Catriona Laing

Catriona Laing

British Ambassador to Zimbabwe

Part of UK in Afghanistan

28th August 2013 Harare, Zimbabwe

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, visits the Helmand PRT

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, flew in to Lashkar Gah on 27 August to see for himself the progress which international forces and the Afghan authorities have made in bringing security, stability and prosperity to Helmand.

Danny Alexander and Catriona Laing
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, visits Helmand PRT

As holder of the British Government purse-strings it’s important that he satisfies himself with the impact the British contribution has made here. Fortunately, the meetings he had, and the Afghan representatives he met, gave him a good account of the progress which has been made here over recent years and the potential the province now has to build on that progress.

After arriving by helicopter from Camp Bastion, Danny Alexander met senior staff of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and Brigadier Rupert Jones, the Commander of Task Force Helmand, and then the Governor of Helmand Province.

Provincial Governor Naeem said the Province was now much safer than a few years ago, and that the Government had earned much higher levels of trust from the local population by delivering more of what the people want: more schools, better healthcare facilities, and better policing.

There were still big challenges, especially in the North of Helmand, where some of this work was still in its early stages. But with the right level of resources, it was possible still to make much more progress.

Danny Alexander then held a round table discussion with women’s representatives from around Helmand Province, to get a first hand account of their experiences. Most were members of District Community Councils from around Helmand, and many had travelled some distance, and at personal risk, in order to participate.

Five had come from Gereshk, two represented the Lashkar Gah (LKG) Municipal Advisory Board, and two represented a women’s NGO. In a lively discussion, they outlined key challenges to improving women’s participation in government: continuing security risks; a lack of awareness amongst women of the importance of political participation and their right to vote; long queues to register to vote; and continuing cultural barriers.

One of the women spoke passionately of the need to provide women with more vocational training as well, as a means of income generation for women at home.

Mr Alexander also met a group of representatives of private businesspeople, several of whom worked in agriculture. They spoke of the work they were doing to form links to urban markets so their produce could get to customers year round, and the potential for long-term growth in Helmand once these market links are working effectively.

Later the Chief Secretary met all staff of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in a town-hall meeting, and mingled with them over an Afghan lunch afterwards, listening first hand to their stories of life in Helmand: a positive and informal way to end a visit which had given him a personal insight into a Province which has come a long way, but where the tasks ahead remain challenging.

About Catriona Laing

I was born in Cardiff but brought up in South London. I studied economics and joined the civil service through the Government Economic Service after 2.5 years working for the…

I was born in Cardiff but brought up in South London. I studied
economics and joined the civil service through the Government Economic
Service after 2.5 years working for the Government of Botswana as an
infrastructure economist.
I was posted to Kenya to advise on the government’s development
programmes in East Africa, and then seconded to the United Nations
Mission in Somalia heading the UN Development Office.
I spent five years working for Prime Minister Tony Blair in his
strategy unit, and was later posted to head the DFID office in Sudan
running a £116 million programme and addressing the drivers of conflict.
Most recently I have been working for the Ministry of Justice to
establish the new international function with responsibility for
European and international justice.
I live with my partner – Clive Bates and our Sudanese dog – in
Balham. My hobbies are yoga, dog and mountain walking and cooking.