Editor’s Note: You require transparency from us but none from yourselves. That’s the charge leveled at USAID by Liberia’s finance minister (and a couple of other people), at a recent Brookings Institution panel on the lack of transparency among aid organizations. Haiti’s finance minister probably feels the same way. As poorly as Haiti ranks on the corruption index the US ranks near the bottom in international aid transparency. And what comes out of this panel is that while we’re great at measuring other governments’ corruption, we apparently suck at competently measuring ourselves, the donors. Read on for the Liberian minister’s edited remarks, which also raise the question, is the Haitian diaspora lobbying Congress to improve USAID?
Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, minister of finance, Liberia I concur fully with the assessment … that aid transparency is a necessary condition for effectiveness…. Liberia is a highly aid-dependent country. I don’t want to go through the history of civil war, the destruction, and the reconstruction efforts. As we speak we receive more flows to the country through aid than even our domestic revenue. [And] although the amount of [aid passing] through our budget [had] been very insignificant–around 2-5 percent–it has gradually gone up to 15 percent. We are hoping that as we improve our country’s systems, more donors can use them.
Now, [however]… we have a situation where most donors want to use parallel [NGO] systems [and not] government systems. [But] the parallel systems [have to] give us better development outcomes … otherwise, the moral justification of using the parallel system does not exist.
So, there is a host of [aid agencies] through which fundings flow for [project] implementation. [But] the question is, what actually gets spent? [From] what we know, there are … integrity issues in those chains.
Now, we’d be happy [if] significant donors [required the same level of] transparency from all [NGOs] as they require from government—[because in] a country where government is taking steps to [reform] … a lot of eyes … are on the cookie jar to prevent someone from taking something.
Firstly, you have the legislature…. Secondly, we have auditing systems…. Thirdly, there is the media. And, fourthly, the best auditors in the world are the people. They need to know.
[So] if … these other parallel systems [will be] used … let them be held accountable, [too].
I once heard from an NGO head who was implementing a project from one of our donors and he was asked by the press as to details on the project amounts and what have you, and he said well, he didn’t owe the press or the Liberian people any answers. He has reported to the donor, and that was it.
[How] can we avoid that?
I can tell you that what [Liberia has] done thus far is that we have established an aid management unit, and that we have an aid database [because] one request that has come from the Liberian populace is to know at least what is happening.
[But] I can tell you that it’s been a challenge to get information [from donors] on a timely basis to report to our legislature and to report to our people.
So, there is this detachment by a typical Liberian when they hear about these big flows because sometimes they don’t know what is going to happen, who is holding who accountable…. [We] come up with a quarterly [report] on aid, but sometimes if we don’t have information from the most significant donors, we delay, and civil society has been on our backs [about] that.
Recently, I think the U.S. Government arrested some individual, a Liberian, who was implementing projects and he was basically going in and taking pictures on different projects funded by different donors and lying. He’d just been arrested and put in jail for 20 years, but people on the ground know them more, so, the more you share that information, the better. … Government is trying to correct problems, but [what] we request is that the similar requirements of transparency that you push on government, push it on [aid agencies, as well].