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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don Clarke Fails to Adequately Explain Taxpayer Funded Travel to Zapatista Event

In this post I questioned director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's NZAID Global Group, Don Clarke on some of his agency's spending.

I note that the organisation that you were once the executive director of (1990/94) of and still work closely with, the Council for International Development recieves NZAID money.

According to the CID website

CID administers the Travel Fund at the request of NZAID to assist New Zealand NGOs to participate in significant international development conferences, meetings or workshops on development

Please note this allocation from the CID NGO Travel Fund listed in CID's 2007 Annual Report.

"Latin America Solidarity Committee – Richard Jeffrey to attend the Encuentro of the Zapatista Communities with the Peoples of the World conference to be held in Chiapas Province, Mexico, 21-31 July 2007 $3,500"

Could you please tell me why NZAID/taxpayers money is funding travel to Zapatista run "Encuentros"?

Here is Mr Clarke's reply in full;

12 February 2008

Dear Mr Loudon

Thank you for your query about support provided through the NZAID NGO Travel Fund for attendance by a representative of the Latin America Solidarity Committee at the ‘Encuentro of the Zapatista Communities with the Peoples of the World Conference’ held in Chiapas Province Mexico in July 2007.

It may be helpful to provide a little background on the fund itself. The NGO Travel Fund was established some ten years ago to support participation by New Zealand NGO representatives in international events (conferences, workshops, consultations etc) which have direct relevance to the work and interests of the wider New Zealand international aid and development community.

When this fund was established by the then Development Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, it was recognised that there was much value that can be gained in terms of knowledge, skills and international contacts by participation in relevant events by NGO representatives with the necessary background and experience.

Since its establishment, the fund has been administered by the Council for International Development (CID), the national umbrella body which represents and supports some 92 NZ NGOs which are working internationally. CID’s role as fund administrator is carried out in line with clear criteria and accountability requirements agreed with the NZ Government.

In this context, CID is responsible for:

• reporting to NZAID on the use of the fund in line with the agreed criteria
• ensuring transparency by publishing all grants made under the fund in the CID Annual Report
• including the fund (which is part of the Government’s annual core operational grant to CID) in the organisation’s annual independent audit process
• the inclusion of the fund in the regular (4-5 year) reviews conducted of the annual funding provide by to support the operations of CID.

The criteria of the fund are as follows:

• The application must be from a NZ NGO.
• The nature, purpose and topic of the event must be relevant to international development and have wide interest to the NZ international development community.
• Information and experience gained at the conference/event will contribute to an understanding of international development issues in New Zealand.
• The nominee must have experience, knowledge and skills relevant to the topic and purposes of the event.
• The nominee must be able to contribute to the event in a meaningful way and act as a good ambassador for the NZ NGO community.
• The nominee must have excellent written and spoken communication skills and a demonstrated commitment to working within the NGO community.
• The nominee must be able to outline a suitable method of disseminating information and knowledge to the NGO community on returning to NZ and demonstrate that this will happen in a reasonable timeframe.

All decisions in line with the above criteria are made and monitored by the CID Board which is elected annually.

The rationale of the CID Board’s decision to provide a grant for attendance at the conference in question is as follows:

• to increase understanding of development processes, experience and approaches in Chiapas, which is one of the poorest parts of Mexico and the focus of indigenous-led community development approaches in recent years which have attracted widespread international interest.
• to strengthen links between NZ aid and development NGOs and other organisations working with and supporting indigenous groups working in development in Chiapas and elsewhere.
The grant recipient you refer to has experience in publishing and public speaking and has skills in spoken Spanish, an important attribute in the context of the conference and visit as a whole. A condition of the grant was that the recipient provide a full report for the CID committee and create a photographic exhibition which will be made available around the country.

In the event, the recipient was unable to actually attend the conference due to changed personal circumstances.

No support by CID nor NZAID for the Zapatista movement was suggested or implied by the approval of the application, the focus of which was on aid and development-related knowledge and learning of wider interest to the NZ NGO community.

As you correctly note, Mexico is a very important diplomatic and trading partner of New Zealand. The New Zealand Government, through NZAID, supports small community projects in Mexico through the NZ Embassy Head of Mission Fund and provides scholarships for tertiary study in New Zealand to a small number of Mexican citizens annually. In line with the process followed in other such grant approvals, there was no direct communication with the Mexican Government on the question of attendance by a NZ NGO representative at the conference in question.

I do hope the above addresses the questions that you raised. Please do not hesitate to get back to me if there is any further information that we can provide.

Thank you.
Yours sincerely

Don Clarke
Director (Global), New Zealand Agency for International Development.

I am not satisfied with this reply.

The Zapatistas are a militant, armed revolutionary organisation that has instigated insurrection against New Zealand's friend and trading partner, the Mexican government.

The Zapatistas also inspired several of those arrested in New Zealand's October 15th 2007 anti terror raids.

One of those arrested was linked to the Latin American Solidarity Committee, the "NGO" that sent Mr Jeffrey to Mexico with your money.

It appears to me that taxpayers money was used to subsidise travel to a revolutionary event.

Mr Clarke seems to think this is an appropriate use of your money and has made no offer to investigate or disclipline CID for its dubious expenditure.

What further questions do you think Mr Clarke should be asked in relation to this situation?

This is potentially far more serious than taxpayer funded "hip hop tours as it it could jeopardise good relations with Mexico.

Should the MSM be taking an interest?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Clarke and his mates had been running things in the 1930s they would have financed NZ fringe groups to both the Nazis' Nuremberg rallies and the parades in Moscow's Red Square.

When are we going to get a grip on these boneheads?

8:20 PM  

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