Wednesday 28 November 2018
The people of the Bailiwick can take a real pride in the work of the Overseas Aid & Development Commission, and the many ways in which it contributes to the wellbeing of others in the poorest and most disadvantaged parts of our world.
Overseas Aid, through the charities we partner with, stops children dying from under-nourishment, from diseases carried in dirty water, or from the simple lack of water. It gives mothers and babies a better chance of survival, through the provision of basic care during pregnancy and at birth. It gives young people hope and opportunity, through access to education - and it builds schools close to communities, cutting out long daily treks through unsafe country, where young people risk violence and sexual assault. It teaches farmers the skills of sustainable agriculture, tackling economic exclusion and environmental degradation in one swoop. It provides the basic infrastructure that communities need to escape the jaws of absolute poverty, and ultimately to flourish.
But I need to start on a solemn note. Earlier this year, we learned that some aid workers had used their position of power to abuse the people they were meant to be helping, in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Since then, we have heard that similar abuses have happened the world over, and that organisations have been ineffective in preventing or responding to those that have happened on their watch. Such abuses must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and I am so sorry to those who have been harmed. It should never have happened once, and we must do all we can to stop it happening again.
For the avoidance of doubt, to the best of our knowledge, there has been no Guernsey money directly involved in any of the scandals that have come to light. But I think States Members would agree with me that we should play our part in addressing the risks and concerns this has identified, and in doing what we can to make things better in future.
So I would like to assure the States that we are, indeed, doing all we can. In response to the immediate aftermath of the news, we added a further set of questions about charities' procedures to protect from staff, volunteers and beneficiaries from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment to our compliance checks, alongside our established questions on governance and financial probity. These checks form part of a rigorous governance process at every stage in the life-cycle of the grants we make, to ensure that the charities we support are accountable, and that we clearly understand how islanders' money is being spent.
To a certain extent, we are looking to the UK for leadership. UK reports, including one by the Commons' International Development Committee last summer, have helped to analyse the problem and identify the issues to be tackled. The UK's Department for International Development recently held a Safeguarding Summit, together with the voluntary sector, to explore how to improve protections against abuse. That work will gradually help to establish new best practice for the sector, and clear standards which we can demand of the charities we work with.
But we aren't just passively waiting for change: we're making it, too. We recently organised training for the Commission, and for local charities working overseas, on improving the way we prevent or respond to cases of abuse. The work of local charities is rightly valued and esteemed in the Bailiwick, and there is an expectation that, where it is possible to do so, we will support local charities working overseas. For that reason, the Commission considers that it has some responsibility to support capacity-building within the local charity sector, together with bodies such as the Association of Guernsey Charities and the Community Foundation.
There are, however, limits to what we can do. We are not, and should not be, a regulator of charities. We count on existing regulators, such as the Charity Commission, to set and maintain appropriate standards. For that reason, I have also arranged to meet with Deputy Stephens and officers from P&R to ensure that our learning on this issue is linked into the work that Policy & Resources are co-ordinating on the engagement between the States and the third sector locally.
It would be a mistake to pretend that any amount of regulation could prevent all harm, but it is clear that there are steps we can take to reduce the risks of such harm; to keep our focus at all times on the wellbeing of the all who receive aid and those who deliver it; and to respond justly and effectively where harm is done. Those steps, which I have outlined, should help to ensure that the life-changing and life-saving work of international development is ultimately carried out in an environment of greater trust, humanity and respect.
Sir, in giving that matter the weight it deserves, I have left myself little time to re-tell the rest of the Commission's busy year, so I will go at a clip, and refer members to our newly-published Annual Report for a fuller account.
On that, I apologise for the delay in publication, which was due to challenges in scheduling a launch event. The report itself was completed in the summer, in part thanks to the assistance of an excellent work-experience student. As ever, I'd remind States Members that the Commission welcomes contact from young people interested in international development, and will do what we can to provide them with useful insight and experience - please never hesitate to point people our way!
Earlier this year, we were delighted to sign an MOU with Ille et Vilaine - as part of Policy & Resources' broader efforts to strengthen ties with our French neighbours - which will see our two communities match-funding a small number of international development projects, in line with our basic criteria.
We were also delighted that, after a hotly-contested application process, we were able to appoint two new Commissioners, Bryan Pill and Margaret McGuinness, to replace Tim Peet and Steve Mauger, whose terms had regrettably come to an end. Once again, I want to put on record my thanks to Mr Peet and Mr Mauger for their loyal service to the Commission over the last ten years, and the countless hours of wholly voluntary effort they have given to the role. I would also like to thank Judy Moore for stepping up as the Commission's new Vice President.
When the States agreed last year to remove the ring-fence around emergency relief funding, I said that we would update our policies to make sure that there are still clear guidelines about when it should, or should not, be used. We have done so this autumn, and have also taken the opportunity to develop clearer guidelines around 'Part 2' of our mandate, which relates to community and private sector partnerships. We hope those updated policies, once seen by P&R, will be in operation from the start of the New Year.
This year we will also be working with P&R to develop guidelines for Impact Investment that will allow the States to invest the million pounds it has set aside for this purpose. And we are meeting in early December to plan out how to fulfil the recent Resolution that will see us reporting back, next spring, with consideration of what a more substantial investment in Overseas Aid would look like in practice. I would like to involve States Members in that process, to the extent that the timeframe allows, and would certainly welcome thoughts and suggestions from Members at any time.
Right now, the Commission is in the middle of its annual grant-funding round. The sheer volume of applications we've received this year - nearly 300 - has required us to schedule in a fifth funding meeting, in early January. Applications are already limited to a maximum of two per charity, and we may have to consider further constraints ahead of next year's funding round, to stop the role becoming impossible to do on a voluntary basis. As ever, there are many excellent applications - many more than the funding we have available - and the process of selecting those which best meet our criteria, and which are most likely to deliver a meaningful impact for the communities they work with, remains rigorous and challenging.
Sir, our Bailiwick is a haven of peace and safety, and we are blessed to live here. But our world is still a world of wars and conflicts, displacements and refugees; a world in which toddlers across western Africa are facing malnutrition in their highest numbers in a decade; a world in which progress on tackling malaria has stalled for the past two years; a world in which international scientific bodies are telling us we've got twelve years to stop the worst of global warming, and everything we know about climate change tells us that the poorest countries are the most at risk, and the least able to withstand its shocks. It is a world where the work of Overseas Aid remains relevant - and vital.
So I thank Members for their ongoing support for the Commission, in the work that we have done, and that we continue to do. I believe most of us recognise this as an essential pillar of Guernsey's mature international identity. And, in closing, I must also thank the Commission Secretary, who always gives the Commission the highest quality of service - and who, this year, managed the mayhem of our funding round alongside the delivery of Guernsey's very first referendum. I am indebted to her, and to each of our Commissioners, who freely give up so much of their time, effort and expertise to enable Guernsey to deliver a commitment to Overseas Aid and Development of which, I believe, we can all continue to be proud.