In the first of four instalments to be released over the duration of this year, Drayton Tribune Editor-in-Chief James Kinder caught up with local British Member of Parliament (MP) Pauline Latham OBE, where the pair discussed a number of issues at the forefront of current political affairs. This edition will explore Pauline’s work as a member of the Select Committee for International Development, with a particular focus upon the Rohingya Refugee Crisis. With 20 years as a Local and County Councillor and 8 years in Parliament, Pauline’s unique insights will be of undoubted value to those seeking work in related sectors upon graduation. The following is a transcript of their conversation:
“Can you tell me a bit about what your work with the Select Committee involves?”
We have evidence-taking sessions on different reports. We choose what reports we are going to cover, and evidence [is taken] from ministers, secretaries of state, people involved in the aid industry, and non-governmental organisations. Sometimes we will have informal meetings with people who visit Britain, and they’ll come and meet the chairman and any other member of the committee who wants to turn up – it’s a much more open system now.
We’ve done a big report on education this year that’s about sexual exploitation and abuse within the aid sector, and I suspect there’ll be a lot of media interest. We don’t often get media interest because we don’t argue very much along party political lines; we might disagree with how we’re going to get to an endpoint, but we don’t disagree about that endpoint. We very rarely have a vote. I think in the eight years I’ve been on [the Committee], we’ve had one vote – and if there’s a vote, it means that you can’t agree on a report. If you’re in the minority then you can produce a minority report, but that hasn’t happened in the end – it depends how strongly people feel about it.
For me, the most important thing is going and visiting a project. We only get to do three visits per year maximum: we’ve been to Washington and New York this year and we should have gone to Myanmar, because we were looking at the Rohingya refugees. But Aung San Suu Kyi personally – it was on her desk – we understand that she personally stopped the committee going, although we give aid to her country. She’s now said we can go, but it looks like it will be next year.
But we went to Bangladesh to see Cox’s Bazar – to see where the refugees were living – and that was a really interesting visit because Bangladesh is a very poor country itself, but it has taken nearly one million refugees in about two months. They’ve not got everything right, but you can’t criticise them for it. My argument has been that if we had – and I’m not talking about people from Burma coming here, I’m talking about people, say, from Europe, maybe Denmark – one million Danes come over here in two months as refugees, how on earth would this country cope? It could not! We couldn’t cope and we wouldn’t get the agreement of people in Britain to bring that number of refugees over here, although they’d be more sympathetic because… I think people see Danes as being ‘more like us’, rather than people from Syria or Burma or anywhere. And I think that’s the problem with people here… they wouldn’t see Danish people as being very different from us, but they do see people from other countries – much poorer countries – as being less like us and think it’s going to be a drain on society. So that’s one of the problems that we have.
We did a big report and we could see exactly what situation they’re living in. They’ve cleared a forest and put them there – like fairly flat land but with hillocks – and they’ve put people with houses on these hillocks, and when the monsoon comes (which is about now) some people will drown, some people will lose their houses. But the problem was because they have this influx, they just had to find somewhere for them to go. Once the influx has stopped they can re-assess, but where else do they put them? It’s a huge area that’s four times the size of Derby ((for those readers who don’t already know, Derby is a city in England of about 250,000 people!)) so, if you think of it like that, it’s a huge area of land to free up for people who are not ‘your people’. So, I have no criticism of the people or the government in Bangladesh because I think anyone would find that almost impossible.
So that, for me, is the interesting thing, because you can see it on television, you can read about it, you can have people come and give evidence to the committee about it, but until you’ve seen it you don’t really understand, at least in my view.
“It stuck with you, then?”
Yes, it does stick with you much more. I prefer to go and see, but as I say we can unfortunately only do three visits per year because of cost, and even that doesn’t always work – it’s often only two visits.
“When you, say, allot ‘x’ amount of money in aid for a country, what sort of process does it go through from leaving here towards actually having an impact on the ground?”
The committee oversees how the money is spent: we’re holding the government [specifically the Department for International Development] to account. So, we look at where they spend money and see if it’s doing what we actually want it to do, and it’s supposed to all be logged against the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One of them is leave no one behind – that’s an important one.
But those 17 Development Goals actually apply to this country as well; it applies to the world. It’s obviously done in different ways in terms of how different countries tackle it, but what we’re trying to do is make sure that 12 million more people – more girls and women – go through 12 years of education. If women and girls are educated, then they’re much less likely to have early marriage and early childbirth, and they’re far more likely to have enough money to educate their own children and provide healthcare because, usually, in every country in the world where we give money, you have to pay for both. Although it’s supposed to be universal education in primary schools, once you get to secondary school you have to pay, but there are also fees for primary schools in many countries.
It’s [the money] given through various organisations: we give some money to the World Bank, who then contract; we give quite a lot of money to Europe, who then contract with different organisations on the ground; we give money to non-governmental organisations like Save the Children and Oxfam, although that’s been stopped at the moment because of the sexual exploitation and abuse – until they can prove they’ve got the right procedures in place, we will not give them the money that they’ve had previously. We’re trying to give it to smaller charities as well because they have fewer overheads, and that’s a lot better. The fewer overheads there are, then the money provided is being spent [more] wisely. We’re trying to do that because we want as little money, if you want, to stick to the sides and want it spent in the country. That’s really important.
Keep an eye out for upcoming issues which will explore topics such as the Syria rebuild process, national infrastructure, funding for education and the welfare state.