Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Not About Madrid

Last week I hinted that I might give the Committee Hansard of Federal Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties a bit of a going over for more gems from Senator Santo Santoro. The committee was discussing a proposal that Australia withdraw from the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development. Our reason for doing so is, in brief:

Australia supports relevant and effective multilateral agencies that deliver cost-effective and tangible results in South-East Asia and the Pacific region. We do not believe that IFAD adequately satisfies this criterion.
Mr Charles Tapp, Deputy Director-General, Papua New Guinea, Pacific and Global
Programs, Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID)

Mr Tapp gave the committee extensive testimony on the background to the decision, including the numerous problems AusAID has had with IFAD's disinclination to engage with Australia on AID isssues which fall within IFAD's purview. In May 2002, Mr Tapp wrote to IFAD's President, Lennart Båge, expressing Australia's frustrations with IFAD in the strongest terms possible:

... I think it appropriate to advise you that AusAID in the course of its ongoing multilateral assessment process has developed significant concerns about the continuing relevance of IFAD’s operations to Australia’s development cooperation objectives and priority countries. As you are aware, only a small proportion of IFAD supported programs are allocated in the main focal regions of Australia’s aid program, South-East Asia and the Pacific. As a result, opportunities for operational interaction between AusAID and IFAD have been extremely limited. Where such interaction has occurred it has been characterised by communication difficulties related to IFAD’s proxy management arrangements and limited headquarters engagement. In these circumstances it has been difficult to achieve the kind of bilateral-multilateral synergies for which we increasingly strive. Australia will therefore be assessing the level of its participation and seeks replenishment from first principles.

Senator Santoro was naturally curious about how President Båge (Boge in the transcript), responded to this letter:

Senator SANTORO — What was the response to that letter?

Mr Tapp — None. Very shortly thereafter the Director-General of AusAID had a meeting with the President of IFAD. There was no response provided to that letter whatsoever.

Senator SANTORO — At that meeting?

Mr Tapp — At that meeting—none at all.

Senator SANTORO — What is it? Is it rudeness, lack of knowledge of diplomatic protocol, personality clashes—or they just don’t give a stuff?

I think Senator Santoro is being a little unfair to Mr Båge. I know that if I had received such an openly vitriolic communique, whether via E-Mail or old-fashioned snail-mail, I'd need to lie in a darkened room for several days until I got over feeling that nobody loved me any more. Mr Båge is Swedish, and we all know, from the films of Ingmar Bergman, that they're inclined to be very gloomy people. It's quite likely that it's taken Båge till now to recover sufficiently to deal with the AusAID letter.

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