Thank you very much. I appreciate this opportunity, no pun intended.
Good afternoon. My name is Dale Patterson. I'm a member of the board of directors of Opportunity International Canada. I'm pleased to be joined by my colleague Doris Olafsen, our executive vice-president.
We welcome the opportunity to present our views on the role of the private sector in achieving Canada's international development interests. We commend the Canadian government for being committed to delivering international assistance that is efficient, focused, and accountable, and for focusing on sustainable economic growth strategies that resonate with our global mandate.
Opportunity International was founded in 1971. It is a leading microfinance network focused on establishing banks to provide access to savings and credit to the poor. We are currently operating in 20 countries.
Our mission is to provide scalable, sustainable microfinance services, including loans, savings, training, insurance, and other financial services, to reach the lowest echelon of the economically active, with a focus on increasing their income, improving food security and access to education, and creating jobs.
Opportunity International currently owns 15 formal financial institutions, including seven banks. It developed the first wholly owned microinsurance company, MicroEnsure. The rest of Opportunity's implementing members are non-governmental not-for-profit organizations. Opportunity International Canada is one of five support partners, along with Australia, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S. The support partners' primary role is to raise funds for, and awareness of, opportunity to invest in Opportunity microfinance initiatives.
Opportunity International Canada is a microfinance organization founded and established in 1997 by David Stiller, a Canadian businessman and former chair of a Canadian relief organization. Stiller was disillusioned with the inability of relief work to make poor people less poor and, together with a group of like-minded people, began to explore the idea of creating a Canadian affiliate of Opportunity International. In 1998, Opportunity International Canada received its official status as a Canadian registered charitable organization.
Since 1998, Opportunity Canada has supported work in five countries in Africa—Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, and Rwanda—and six in Latin America—Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Peru.
Opportunity Canada is governed by a Canadian board of directors, which currently numbers eight individuals. The current president and CEO, who also serves as chairman for Opportunity Canada’s board of directors and sits on the global Opportunity International board, was appointed in mid-2011.
Opportunity Canada also has more than 120 ambassadors, known as the Governors Council, who serve as the public face of Opportunity International in communities across Canada. Donors and volunteers, this group invests their time, lends their name, and are spokespeople for helping to raise funds and awareness across Canada.
Since 1998, Opportunity Canada has raised $34 million in donations and grants, with a total of $23 million raised since 2006. CIDA has provided support to Opportunity Canada for over 10 years and since 1999 has disbursed approximately $2.7 million to leverage Opportunity Canada's programming. Of Opportunity Canada's 2011 revenues of $5.5 million, CIDA accounted for 4%, which is $212,000.
In 2011 Opportunity Canada was pleased to receive a three-year $2.5 million CIDA commitment for capacity-building that will positively impact 300,000 people in Ghana and Mozambique. The CIDA match of one-to-one will attract one-to-two in private funding.
Opportunity has a strong presence in Latin America and is pleased that as of January 2012, the Superintendent of Finance of Colombia granted Opportunity Canada a constitutional licence to establish a formal financial institution. Opportunity Canada was a catalyst in moving this venture forward and is vested as a minority shareholder, having raised $2 million of the $10 million in capital needed to establish this formal financial institution.
Opportunity Canada, with a staff of 13 FTEs, relies on an actively engaged volunteer base that spans the spectrum across the country, from elementary schools to universities, from the small business owner to a large franchise, from a corporate boardroom to public and private foundations. Individuals and community groups such as Rotary have partnered with Opportunity to spread the word, fundraise, and partner with our global programs.
Opportunity International, a faith-based organization, serves all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. It has committed to a triple bottom line.
The first is large-scale outreach, which is defined as “reaching the greatest possible number of the economically marginalized in both urban and rural areas”.
The second is financial profitability and sustainability, providing highly valued, quality financial services to clients that ensure an appropriate return to shareholders.
The third is transformational client impact, providing to those living in poverty the opportunities to improve their lives economically, socially, and spiritually.
Transformation reflects Opportunity's interest in changing the lives of clients using the vehicle of financial services. Opportunity's signature services include loans, savings, and insurance, with a focus on training. Through training and business growth, clients are transformed. Opportunity is currently serving two and a half million savings and loan clients, and our repayment rates stand at 95%, with 89% of our clients being women.
Opportunity has close to a million savings accounts, and the average client has $113 on deposit. In 2008, Opportunity made a strategic decision to significantly increase banking services in the rural areas of all the African countries in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The MasterCard Foundation. With the foundations' partnership commitment, Opportunity was able to develop a program to provide 1.4 million people with access to savings accounts, including 950,000 in rural areas, and loans for more than 90,000 smallholder farmers in the four countries of Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, and Rwanda, by 2014.
Opportunity's strategies to expand the number of banking outlets include deploying a range of cost-effective delivery channels, including satellite branches, kiosks, mobile vans, ATMs, and point-of-sale devices. Opportunity's unique business model is focused on integrated service and holistic transformation, in comparison to other microfinance providers that prefer financial services.
Opportunity is innovative. It has used technology and created solutions to improve the well-being of clients. Just as the range of services has been transformed, so too has the landscape of funders and of service providers. Opportunity is one of the leading Canadian organizations focused only on the core business of microfinance. In recent years, microfinance has matured into an industry funded by government, major donors, investment capital, private donations from individuals and corporations, and peer-to-peer lending, as well as by foundation grants, investments, and guarantees.
In addition to traditional microfinance institutions, other providers have also entered this market, including mainstream commercial banks. We commend Canadian parliamentarians for recognizing the immense potential of microfinance as a strategy to support the very poor. We are encouraged that in furthering its goal of growing small business, CIDA has committed to supporting activities that will strengthen and increase the availability of financial institutional products and services, including microfinance, which will result in greater job creation for the poor.
With the specific emphasis on women, microfinance is a strategic solution helping to end global poverty. We would recommend that the Canadian government continue with the strong commitment to microfinance and would suggest that additional funding be allocated for microfinance targeted at the very poor. Catalytic and highly-producing partnerships are critical to moving the microfinance agenda forward.
To quote one of our major partners, Reeta Roy, CEO of The MasterCard Foundation,
||Opportunity International focuses on developing cost-effective and sustainable solutions that can unlock that potential to create jobs, generate profits, provide for families, and ultimately overcome poverty. That strong and core belief in the power of the entrepreneurial poor is one of the reasons we at The MasterCard Foundation are proud to partner with Opportunity as we work together to promote financial inclusion and prosperity.
Mr. Chair, we at Opportunity International look forward to continuing our partnership with the Government of Canada to ensure the development, implementation, and growth of sound public policy objectives. I'll be happy to answer questions when we have concluded.
Good afternoon. It's an honour to be present today at this committee hearing. The study is very important.
I will describe MicroEnsure's work, which I believe is a good example of how an organization is able to work together with both public and private sector partners to pursue important development objectives.
The mission of MicroEnsure is to protect the poor in developing countries against a variety of risks by using insurance. The poor do not have anything to fall back on. They don't have savings. They don't have a government safety net. A death or illness in the family—which is effectively an economic unit—or a calamity such as a fire or natural disaster can have huge ramifications. The insurance that we arrange is designed to meet their needs and is priced to be affordable and to provide value to those paying for it.
MicroEnsure has operations on site in five countries—the Philippines, India, Ghana, Tanzania, and Kenya—and we are active in others, including Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi, and several in the Caribbean. In total, we have arranged for 1.6 million insurance policies that cover 3.3 million people.
The business model for MicroEnsure has three main components: the front office, which distributes the products; the risk carrier, which covers the risk; and the back office. For the front office, the insurance is distributed through a series of partners, including microfinance institutions, agriculture, banks, community groups, and, more recently in Ghana, Tanzania, and Kenya, mobile phone companies. Through these partners, we are able to provide low-cost access to insurance products for the poor.
Now, we're not an insurance company and we do not directly carry any of the risk. Instead, we work with insurance carriers that are licensed and regulated in the countries we are operating in. Due to the nature of the risk and the service levels we require, we also work with reinsurance companies. In some cases, we are connected through our own cell captive.
As the back office, we design products, train staff, and educate clients, but also we administer the programs and pay claims on behalf of the insurers. The five operating companies that I mentioned earlier are locally incorporated and licensed as either insurance agents or brokers and earn commissions on the insurance premiums that are generated.
Either locally or in our head office, we will fill the gaps between what our partners and insurers can do and what must be done for the products to work. As an example, we have our own administration systems that keep track of who is insured and who the beneficiaries are. We generate invoices on behalf of the insurance company and we also pay claims out of that system to those who qualify. Because we are focused on this market and have the volumes involved, we can do the administrative work more cheaply than a typical insurance company can.
We presently have a portfolio of products. However, not every product is offered in every country, depending upon what the need is, the partners we are working with, and what gaps we are able to fill. In general, though, we are delivering the products I will now describe.
We're delivering life insurance both for the primary insured and for his or her family members.
In terms of health insurance, while there are several variants, at its most comprehensive we are providing in-patient hospital coverage in both India and Tanzania.
There are many calamities that are disastrous for poor families and their small businesses. We offer property insurance packaged together with a microloan to help to offset the cost of replacing inventory if a small business is affected by a fire, a storm, or even political insurrection.
We offer weather index crop insurance. MicroEnsure is a leader in the development of this product. It insures farmers against too much or too little rainfall during a growing season. Because of our expertise in this product, we are often sought out to provide technical assistance. At present, we have technical support projects in Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, and four countries in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Belize.
Funding for these projects comes from, among others, the International Finance Corporation and BMU, the environment ministry of the German government. These projects provide technical training for local staff in how to implement these products and how to develop and distribute it through small farmholders.
Earlier in its development, MicroEnsure did work on a few projects funded by CIDA through grants to Opportunity International Canada. However, since 2007 funding to develop and expand has been generously provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has allowed us to research opportunities and to test different approaches; some of them have been successful, while others have not worked out quite as well as we would have liked. Opportunity International is the parent body for MicroEnsure, and it has also encouraged the company to innovate in this area.
Thank you for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you might have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I thank you for this opportunity to speak to all of you. I understand that many of you had a late night last night and I thank you for your attention today.
This is an important matter to discuss, I think, this area of how government funding can be used to leverage private funding so that the overall impact is much greater than either the private sector or the government could do on their own. I think the field of microfinance provides an interesting example of where that has happened and also provides examples both of the success that can happen and of the dangers of public-private partnerships. I'll go into that in just a little while.
First let me explain the Microcredit Summit Campaign. The campaign started in 1996 with a goal of seeing 100 million of the poorest people in the world reached by microfinance.
At that time, when we did the numbers, there were six million people being reached by microfinance. Our goal was to see 100 million reached in 10 years. We met that goal. We met it a year late, but we did meet it.
We had a big celebration here in Canada around that goal. We had our global summit in Halifax. At that summit in 2006, we reviewed our goals and set two new goals.
The first goal was to see 175 million of the world's poorest families reached with microfinancial services. The second goal was to see 100 million of those families actually move out of poverty. As a guidepost, we're using the extreme poverty line of $1.25 per day. We want to see 100 million families move from below $1.25 per day to far above that line. As you can imagine, this is actually the much more challenging goal that we face right now.
I will talk more about how we're going into that, but let me step back to this issue of public-private partnerships and what microfinance can teach us about these sorts of partnerships in regard to how they go right and how they sometimes go wrong.
When I started working in this area in the microfinance community, I actually got my start with Opportunity International, so it's good to be back with my friends here. That was 28 years ago. At that time, the only funding going into microfinance came from governments and from private donations.
About a decade ago, all the governments of the world combined were putting about $400 million a year into microfinance. Now, I should mention here that Canada has been one of the leaders and one of the key innovators that has made all of this happen. Early on, CIDA supported the Grameen Bank and BRAC, in Bangladesh. They then were small start-up organizations and now are two of the world's largest microfinance organizations. Canada has played a lead role in this from the very start, and it's a role of leadership that I think Canada can continue to play.
I've talked about how this started with just government investments, with $400 million in government funding a decade ago going into microfinance, plus more private donations. Today there are over 100 microfinance investment funds in the world, with a combined asset base of over $8 billion. That investment by governments has helped to build microfinance organizations to a scale such that private money has now entered in. Private money sees that there are both social and financial returns to be made in this area, and they've built this large base of funding to fund the continued growth of microfinance.
Let me pause here and talk about the key role that government played. My research tells me that the historical example of a microfinance organization that goes the farthest back is the Buddhist temple loan system of 400 A.D. in China. We've had microfinance systems around for that long, for over 1,500 years.
It didn't grow to any sort of scale until the 1980s, when governments got behind this effort and helped build this concept to a scale that the private sector then could come behind and continue to support. Government played a leading role.
Lately, though, microfinance has shown that there are times when the public-private partnership doesn't work as well as it should. We've seen examples in several countries recently, such as Morocco, Bosnia, and Pakistan, and then more recently in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, where the finance has led to a funding bubble. There has been overindebtedness happening among clients, and sometimes that has led to overly harsh collection practices, with the net result of working with very poor people who are trying to improve their lives being that they instead have become overindebted and worse off as a result of an intervention that was supposed to make their lives better.
That's a challenge we need to look at now, and look at honestly. What did we do wrong? How did our good intentions lead to this negative impact, in some countries, on the clients we were seeking to serve?
I think government and the private sector working together can make a market. They can create a market where none existed before, or where none existed at a scale the private sector could involve itself in. The partnership can also break a market, if it's not done right.
The challenge, I think—especially from the government side, when it is investing—is to shape the market such that the incentives and the rules of the game are set up so that the public good for which the government was investing continues to happen, even as private sector players come in and begin to become the dominant funders in the market.
I want to provide a few lessons from my experience in microfinance. What could we have done differently and how could we have shaped this market better, with cooperation between civil society, government, and the private sector, to avoid some of the difficulties we've had?
The first lesson, I would say, is to make sure early on that you establish the rules for standards of behaviour. Because of these problems in the microfinance community, we've established a basic ethical code that all microfinance providers should follow. It's called the client protection principles. It's promoted by a group called the Smart Campaign, and it has been adopted widely in the community.
In my opinion, we should have done this two decades ago. It makes sense. We more or less assumed everyone's good intentions back then and didn't do the work to make sure that this code was put in place and that everybody was trained in it from the very beginning, when they started working. We're having to go back and do that work now. Establishing a code of behaviour is very important.
Second, and this is an area where government funding can be very important, is to establish metrics for the social side of the investment. Is the social good the government is investing for actually being accomplished? In our work, poverty alleviation is one of the main targets, but until recently the microfinance community hasn't had in a way of measuring whether that is being accomplished. We could tell stories about individuals who have moved out of poverty, but it has been difficult to say whether our client base overall has moved out of poverty. Because there was no social measure, financing decisions were made around financial performance measurements: who had the lowest arrears rate? Who had the highest growth rates? Who was generating the highest levels of profit?
All the money started to flow to the same small number of institutions. We have that $8 billion in investment. We also have international financial institutions making investments in microfinance organizations, and we have governments making direct investments. They're all flowing to the same institutions. In fact, 50% of the investments from the international financial institutions go to the same top 10 institutions in the field.
There should be a metric that those institutions with a social purpose can use to measure who's doing the best at accomplishing the social purpose, and the money should flow there. The purely private money can flow to the areas that have the best financial performance. Without the metric, all the money stacks up in the same places, and funding for innovation, funding for people doing the most difficult part of the work, is not available.
What we're doing in the Microcredit Summit Campaign is establishing a seal of excellence for poverty outreach and transformation. What the seal will do is recognize those institutions that, working with the very poor, can show that over time their clients are moving out of poverty. By awarding the seal, we hope to direct more funding in this direction and learn from the best practices of these institutions.
Again, I think government support in developing these indicators, in developing the metrics used, can help direct private and social capital in a way that creates the greatest good for the people you're trying to serve.
I appreciate this chance to talk with you. I encourage this group to continue looking at these public-private partnerships and the potential for them, but also, as you look at them, to look at ways in which the government can establish the rules of the game, can establish incentives and metrics that help that money flow in the direction of creating the public good that you are investing for.
Thank you very much.
I want to thank all of you for coming and making presentations. They were very informative. I always appreciate getting those perspectives.
I think a couple of you can have a go at my first question—Larry touched on it in his presentation—which is about some of the downsides of having microfinancing without the checks and balances.
Earlier this week we had Scotiabank here at the committee, and they made a presentation as well. They told us about the work they are doing around microfinance, just as you have. We agree today, as we did on that day, that microfinance can play a powerful role in elevating people out of poverty, especially for women. We've seen some evidence of that out there, albeit anecdotal evidence.
However, as you know, microfinance and microcredit have been the subjects of growing criticism. You touched on that again today.
In February the Winnipeg Free Press published a story, and perhaps it's the same one you were referring to. Here it just says “Indian state”; I'm not sure if it was Andhra Pradesh.
It says, “Indian state pushes microfinance prosecutions after revelations of lender links to suicides”. The government there blamed a spate of suicides on aggressive lending and collection tactics. If you were at a really deep level of poverty and then on top of that you got into some microfinance debt that you were struggling to pay back, you can imagine what kind of psychological pressure that could place on you.
You've touched on it, and I'd like you to expand on it a little bit more for me, but I want to give others the opportunity as well.
How would you respond to these criticisms? Do they have a sound basis? What can organizations like yours do to prevent predatory lending practices?
Sometimes I think we could almost ask the same question of our lending institutions here in the western world. This situation is not unique to the developing world, but what's unique in the developing world is that it's very fragile. Members of society become the targets and the victims.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, good afternoon. Today I would like to update you on my trip to the Horn of Africa last July, and then to follow with Canada's response to the humanitarian situation in the Horn of Africa as well as the Sahel region. In addition, we'd like to provide you with information on supplementary estimates (C) and the main estimates.
First, I would like to say a few words about our commitment to Africa in order to provide context for our work in the Horn and Sahel.
Over the last few years, there has been significant progress on a number of fronts in Africa.
Some African countries have seen strong policy reforms and increased productivity levels in agriculture and food security. There are now more children in school, particularly girls, than ever before. Canada is committed to Africa and continues to deliver results.
Through support from CIDA, Africa's economies are growing more sustainably. For example, Ghana has had an average agricultural sector growth rate of about 4.3% over recent years, thanks in large part to investments from Canada.
Fostering democracy is another area where Canada's support has yielded results. For example, in Kenya, CIDA is supporting women's rights, promoting women's access to political participation, and supporting judicial reform.
As promised, our government met its G-8 commitment to double our international assistance to Africa. In 2009-10 Africa received more than 50% of CIDA's food aid, 61% of its agricultural support, 63% of CIDA's health support, and nearly 65% of CIDA's bilateral spending on maternal, newborn, and child health.
Of the funding Canada committed as part of our Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn, and child health, 80% will flow to sub-Saharan Africa. Canada was the first G-8 country to fulfill our commitment in L'Aquila to improve food security and sustainable agriculture.
The African continent is undoubtedly one of those regions with the potential to flourish. But when we look at Africa's potential and development, we cannot ignore the continent's mounting humanitarian needs.
As I speak, an escalating food security and nutrition crisis in the Sahel region in western Africa threatens more than 10 million people. Canada is currently the second-largest country donor to the humanitarian response in the Sahel. Two weeks ago I announced support to improve access to food and nutritional support as well as community-based treatment of acute malnutrition, livelihood support, and access to safe water.
CIDA's support to the World Food Programme alone will help provide more than 7 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania with life-saving food assistance.
In the meantime, across the continent a combination of factors have plunged the Horn of Africa into a dire humanitarian crisis. Canada responded quickly to meet the needs of millions of people affected by the drought, particularly those suffering from the famine in Somalia. With Canadian support, the World Food Programme and partners are now feeding around 5.2 million people across the Horn of Africa.
In part with CIDA's support, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has also been able to meet the ongoing needs of nearly a million Somali refugees in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
As part of Canada's response to the drought in east Africa, we are requesting $70.4 million in supplementary estimates (C) to meet our July 2011 commitment that the government would match donations by Canadians to the east Africa drought relief fund.
As you know, last July I visited camps in and around Dadaab in northern Kenya to see first-hand the extent of the humanitarian crisis at that time, and I gained a better understanding of what would be needed. Since then, the famine in Somalia has decreased from six regions to three, but the circumstances remain extremely precarious. We are monitoring the situation closely, and Canada remains committed to helping the suffering in this region.
I'll now give just a few remarks regarding supplementary estimates (C) and the main estimates for the next fiscal year.
CIDA's supplementary estimates (C) include a proposed increase of $359.4 million to our grants and contributions authorities and an increase of $52,400 to our operating authorities. The increase of $359.4 million to CIDA's grants and contributions authorities consists of several items.
In addition to Canada's fast-start financing commitments under the Copenhagen Accord and our response to the drought in East Africa, CIDA is seeking additional authorities of $100 million for grants to international organizations.
This additional authority does not require additional funds, nor does it obligate CIDA to spend this amount. Rather, it provides CIDA with the ability to address the global requirements for humanitarian assistance in areas such as food and nutrition.
Other items that accounted for the increase in CIDA's budget are transfers to and from other government departments, and we can give you details on those if you require.
We also have an increase of $52,400 for CIDA's operating authorities for the following items: a transfer of $30,000 from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat departmental audit software initiative and $22,400 in increased funding to support the delivery of Canada's fast-start financing commitment under the Copenhagen Accord.
Our budgetary expenditures presented in the main estimates for 2012-13 are $3.4 billion. I can answer any questions on this, and the president can help out with more information on the main estimates as well as the supplementary estimates.
I would like to point out that on the grants and contributions front, some things have gone up while others have gone down.
The increase is the result of the $20.9 million for maternal, newborn, and child health and a $1.5-million transfer from DFAIT for international platform costs.
The decrease comes from transferring $18.4 million to DFAIT for the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and sunsetting $12 million in respect of Canada's commitment to the International Organization of La Francophonie water and sanitation program.
Our report on plans and priorities, which will be tabled in early May, will provide more detail on strategic outcomes and contain information on objectives and initiatives and planned results.
I have left out a few pieces of information, but if there are questions, I think this information will come out in the answers.
Thank you for the question.
As you know, they were announced in September, so they're at their very initial stages. These are projects that were developed with Canadian organizations. The Canadian organizations then made a proposal and request to CIDA. CIDA was not part of the partnership, which was first developed before they came to CIDA.
Of all the major developing countries, Canada is latest in forming partnerships with the private sector. Other countries—our British, Australian, and American colleagues—have undertaken projects and are increasing those partnerships with the private sector. In fact, it has been noted that Canada is late to the table, and I think we have great opportunity here.
People have noted as well that in order to get a sustainable reduction in poverty.... I'll just quote, as we'll all recognize, Bono, who said, "A lot of people realize that the real way out of poverty is never aid. It's commerce.” Others have said that states with ample resources, strong economic institutions, and good public policies will face the best in the future. Raising people out of poverty means not aid but enabling them to have the opportunity to get good, productive jobs and to increase their family incomes. If you build up a good economy for the country, that's what sustainability is about.
The international community forecast shows there are primarily two major areas for economies of developing countries to grow. They are agriculture and the natural resources sector. In the natural resources sector we're playing a big part, according to the forecast for growth of economies and jobs in those countries. I think Canada has a unique opportunity to have some very good, reputable mining companies and good NGO organizations come together to make sure they are making a difference.
There are the three projects, but we really have to catch up with our other major donors and take advantage of some innovative ideas. As I said, they have expertise in many of the fields. They have innovative approaches, etc., and they want to make a contribution. There are many mining companies, whether they're Canadian or any other country in origin, that are doing their corporate social responsibility.
I was in Mongolia. The mining companies there are contributing to the social development of Mongolia at a higher level than Canada's aid and development program could ever do. Consequently, we want to have them contribute, working with the NGO community, to give us the additional expertise and an additional approach to innovative new ideas on how to ensure we're going to grow the economies and create jobs.
A large proportion of the populations of developing countries are youth. In the future, over 52% of the population in these countries will be youth. We have seen recently what happens when a majority of youth are unemployed: they have nothing to do, nothing constructive, etc., and their alternatives are something that I don't think we as Canadians want them to choose.
My next question is dealing with—and the NDP already alluded to it—how you are approving projects. I think everybody knows that since the last election, the Conservatives have put their ideological spin on who they're going to give money to and who they're not.
We see it with the Canadian mining companies. A lot of taxpayers' money seems to be going to propaganda for these companies, and we don't really know if it's going to reduce poverty; however, projects that are on the table are falling off the table. We know that Kairos has been let go. Now we're coming to your year-end, so all of these groups—hundreds of groups—are coming to us and saying, “Look, we have just been refused for no reason that we know of”.
The Quebec example is pretty blatant. We have the organizations of Quebec aid groups. They have 10,000 volunteers and 2,000 youth, and there are very few approved there.
Minister, I guess the question is the rating process. How are you rating who comes and who doesn't come? I know you've alluded to it already, but there must be a totally different rating system.
Can you tell us what that rating system is? I think you're going to lose a lot of good people, Canadians and NGOs that have been helping. We're going to lose them, and we're going to lose that connection with other countries, especially if you're going from one region in Canada to the other.
I've said a lot there, but at the end of the day, it looks as though the Conservative ideology is stamped on the project approval; however, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt to disclose your rating system.
Thank you for the question.
As you know, I visited Haiti in January. I would say there is some disappointment because there has been some delay with the political situation and the slow and even more recent events there as far as a government in place.... Most of the projects that we're undertaking we're doing with organizations, so we're not reliant on government. The ministries are continuing the work so that our work can continue, and hopefully we'll find a quick resolution to a new prime minister and a new government in the country of Haiti.
We're doing many projects. One that we support very strongly in Haiti is the school feeding program. The school feeding program is an incentive for families to send their children to school because when children go to school, they get fed a good, nutritious meal every day, and at the end of the week, they also get to take some food home for their families. Consequently, we announced that we are increasing our support for the World Food Programme's school feeding program.
As well, I was there recently in January and announced that Canada will support the resettlement of the families that are in the Champs de Mars national park, and that's ongoing as well.
We've also been able to maintain our support for the health clinics. The incidence of cholera will vary, but they're able to manage that, and there's reduced death as a consequence of cholera.
We continue to do our economic growth, and we now have almost 400,000 who have access to credit and financial systems. We've established a very good program for the farmers, which is a first-time credit system for farmers so that after the earthquake, they're going to be able to buy the tools and the inputs they require to make sure they've got a good restart into their agriculture.
I also went to visit a hospital where we're providing maternal health, prenatal care, and delivery free of cost, and that has increased the health of women through safer births. They're actually following up with postnatal care for their babies as well. We've made a lot of progress, and we continue to keep our commitment to Haiti.
Minister, a few weeks ago at this committee we had Anthony Bebbington. You might know of him; he's from the graduate school of geography in Massachusetts. He shared some interesting information with us about things he's hearing from Latin American politicians.
He mentions that Canada's foreign policy links with mining are undermining our country's credibility. In fact, he commented—I was really taken aback by it—that a Latin American minister of the environment actually told him this: “I don't know if Canada has ever been quite so discredited in its history.”
I have to tell you, Minister, when I heard that last week it actually gave me goosebumps, because it's not anything I want to hear. At the same time, he said that another official had said to him, “As far as I can tell, the Canadian ambassador here is a representative for Canadian mining companies.”
As you can see, both of those kinds of comments would cause us, as Canadians right around Canada, a great deal of concern.
There is no doubt that you have personally pushed for greater links between NGOs and mining firms. In the fall you announced $26 million in partnerships with Barrick Gold, IAMGOLD, and Rio Tinto-Alcan.
The question, Minister, is this. Let us put aside for a moment the various strengths or drawbacks of these projects. My question is a very simple one: why do multi-billion-dollar private companies need Canadian taxpayer dollars to do this kind of development work?