Poetry. Or comedy. Or both.

Earlier this week, the government announced an adjustment to its distribution of foreign aid. 

The explanation from Canadian Press was exceedingly straightforward: “The Canadian government has announced it will steer foreign aid toward a smaller number of places around the world—20 countries or regions where it hopes to have a bigger impact.”

Now, here is the nearly transcendent transcript of Bev Oda, the minister for international cooperation, explaining her department’s new policy to reporters after QP on Monday. Should you be looking to capitalize on Frost/Nixon and the public’s newfound interest in the collision of journalism, truth and power, the screenplay rights are still available.

Question: So what have you got to say?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we’ve taken another step in making sure that our international assistance is going to make — be more effective and make a real difference in the lives of those that we’re trying to help.  We are focussing our bilateral program to 20 countries, the majority of our bilateral support.  We’re going to make sure that our programs in those countries are effective and they’re coordinated as well as being very coherent with other donor countries working in the same country.

Question: So what does that mean for countries who are not among the 20?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we have outside of our bilateral programming we have other vehicles by which we support countries, our multilateral programming, our partnership branch.  We always have the humanitarian, the HAPS program for those that are in crisis so we are continuing to do the work in other countries but we know that we have been criticized, CIDA has been criticized over decades about trying to do too much in too many countries in too many ways.  And this is why we want to make sure that our international aid is going to have impact, it’s going to have true value for our dollars that we invest in those countries and, most importantly, it’s going to make a real difference.

Question: So who’s in and who’s left out?

Hon. Beverley Oda: There’s a press release that will list the countries of concentration.

Question: But are we abandoning any countries by going this route?

Hon. Beverley Oda: No, we’re not abandoning countries.  We are always going to be assessing the needs of countries and make sure that what we do and how we respond to the move is most appropriate and most effective.

Question: What countries are left on?

Hon. Beverley Oda: There are — we will continue working in over 60 countries that we have identified as those countries that need help but, as I say, we are going to be concentrating the work that we do in 20 countries so that there’s more coherence, there’s adequate resources so that we can make an impact and that we can make a real difference.  We’re not abandoning countries.  If there are needs we will assess the best way to meet those needs.

Question: Within the 20 is there a refocussing on the Americas, on Haiti, on Latin America, a focus away from Africa?

Hon. Beverley Oda: There’s no focus away from Africa.  We are meeting our commitment to doubling our aid to Africa.  There will be again a new approach to the Americas.  We’re introducing a Caribbean regional approach programs and focussing again by assessing the needs in some of our South American and Central American countries.

Question: What area then are you taking the focus off?

Hon. Beverley Oda: I’m sorry?

Question: Which area are you taking the focus off?  Is there one distinct continent, area, whatever that you’re not going to (inaudible)?

Hon. Beverley Oda: We’re not taking focus off of any region in the world or specific countries.  What we’re saying is when we did a review of the work that’s being done by CIDA there were so many different countries with numerous programs and we recognized that trying to do a little bit in every area in so many countries to help so many people we were not making effective use of our dollars and our investments.  So what we’re saying is by looking at and consulting with other governments, looking at how they’re working, other governments have reduced their countries of focus as well, by also looking at what other countries are working and the donors in those countries with NGOs are available, which countries can use the aid effectively and also looking at our government policies and priorities.  And so those are the criteria that we used to choose these countries.

Question: Have you told those countries that have been dropped from the countries of concentration that they are no longer countries of concentration or has that not been communicated to them yet?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, like I said, I want to correct you is that we found when we took office there were no countries of concentration.  The programming done in so many different countries was too diverse, unfocussed.  There were not enough resources that were focussed and directed to specific sectors and we weren’t making any impact.  What I’m saying here is no countries will be dropped if they have needs and we will respond appropriately.

Question: (Inaudible) figure out how to approach this?

Hon. Beverley Oda: We had consultations with NGOs and civil society organizations.  I’ve also had consultations with — we’ve had meetings with other governments.  We’ve also been looking at the programs that we’ve been doing in other countries and my visits, etc.  And I can see that in some cases we are — and many times when you see what happens in some countries there are a number of countries working in those areas.  If you look at it, for example, one of the things that overwhelms developing countries is the number of NGOs and countries that rush to help a particular country and that country doesn’t necessarily have all the capacity to deal with that.  So by greater coordination amongst donor countries and ensuring that our work is coordinated and coherent, we’re going to also be helping those governments.

Question: Have you said how many countries now we’re going to help, from how many numbers to what number?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Like we said, we’re not abandoning any countries.  What we’re saying is we’ve selected 20 countries in which we will focus our programming, we’ll increase the resources needed so that we’ve got critical mass that we can make a real difference.

Question: That’s all?  It’s only 20 countries and nothing elsewhere?  It’s just those 20?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Oh, no, no, no.  There’s 20 countries that we will be focussing our work by being more coherent, by increasing resources, by identifying where we can make the greatest impact.  We are not abandoning any other country where there is a need.  We will continue the work and we have other channels to help those countries.

Question: But what’s the impact concretely I mean for those other countries out of the 20 what’s the real impact?  Do you see the financing decrease and by what percentage?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Currently we will maintain our commitments to all the countries and all the programs that are in place now.  Over the next few years what we’re doing is aligning the effectiveness agenda with our work in the 20 countries.  As the countries evolve, we will always be assessing the needs and we will also always be assessing where we can be effective so that —

Question: But the countries that have been dropped.  We don’t have the release so we don’t know all the information.  What have you dropped?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Have not dropped any countries.  We will continue doing work in the countries but we’ll do the work in an effective manner, meeting the greatest needs in those countries.

Question: What are you announcing today?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we’re saying that 20 countries are countries in which we will increase the resources.  We will have greater focus on the programming we’re doing in those countries and work will be more coordinated and more cohesive.

Question: (Inaudible) intends to put forth the 20 countries.

Hon. Beverley Oda: It’s the bilateral program which represents 54 percent of all of our programming dollars and 80 percent of 54 percent will now be focussed in those 20 countries which means that there’s still 20 percent of bilateral programming to go to other countries.  There’s the entire pocket of our multilateral programming and our partnership work.

Question: Which of our allies did you follow?  Which of our allies did you follow, did you consult in coming to this conclusion and is our approach being influenced at all by any other allies?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, I would say that we observed and looked at what other countries were doing.  If you look at Great Britain, they’ve reduced to 25 countries.  Norway’s reduced to 24 countries.  This is a trend —

Question: The United States?

Hon. Beverley Oda: — it’s a trend that many international aid agencies are doing and so that we are looking again with them as how we can be more efficient.

Question: (Inaudible)

Hon. Beverley Oda: The budget stays the same.  There was no change to our budget in the budget statement, in our Economic Action Plan and what we’re going to be able to is gain more results, be more effective with the money that we have.

Question: Just wanted one question for context.  The Liberals had announced at one point focussing on 25 countries.  And I’m just trying to figure out was 25 too big a number, why there would have been today’s announcement, what the problem with the previous plan was?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, I found what we looked at the work being done in the countries when we became government that I couldn’t see any indication of concentration or focus.  There was still the criticism.  As you know, the Senate report and the OEDC report, the DAC (ph) reports have all said that Canada has not got enough focus in its international assistance.  It tries to do too much in too many places and I looked at some of the impacts that we can have and when you’re investing such a little in some programs it’s really not going to make a difference to the people you want to help.

Question: (Inaudible) going to get more results by focussing on fewer countries but no one’s going to get dropped.

Hon. Beverley Oda: That’s right.  That’s right.

Question: You know what?  That doesn’t sound like that makes a lot of sense.

Hon. Beverley Oda: The work that we’re going to be doing in each of the countries will change, all right?  So —

Question: Did you explain that earlier?  It’s going to change —

Hon. Beverley Oda: Because in the 20 countries —

Question: Yes.

Hon. Beverley Oda: — we’re going to increase the resources.  We’re going to be more focussed in our programs.  We’re going to identify the sectors where we can actually be effective considering the capacity of the country, the NGOs available working in that country, the other countries that might also be working in that country.  So this is more coordination amongst all the donors that are working in a specific country so that we’re not duplicating or repeating something else.  And I think you’re going to see that that is going to be a trend that increases as we go forward.

Question: Why wasn’t this done before like if it’s so obvious?

Hon. Beverley Oda: Well, we’re doing it.  We made the observation.  As you know, we’ve announced the untying of aid.  I’ve announced more field presence out in the field rather than in headquarters here in Ottawa and this is the next step and we’ll continue to take steps as we work on them.  Thank you.

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