Speech by High Commissioner HE James Thornton at the opening of the 'Shaping our Future' conference

On 26 March, 2013, British High Commissioner James Thornton addressed 150 delegates from the public, private, NGO and academic sectors. The High Commissioner said:

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James Thornton
  • Honourable Minister for Youth and Sport, Mr Chishimba Kambwili
  • Permanent Secretaries from various ministries present
  • Country Director of the British Council, Donna McGowan
  • Presenters and Chairs of the Conference
  • Representatives of the various organisations present
  • Members of the press
  • Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be here today. I am very pleased that so many of you, leaders and future leaders here in Zambia, have come together to discuss these important issues.

I am very grateful to the British Council for having organised this event in partnership with the High Commission. The conference is very much in line with the British Council’s collaborative-driven education and skills programme in Zambia, addressing employers’ needs for greater international awareness and more targeted professional development, ultimately contributing to the long-term prosperity and wellbeing of individuals and the country.

There can be no more relevant conference subject than “Shaping our Future”. Getting our plans for the future right is tough. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Yet, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what you do today.”

The British Government is of course keen to support Zambia in shaping the best possible future for itself. I thought it would be worth saying a bit about the support that we aim to provide to Zambia and to other countries in Africa and across the developing world.

The British Prime Minister faces a number of serious challenges at home, notably the state of the UK economy. But he still finds time to take a real interest in development issues. Why does he do so? It is partly because he thinks it is right. But also because a secure, stable, prosperous world is good for the security and prosperity of the UK.

The Prime Minister has spoken of what he calls the “Golden Thread” of factors that are necessary for development. These include traditional development assistance, for which the key requirement is of course money. But what is also crucial is strong political and economic institutions. He says that open societies, buttressed by strong democratic institutions, create the conditions for the creation of open economies. These need their own strong structures for private sector enterprise and trade to flourish.

To recap, the Golden Thread refers to the interplay of three factors. First, money for development activities. Second, strong institutions supporting good governance. Third, the right economic structures.

We can see this philosophy in play in the UK’s bilateral approach to development, and also in how we seek to shape the international agenda.

Let’s take our bilateral approach first. First, money. For a long time we have had a strong programme of overseas development assistance. But, like all the other large rich countries, we have not met the long-standing UN target for aid spending. The current government is committed to changing this. Our development assistance rose 40% between our financial year 2007/8 and that of 2011/12. This year it will rise further, so that we will meet the UN target for the first time. We will be the first G20 country ever to do so.

In Zambia our Department for International Development, known to you all as DFID, spends approaching half a billion Kwacha rebased each year. That programme too is growing.

About a quarter of DFID’s money goes directly to the Zambian Government in the form of support to the general budget. Of the rest, a significant proportion is spent on traditional social development projects. For example we have contributed substantially to the government’s measles immunisation programme, and to giving the poorest families in the poorest areas small monthly cash grants.

However, DFID is also very focussed on Zambia’s institutions relating to governance – the second element in the Golden Thread. We provide substantial funding to the Anti-Corruption Commission. We are assisting the civil service with budget and human resource management. And we are about to launch a programme to promote the capacity and the accountability of MPs and political parties.

We are also focussed on the third part of the Golden Thread, that is economic structures. We provide technical assistance to make markets work for small farmers. We are looking at how we can support an increase in the provision of credit to small businesses. And we are also considering how to support the Zambia Revenue Authority.

A separate regional DFID programme provides substantial support to the efforts of COMESA and SADC to facilitate trade across the region. We funded the development of the one-stop border crossing at Chirundu, which has cut delays for freight from days to hours. And we are funding part of the road between Chirundu and Lusaka along which so many of Zambia’s imports come in.
Separately, the UK and Zambia are about to sign an improved double taxation agreement, which will bring greater clarity and certainty to investors.

We have a similarly balanced approach to the multilateral agenda. In 2005 we held the Chairmanship of the G8 group of major economies, and our turn has come round again this year. The 2005 G8 Summit is remembered for the so-called Gleneagles Agreement, which aimed significantly to increase the amount of aid provided by G8 members to the developing world. This time we are focussing on the other aspects of the Golden Thread – creating the right political and particularly economic institutions to enable growth and development. Our agenda is based round the three Ts: trade, tax and transparency.

On trade, we support the efforts of the Tripartite – the grouping of SADC, COMESA and the East African Community, to agree a free trade area within their borders. And we also support the African Union’s efforts to establish a continental free trade area by 2017. We hope that the World Trade Organisation summit in December will agree to a major simplification of the paperwork currently required to buy and sell goods and services across borders.

On tax, we believe work needs to be done on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. This is a problem that affects both the developed and developing worlds. We want to look at how better to exchange tax information between different countries, so that multinationals can’t play cat and mouse with revenue authorities.

And thirdly, transparency. We want to raise global standards so that more information is available - be it on land deals or mining contracts – helping to ensure that countries’ natural resources benefit their citizens.

So in the G8 we will look at how we can make all government data more open and transparent, and how we can use new technology to make it accessible to citizens – so that information is clearly published on the internet, and we can all see how much governments are being paid for their natural resources, and how much of that money is being invested in the economy.

But what is very clear is that donors can only do so much. Ultimately, development has to be driven by the developing countries themselves. That is particularly true for a country like Zambia, where donor funding only accounts for less than one-twentieth the size of the total budget – far less than, say, revenues from mining. Almost anything we try to do will go to waste if it is not reinforcing what the Zambian authorities or people are doing themselves.

So, taking the first element of the Golden Thread, traditional development assistance to the poor, the provision of services such as health and education will be maximised if Zambia collects tax effectively and spends its money efficiently.

On political institutions, it is for you Zambians to decide on the passage of the Access to Information Act, making it easier for citizens to find out how their money is being spent by government. And it is for Zambia to implement the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act and reform the ZNBC Act to ensure the independence and impartiality of TV and radio.

I should say that passage of the Access to Information Act will bring Zambia much closer to qualifying to join the Open Government Partnership, an international alliance devoted to promoting government transparency. The OGP only allows in countries that meet a particular standard of openness; it would be a feather in the PF government’s cap if it was able to achieve that standard.

On economic institutions, it is for Zambia to create the rules which will encourage the foreign investment that is so important for economic growth here. Foreign investment can play an important part in creating the jobs that the country needs. And it is for Zambia to press its neighbours successfully to conclude the free trade area which will make it easier to export. We congratulate Zambia for meeting the standard required to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – a process that we were pleased to help fund.

So it is right that it is you, Zambians, who are debating “Shaping our Future”, and not the donors. We look forward to hearing the results of your discussions. Do tell us what you think of the support we are trying to give Zambia. If DFID is getting it wrong, let us know – but also let us know if they are getting it right. And if you have views on what the G8 countries should be doing to make the international framework better for countries like Zambia, let me know and I will feed your ideas in.

If you want to visit the UK, remember that we welcome genuine visitors – but make sure you submit your visa applications in good time. We aim to process applications within fifteen working days, though sometimes we manage it more quickly than that.

Lastly, do keep in touch with us at the British High Commission.

I hope you have a very good seminar.

Thank you.

Published 26 March 2013