translated into a training premium for individuals involved in further and higher education, government departments and the youth of a nation is a significant and costly omission and has come about simply because there is a lack of understanding about these real drivers of economic resurgence within donor departments. Building new roads is a great thing to do and we all feel wonderful about it, however building roads without building people at the same time means that we are not maximising the benefit of our investment for either ourselves or our beneficiaries. The emphasis placed on investment must be matched by a commitment to extract the maximum training opportunities which can be derived from that investment.

Some background notes.

In November 2003 following the cessation of the war there were over two million people shuffling though the streets of Freetown, a city designed to cope with 250,000 and described as the Athens of Africa had become the capital of the poorest country in the world. Today UN statistics state that maternal and child mortality rates in Sierra Leone are still amongst the worst in the world, illiteracy is endemic, (only 20% of residents can read), and technical capacity within the country is insufficient to support inward investment aspirations.

Distributed power is partially available and there is some water infrastructure present in Freetown but the supply is breached and contaminated in greater part. There is no effective sewerage management system, and sewerage derived diseases are constantly present. Cholera, dysentery and typhus are rife, particularly in appalling slums. The major public hospitals throughout the country are devoid of clean water, a constant supply of power, drugs, equipment (including all the bas ics , beds, drip stands etc) appropriately qualified staff. Private health care is a burgeoning business but remains the exclusive preserve of the few and still does not meet standards of the west. In 2006 14 doctors graduated from the University of Sierra Leone and thirteen left the country to practise elsewhere. At the end of the war the country did not have access to even one psychiatrist or psychologist to help the 30,000 child soldiers caught up in the war.

There is no public transport system. Investment in infrastructure is typically led by the Chinese and major companies keen to liberate the considerable mineral deposits within the country. The SL government continues to do its best in relation to drawing together contracts with developers that offer a good return to the country but the contracts remain sub optimal as the government cannot afford the legal staff that are necessary to effectively scrutini s e or develop ones of their own

Youth unemployment remains a very serious problem, the biggest employer remains the government, there is a considerable degree of entrepreneurial activity but this is constrained to low cost activities. In technical terms the country is still within a pre – industrial phase

There is a great desire within the country to get on with the business of making money.

1) Third party agencies

DfID funding is either managed directly by DfID offices or given to third parties who manage the funds and the related activities on behalf of DfID throughout the world.

Whilst I understand the operational reasons for splitting the budget in this way, (location of expertise, experience etc) it does mean that frequently the right hand of the DfID doesn’t know what the left hand is really doing and doesn’t care either. By way of illustration consider a DfID funded significant infrastructure project in South Africa. DfID in country maybe aware that the UN/EU/World Bank are undertaking this project however they are not directly or even indirectly accountable for success and failure. Does this arrangement protect/promote DfID’s strategic interests within the country? Who is the third party ultimately answerable to and in what sort of detail? Who scrutinises the work undertaken by third parties on behalf of DfID to ensure that our money is well spent and that the sustainable and environmental impact on the community has been considered and properly audited for compliance years after the completion of the project?

DfID channels hundreds of millions of pounds through third parties for infrastructure projects. Many of these projects are joint ventures exasperating reporting lines even further. It proved impossible for me to find out where our money had been spent and exactly what on, it just goes into the melting pot with the rest. We appear to be abrogating our scrutiny duties to others and assuming that they are doing well on our behalf and they are not.

I have been unable to discern who is responsible for quality auditing these projects on behalf of the government, it is assumed that this responsibility is executed on behalf of the government by the third party itself – this may well be the case but this does mean that the standards of project execution may fall well below those standards that are acceptable in the UK.

Having inspected numerous DfID sponsored projects throughout Africa not one has matched any EU/British construction/ process standard. The excuse is that the UK standard is excessive and not necessary in the country and “good skilled people are hard to find”. Yet we are paying for EU/British standard-our failure to deliver quality in execution means a significant waste of money time and resources. Moreover the facility will collapse within an unacceptable time frame with no remediation possible simply because no provision had been made for maintaining the facility in the longer term and most of the countries where these infrastructure projects take place lack qualified and experience staff to undertake any post completion maintenance work or compliance audits-the original project was done for “ them” and not with “them”. More hand outs rather than a hand up.

2) Supporting the development of the technical capacity within fragile, post fragile, conflict and developing states-recovering from no aid with trade.

It is an absolute fact that struggling nations lack the indigenous technical capacity to either develop or maintain critical infrastructure or manufacturing industries. The development of this capacity is without the normal kind of support that is offered to these states. Throughout Africa DFID and the FCO are primarily interested in sponsoring projects which are designed to support the justice, police, army, finance and legislative system. In many cases DFID have little experience and wouldn’t know where to start providing support for infrastructure or industrial development even though they know that it is an imperative activity for emerging states-trade doesn’t mix with aid; but it has to for the long term viability of a nation.

The UK through DFID and not necessarily FCO has a presence in many post conflict / fragile states in Africa which offer significant medium to long term investment opportunities in the energy/ infrastructure/ manufacturing/ mining / insurance/ medical/ banking/legal sectors. We simply have no effective vehicle to link UK companies to this potential-we do not have business people in DFID departments who can articulate the investment opportunities in these hard to reach areas. This failure means that countries like China are free to exploit the potential and reap the benefit of the investment for generations-and impress their technical and process standards on the country so that when UK companies eventually get into the country there will be an in country reticence to accept any other standard. This is the primary reason why Europe has failed to crack the US market and we are seeing the same standard failures in Africa.

We have to put engineering and business competence into post conflict states to facilitate support for government priorities which are concerned with the development of trade and technical competence.”

16/05/2011



Return to Blog Index Page

free hit counter