Compared to the challenges some of my colleagues are taking on today, Overseas Aid and Development is a quiet little job. It does not have any policy-making responsibility: rather, its role is to fulfil a policy made at the level of the States, to distribute around £2.9 million a year in overseas aid, to the countries and communities where it will have most impact.
It is in fact a rather nice job, with an obvious feel-good factor. Members might be forgiven for looking a little askance at me, a first timer, going for the glamour of a Presidential title which does not hang as heavy with hard work and responsibility as those which my colleagues have just accepted.
But I trust, Sir, that members might know me a little better than that. Because, although the Overseas Aid and Development Commission does not have a policy role, it plays an important part in discharging the business of government. The way we distribute our aid, and the governance surrounding that process, can enhance or hinder Guernsey’s international image. The very act of providing development assistance is part of fulfilling the moral duty of a government in today’s inter-connected world.
Sir, as Deputy Jane Stephens has already said, I started a Masters degree in Public Health last year. My interest, which had been stirred by my time working at HSSD, was confirmed by watching the Ebola crisis unfold over the previous winter. Ebola was a perfect storm for a country such as Sierra Leone – already shattered by war and struggling to rebuild, it was hit by a frightening disease which left even our advanced health systems reeling in panic.
Ebola dealt multiple blows to the country. Not only did it put unimaginable pressure on an already-weak health service, and devastate families and communities – with death, disease, and a still-emerging trail of long-term ill-health. It also shut down business and caused grave hunger and hardship, as communities were closed off by stringent quarantine requirements. The damage to the country’s economic and social fabric will take years to rebuild.
This pushed me into Public Health for several reasons. I witnessed this awful crisis unfold – just one of many in a world troubled by earthquakes, emerging diseases, conflict and poverty. And I felt an unshakeable responsibility to do more – in this world in which I live so well, and others with such disadvantage.
Public Health offered me the tools to do more – to understand the causes of disease and the reasons why it spreads. To understand how poverty and deprivation affect life chances. To see how resources can be allocated and systems designed to improve the health and wellbeing of the population.
Sir, my interest in the Overseas Aid and Development Commission is entirely analogous to my interest in global public health, and the two are complementary.
Here, too, I am motivated by a sense of duty which impels us, as a mature democracy and a strong society, to raise others up, as far as it is in our power to do so. This is wholly in keeping with the ethos of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission, which seeks to support sustainable projects that result in long-term, transformative change for the communities that they assist.
I am motivated not by pity, but by respect for the lives and dignity of fellow human beings worldwide; and by a deep belief in the potential of every person – a potential which, all too often, is kept locked up by the disadvantage or deprivation which circumscribe their lives.
Sir, one might describe the work of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission as “nice”, but one could not truthfully describe it as “easy”. Past Annual Reports show that the Commission has regularly received requests for three or four times as much money as it has the funding to disburse.
Those requests represent projects, people and communities whose need and capacity to benefit from our assistance is considerable, but who, in many cases, must go unassisted.
The insights I bring, not only from my Public Health training, but also from my time at the Guernsey Community Foundation, will help me to work with the Commissioners to make those decisions about resource allocation thoughtfully and dispassionately. But there is no question that the choices we make – and the things we leave unfunded – will weigh on my conscience, sometimes heavily. That is a mixed blessing, I know, but I hope that the Assembly might consider that sensitivity, that willingness always to look inwards and scrutinise oneself, the choices one makes and the impact they have on the lives of others, as a potential asset in a role which helps us to fulfil our duties toward the world outside.
Sir, before I close, I must address that point. The work of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission helps Guernsey to fulfil our duties to the world outside. It is, however small, a role with an international outlook, and international connections.
In today’s papers, we see some criticism of the way the UK organises its aid funding, following certain comments made by their Prime Minister about corruption in other countries. We know that many organisations involved with international aid and development are also big campaigners on taxation. I do not say this to suggest that we should use aid as a political tool; far from it. External Affairs is a separate matter, although there are times when dialogue between the two may be important. I simply say it in recognition that the context in which we operate is complex, and hugely inter-connected, and the person in this role should demonstrate an awareness of that and a sensitivity to it.
Our investment in overseas aid and development is an opportunity for us to have a positive impact on the world around us. We owe a moral duty – both to the islanders whose taxation funds our overseas aid budget, and to the people and communities who receive our financial support – to ensure that we use that investment to achieve the best possible impact; that the way we approach overseas aid fosters sustainable development: meeting the basic needs of the community both now and in the future.
I am grateful to Deputy Stephens for proposing me and to Deputy Brouard for seconding me. I have worked with – and looked up to – both of them, when I was a junior civil servant, and they, like now, were members of the States. I’m still adjusting to sitting here, as equals, among people who I have previously observed and generally admired from a distance. I still feel pretty small. But perhaps that sense of perspective – that honest recognition of the scale of the responsibility I have taken on by joining the States – will help to ensure that I do not underestimate the effort and commitment that will be required of me in this role, or any other.
I would consider it an honour and a responsibility to serve the States as the President of the Overseas Aid and Development Commission; and if the Assembly should choose to entrust me with this role, I will seek to discharge it thoughtfully, diligently and compassionately, at all times.