NZ Govt eyes recruiting private aid for Afghanistan's future

By Audrey Young

Foreign Minister Murray McCully is throwing himself personally into the centre of a recruitment drive to get agricultural sector expertise in New Zealand's development aid to Afghanistan as the crucial transition to local rule begins.

Yesterday Mr McCully met more than a dozen organisations in the agricultural and horticultural sector at Parliament and will meet more in Auckland today - including Federated Farmers, Fonterra, Massey University, Lincoln University, Fair Trade, and Crown Research Institutes.

Not for the first time, Mr McCully is side-stepping the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"I have been talking to the ministry about this for over a year but it has been hard to get real traction on it, which is why I am engaging directly with the sector leaders," he said in an interview with the Herald.

"I'm trying a New Zealand Inc approach to joining up our aid initiatives in agriculture with the expertise we have with those sectors."

Mr McCully has publicly criticised the effectiveness of New Zealand aid and his latest wooing of private business sits alongside his controversial plans to open up diplomatic posts to outsiders.

Mr McCully's meetings here follow his return from Afghanistan last month where he discussed with President Hamid Karzai and transition supremo Dr Ashraf Ghani the transition of the Bamyan province to Afghan rule.

The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction team of 140 personnel has been earmarked by President Karzai as one of the first two provinces to begin transition to Afghan rule, beginning in July this year.

The Nato-led international security assistance force in Afghanistan aims to have handed all security over to Afghanistan by 2014.

Mr McCully said he received assurances from President Karzai that his recent criticism of PRTs - running parallel systems of Government - did not include New Zealand's.

"He thought the model we were following was an excellent one. He was very fulsome in his praises of the work our people had done."

With 40 Malaysians having recently joined the New Zealand PRT - medics and support crew - the addition of a moderate Muslim country was the subject of considerable comment, Mr McCully said.

Mr McCully said New Zealand wanted to advance one or two "signature" initiatives that by 2014 "will have been game-changing developments within Bamyan province."

One was renewable electricity and another was agricultural capacity building.

The energy projects involved micro hydro projects and solar energy to help in the national goal of getting 25 per cent of the population connected to electricity by 2014.

The agriculture help New Zealand has pledged is towards light mechanisation for cropping and help in highland management systems for sheep farming, Mr McCully said.

"An ox and a wooden plough are the current common level of mechanisation," he said.

About $10 million a year is budgeted for Afghanistan but he would like to see more private input into New Zealand's development programmes in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"We'll fund initiatives but I think it is going to come down to identifying individuals case by case that can provide leadership and they will best be found in the sector rather than the ministry."

Mr McCully said that what became clear to him after his third visit to Afghanistan was that "there are a variety of different expectations about what transition will involve.

"And because no one has done it before, all eyes will be on our effort in Bamyan so we need to get it right."

"Others are very anxious that we should do so. Us getting it right will enable confidence to be built that others can get it right too."

- NZ Herald

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