Joe Costello on Irish Aid's new policy

Joe Costello, the aid minister of Ireland. Photo by: IrishAid

Irish Aid will engage more with fragile countries as part of its new policy unveiled on Thursday  and not just Sierra Leone.

The program will also look at Somalia, Mali, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, Irish Aid Minister Joe Costello told Devex in an exclusive interview.

The idea is to introduce aid support to these countries “as early as possible.”

Costello explains some points in the program’s new policy, why East Timor is no longer a key partner country, and how Irish aid remains cautious in restoring fully its support to Uganda. Irish Aid will remain untied under the new policy, which means “we are not sticking to getting anything in return,” Costello explained. “That’s the principle under which we do it, and I don’t think it’s going to change.”

When will this new policy be implemented?

Well, to some extent we’re already implementing it. The policy has been discussed now for a good period of time. So elements that have been put into the totality, some of them already would be implemented and some of them were included in our presidential priorities as well.

So effectively, it will be implemented immediately. But we will be doing a degree of consultation, an explanation. So we will be meeting with nongovernmental organizations to clarify the new policy and the implications for them.

There has been some change in your key partner countries…

There is one new partner country that is immediately going to be incorporated, and that is Sierra Leone. We will take Liberia as well. But we already left East Timor, which was a country that we were engaged with. What we called in the past program countries, we’re now calling them partner countries because that gives us greater scope for the method of engagement.

But we expect to look at other countries as well (…) countries that are just emerging out of conflict at the present time would be the focus of our attention. And the idea would be that gradually we’d begin to move more and more toward fragile countries. In the sense that it’s important that development personnel and aid support and so on be introduced as early as possible to stabilize the countries and to ensure that they don’t revert to some of the conflict situation that they were in.

Why are you leaving East Timor?

We got involved with East Timor when it was very much a fragile country. There was a lot of support for East Timor during its struggle for independence. And Ireland, we were involved in a very early stage, and in fact we’re involved when the conflict was still going on.

East Timor, at this point of time, we would judge, has quite a strong potential in natural resources. We would still be engaged with East Timor, but it won’t be a full engagement in the sense of the full partner countries that we have been engaged in the past. What we called nine program countries in the past, one of them is East Timor. That will be replaced with Sierra Leone. We don’t feel that East Timor any longer needs that intensive level of engagement because it’s in a position now to handle it’s own affairs.

Can we expect any changes in the way you deliver aid under the new policy?

Aid has always been on the basis of need. The degree of the human development index, all our [key partner] countries in Africa are in fact in sub-Saharan Africa. And they are at the outward end of the HDI; they are the poorest ones and that will always be our benchmark. So now we are shifting it not just to the poorest, but to the most fragile as well. And we are going to be seeking to engage in an earlier stage than we did before in most countries. And that’s part of the refocusing of our development, and that may very well mean that we disengage to a degree from the other countries. All our countries are now going to move up from being priority countries or program countries to being partner countries, but we can still engage with the old countries that we’re in at the present time at a level which is different, and which might be more based on economic engagement rather than on aid engagement.

That’s the thrust of the new policy, that our main focus will be on the fragile countries, but that we are able to seize the focus into the needs of the countries as they begin development to come out of fragility.

The funding misuse in Uganda last year involving Irish Aid led many to question oversight. How do you plan to address such concerns?

Through internal and external auditing, supervision and “tight” monitoring.

We’re subject to periodic reviews from the OECD. We report to the EU. We do reports to our Parliament and to our controller and auditor general here, who examines our books. We do an annual report, where we outline clearly where the money goes. And there’s a new proposed set of global standards that all aid countries are expected to sign up to by 2015. Of course we would fully sign up to those as quickly as possible.

But won’t there be some changes in the way you engage with Uganda?

It will remain a key partner country now even though we have half of the money we would have given to Uganda  we only gave them half last year. This year again we will only give them half (€16 million). We will only give money to projects that we are in charge of. The money will go through Irish Aid and there will be no government involvement in any of the money with Uganda.

So they have lost out a considerable amount of money from Ireland as a result of that  a fairly harsh measure for Uganda  but we don’t intend to restore to full partnership level until the full investigation has been completed and until the prosecutions are carried out - the end of the result of that is clearly visible.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.