Evidence of meeting #35 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ethiopia.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Philip Baker  Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency
  • Leslie Lefkow  Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

Colleagues, we'll commence meeting 35 of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Our orders of the day, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), are for a study of development assistance to Ethiopia.

Today we're delighted to have as our first witness, from the Canadian International Development Agency, Mr. Philip Baker, the acting regional director general for southern and eastern Africa.

Mr. Baker, thank you for coming today.

I think you're familiar with this procedure and process, so I'll turn it over to you.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Philip Baker Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Good. Thanks.

I feel a little lonely down at this end. Where is everybody else?

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

I know. We should go down there and join you.

3:35 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

My apologies to the interpreters. I think they're going to have to earn their keep today, because my French is a little rusty. But we'll get started and see where we go. I'll start with an opening statement, if I may.

To begin, thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members.

Thank you for your invitation to appear this afternoon. I am pleased to be here.

As Regional Director General for Southern and Eastern Africa under the Geographic Programs Branch at CIDA, I am responsible for overseeing CIDA country and regional programming in Southern and Eastern Africa, including Ethiopia.

I'd like to first update you briefly on the important context of Canada's international aid and development work in Africa. Then I'll move on specifically to Ethiopia.

First of all, CIDA is committed to making its aid more effective to ensure the achievement of positive and sustainable results that make a real and long-term difference in the lives of those living in poverty. CIDA is focusing its work both geographically and thematically in the areas of increased food security, children and youth, and sustainable economic growth.

Throughout Africa, CIDA is supporting national poverty reduction strategies so that our assistance is more effective and able to reach the largest number of beneficiaries possible.

While doing so, we recognize that Africa faces many challenges as it develops. CIDA continues to do its part to respond to humanitarian needs, as we did when the worst drought in 60 years hit the Horn of Africa region last year.

Considering that effective development work goes a long way to reduce the impact of disasters, CIDA is working to avoid humanitarian crises by increasing food security. We also recognize that food security is not only about getting food on the table; it's about getting the right food on the table. Nutrition is proven to be one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways of improving health and saving lives. That is why it is an integral part of the G-8 Muskoka initiative, which aims to improve the health of mothers, newborns, and children under five.

I'm now going to take a brief moment to zero in on and explain Ethiopia's development context in order to highlight the important progress that's been achieved over the last decade.

Despite being one of the world's poorest nations, Ethiopia has made major development strides in recent years. With an economic growth rate averaging more than 8% per year, the Government of Ethiopia remains committed to pro-poor growth, investing more than 60% of public expenditures toward poverty-oriented sectors. This is the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of the portion of the budget committed to pro-poor sectors. This has translated into declining poverty levels—from 38% in 2004 to 29% in 2011, according to the Government of Ethiopia's own numbers.

Country-led investments to increase food security and expand the coverage of basic services such as health and education have contributed to rising human development indicators, and the country is on track to achieve six of the eight millennium development goals. Ethiopia's strong ownership of development priorities, combined with its commitment to anti-poverty programs, makes it a country where official development assistance produces results.

CIDA has contributed to these achievements—for example, through its support to increasing food security and securing the future of children and youth in Ethiopia. CIDA's contribution to food security and agricultural growth projects contributed to expanding access to fertilizer, improved seed, and credit services across the country. In 2010-11 these efforts resulted in an average yield increase of 100 kilograms per hectare of maize and wheat. Working with other donors, CIDA expanded training services to an additional 800,000 farmers so that a total of 4.9 million people now benefit from local agricultural services.

CIDA is also contributing to the health and well-being of mothers and children in Ethiopia. The proportion of births attended by local health workers rose to 25% last year versus 16% back in 2007. The proportion of children vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus rose to 86% last year from 73% in 2007, and against measles, from 65% up to 77%. This data indicates that more mothers and children under the of five have access to and are using basic health services.

In addition, in Ethiopia CIDA focuses its efforts under the Muskoka initiative towards improving infant and child feeding practices, and providing supplements, key vitamins and minerals such as iodized salt and vitamin A, to women of children-bearing age and to infants.

So now let me mention in a few words how we choose to build our country programs.

In developing an overall country program, CIDA requires country-specific governance, gender equality, and human rights analyses to be conducted during the planning and implementation phases. These analyses help us to shape our development interventions. We then monitor all our initiatives and take action if and when the context changes. We expect, just as the public and honourable members do, that from a policy viewpoint CIDA programs will have a positive impact on the development context in any given country.

In addition, CIDA assesses the country's poverty situation and the level of citizen participation in the setting of national development priorities. Our programming is a product of this work, as well as of ongoing consultations with local and Canadian partners, with other donors, with UN agencies and, of course, with the Government of Ethiopia.

As an example of how CIDA adjusts its programming to the Ethiopian context, we channel our funding through non-governmental organizations, private sector entities, and multilateral development institutions, and focus primarily on food security, agricultural growth, and nutrition. To state it in another way, CIDA focuses on providing support that directly and positively impacts the food insecure, the rural poor, children under the age of five, and pregnant and lactating women in need of nutritional supplements such as vitamin A. In addition, on a responsive basis we provide humanitarian assistance to address specific emergencies such as the 2011 major drought in the Horn of Africa, which we've discussed in this setting before.

Even on this last example, to go beyond short-term emergency assistance, CIDA is contributing to efforts to build resilience, particularly with our work through multilateral development institutions on the development of social safety nets, such as the productive safety net program implemented in Ethiopia. It is designed to build the resilience of 7.8 million chronically food insecure people in order to improve food security and ensure protection from the effects of climate change and other shocks. This program helps communities to invest in sustainable land management while enhancing their natural resource base through transfers of food or cash in exchange for labour. Examples of results to which CIDA contributed include the decline in the annual food gap from 3.6 months per year in 2006 down to 2.3 months per year in 2010. That is the reduction in the amount of time that you see a food gap. Over 318,000 hectares of degraded land have also been rehabilitated through gated fields, which we can talk about that later, and 31,900 kilometres of rural roads have been constructed to improve access to markets and services.

We also support broader democratic and accountability processes, which we believe are integral to progressively improving human rights. Recent examples include support to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Federal Auditor General, and Ethiopian civil society. Working with other donors, Canada engages in discussion directly with the Ethiopian authorities on such topics as human rights and gender equality. We participate in international mechanisms such as the universal periodic review, a process of the United Nation's High Commission for Human Rights. These are all areas in which we have clearly communicated our desire and expectation for improvement.

The contexts in which CIDA works are seldom perfect. I think members here would agree that we are there specifically because there are too many people living in conditions that are unacceptable to Canadians.

We continue to work toward the situation where the democratic and human rights conditions in Ethiopia will mirror the progress already achieved in social sectors such as health and education. This will allow the international community, including Canada, to consider resuming more direct support to the Government of Ethiopia in the future for the realization of its development agenda. But we are not there yet.

At this point I'll stop and would be happy to take some questions.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

Thank you very much, Mr. Baker.

We'll start with the opposition. Mr. Saganash, you have seven minutes.

May 2nd, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Baker, for being here today. Thank you for your presentation to this committee.

I want to focus on the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act, and some of the criteria there are under that act in terms of disbursements by CIDA and our country.

In particular, these criteria must be consistent with the international human rights standards. What is CIDA's approach to implementing the ODA Accountability Act? What does CIDA see as being the minimum requirement the department must meet in that context and, more specifically, in the case of Ethiopia, what due diligence did CIDA pursue to ensure this minimum requirement? What do you continue to pursue to ensure that this minimum requirement is met?

3:40 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

Thanks very much for the question.

As people recognize, the ODAA act explicitly says that for to be considered as ODA, it must contribute to poverty reduction, must take in the perspectives of the poor, and must be consistent with international human rights standards.

So at CIDA, in our approach to this act, this is job one, if you like. This is integral to everything we do. In our work, when we look at moving official development assistance through our programming, we must and we do—through a number of policy instruments and through our programming implementation as well—look at how we can ensure that there's no direct or indirect contribution to human rights violations through CIDA programming.

That's the key, I think, in answering both. The minimum requirement you've asked about is that, at the very minimum, there is no direct or indirect contribution to violations of human rights.

Then, in terms of our approach, we have policy instruments. At the same time, we take those policy instruments and, when we are doing our analysis to examine which program elements to add to a certain country, we make sure that we both build in the approaches that will avoid human rights violations and then—in answer to your last question—we look at setting up systems of safeguards that allow us to both evaluate and monitor to ensure we are achieving that goal.

If you like, I could talk a little bit more on that front of what those are, or we could continue. I'll leave it to the chair.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

Thank you.

Mr. Saganash.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you.

You talk in your presentation about working with other donor countries and participating in international mechanisms such as the universal periodic review process with the United Nations.

To that effect, I read the August 2011 “Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee [on] Ethiopia”. It does mention concerns about certain legislation in the country, particularly the proclamation on charities and societies, which prohibits, as you know and have mentioned, Ethiopian NGOs from obtaining more than 10% of their budget from foreign donors.

How does CIDA takes these country assessments into account in redesigning or reassessing country programs?

3:45 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

In regard to the Universal Periodic Review, I'll start by saying that in general, all the UN member countries, once every four years, will go through or will be subjected to—whichever way you want to look at it—a review of their human rights record or their track record.

In the case of Ethiopia, their last review was in 2009. A final report came out in 2010. There were, I believe—and correct me if I'm wrong—142 overall recommendations, 99 of which were accepted by the Government of Ethiopia. So there was a good step forward on that front.

These included a number that Canada had initiated, including the need to create a human rights action plan. That action plan in fact has led to support for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which in turn has led to regional offices around the country being opened up to allow better access for Ethiopians, for the public.

So on that front, with 99 out of 142, is it perfect? It's not perfect. It's progress, definitely. Each country that goes through these reviews has to do its best to look at what it can take on board, and with what priority, to improve its record on human rights as it gets ready to show progress, hopefully, by the next time it is reviewed.

In the case of Ethiopia, there has been a lot of progress, but there have also been concerns, as you've noted. The charities act and proclamation is of particular concern. It does tend to narrow the space for freedom of expression and the activities of those charities, the NGOs that are active in Ethiopia.

So what does CIDA do about that? On several fronts.... As I said, we're bolstering the strength of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. We also do have a very strong network called CANGO in Ethiopia. It is a network of Canadian NGOs that are active with their Ethiopian partners in Ethiopia. We work closely with them in bolstering their capacity.

When we do a program, we look for opportunities where we can strengthen the opportunities for Ethiopian citizens to play a role. You may have heard talk of the protection of basic services initiative. It's a very large one that has been led by the World Bank for a number of years in Ethiopia. Within that, there's a subcomponent of the program that CIDA made a contribution to in years past. That actually built the right of citizens' participation within the whole notion of monitoring how the district administrations divvy up the moneys that are largely coming through the infrastructure support program, which is called PBS, or protection of basic services.

That was an example of CIDA successfully getting a mechanism built in that actually encourages the better monitoring of human rights, and then redress if things are looking like they might start to go wrong.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

But you do recognize that there are still ongoing human rights “issues”, let's say, in Ethiopia right now?

3:45 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Okay.

Could you talk a little bit about the criteria that were used to rationalize the recent cuts or reductions to 13 geographic programs at CIDA? Eight of these were in Africa, I believe, including Ethiopia. Ten of the thirteen that were reduced or cut include the poorest countries in the world. Yet five with whom Canada has recently developed strong trade ties were unaffected.

How did the criteria of the act influence your decision around which country programs to drop? In other words, what criteria informed your decisions in that respect?

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

You will have to make that a very brief answer because the time has run out and we'll have to go over to the other side.

3:50 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

I'll make it very brief, then.

First of all, I'll speak to my area of the world only. I'll say that it wasn't my decision; it was a cabinet decision, which is the way that the reductions were designed.

Within our neck of the woods, southern and eastern Africa, there were several closures suggested for country programs and several reductions. Within that front, the driving force for the closures was the matter of cost-effectiveness, of running some of these important but smaller programs that are quite expensive to run, relatively speaking. I'm speaking now of our Zambia and our Zimbabwe program, which will be closing by April 1, 2014.

In the case of Malawi, which was also listed for closure in my area, the Malawi program will be coming for closure by April 1, 2014, but the Muskoka programming will continue to completion. So it was an exception on that front. Muskoka programming continues in all the countries.

There were several other reductions in other countries as well for some of our larger programs in Africa.