At DC panel, lessons from Liberia on USAID’s transparency

Haitian diaspora gathering in Washington, DC, March 2010 -- was that the last one?

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].


5 Responses to “At DC panel, lessons from Liberia on USAID’s transparency”

  1. I have fun with, cause I discovered exactly what
    I used to be looking for. You have ended my 4
    day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye

  2. **Ed Note: Sometimes readers reply to DH’s post via email to me, personally. Here’s one from a global traveler who’s lived in both Haiti and Liberia.**

    “What is it about Haitians and Liberians? Read the report [above] and weep.

    A new American model funnels allotted material allowances to a foreign land thru its reigning “Republic of NGOs,” sidelining the existing state into a “host government.” The testing ground was Haiti following Pres. Aristide’s second presidential landslide in 2000, and the experiment was continued even after his engineered kidnapping into African exile in 2004.

    The prototype was institutionalized as template following Haiti’s earthquake landslide last Jan. Only a couple cents on the dollar of relief efforts go through Haitian govt channels. The UN-uniformed occupation army, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), enforces US-France-Canada policy decisions. As intended, the Haitian state has withered to ceremonial significance, with decorative elections for powerless positions apportioned among pliant local elites campaigning in personality parades.

    Post-civil war Liberia has emerged as the most prominent templatee of the devolutionary Haiti model. Rather than pressing for reform, objectionable governance is corrected by a vast reduction of govt function and authority. Liberia, like Haiti, is ruled as a de facto protectorate under an occupying consortium of outside powers legitimized by a self-declared multinational coalition mandate.

    Haiti and Liberia are convenient natural laboratories for American experimentation for developing the next cycle of received wisdom for managing the developing world, esp. the Black world, because they are the closest things to formal American colonies in the Black world outside the US. Each is a small persistently poor country. Liberia hosts 4 million in the size of Mississippi; Haiti crowds 10 million into the area of Maryland. Each country’s socio-political prominence far outstrips its economic insignificance, strategic dispensibility and international impotence. Their combined economies approximate that of an American county of 375,000 people. Risky measures are especially appropriate in Haiti and Liberia. Consequences of failure are self-limited by unique historical trajectories unshared with their neighbors, so unlikely to spread beyond their immediate neighborhoods.

    In both countries, local opposition to recently imposed market reforms and structural adjustments have proven susceptible to containment at acceptable levels of violent social dissolution and organized resistance. For example, each country’s food self-sufficiency (primarily in rice, the preferred staple in both countries) has in recent years (Haiti) or decades (Liberia) been replaced by importing 80% of rice needs from subsidized US rice producers in Louisiana and California. The eradication of protective tariffs, complemented by subsidized American imports, caused tens of thousands of displaced rice farmers to abandon their fields and relocate into the cities in Haiti, and to the mines and plantations in Liberia, assuring internationally competitive labor rates for export textile and assembly (Haiti) and iron ore mining and rubber production (Liberia).

    These successes seem to presage aggressive acceleration of the globalized agenda of neoliberal structural adjustments: internationalized finance with free & mobile flow of capital, free trade and abolition of tariffs, elimination of public sector participation in mineral extraction, agriculture, marketing and foreign trade, and then on to privatizing land ownership, housing, transport, education, health care, telecommunications and utilities such as water and power.

    By bypassing govt infrastructures as inherently corrupt or hopelessly noncompliant, American charity and US Govt foreign policy may be manufacturing failed states in Haiti, Liberia and elsewhere, but, as demonstrated so far in Haiti and Liberia, to the demonstrable benefit of their surviving inhabitants. In short, the state was the problem. Bottom-line benefits are proving to outweigh inflicted costs and future risks.

    Will the undermining and decline of government as the locus of political identity and public action prove an equally efficient strategy for the rest of the Two-Thirds World?
    Are we about to witness the twilight of the nation-state in the no man’s lands in the world’s marginal zones?

    The answer may well depend upon who frames the criteria of evaluation. The current trajectory, according to the ascendant mythos, is the alternative to a long series of failed alternatives that centered on developing viable governments in close support of US interests.

    The retrospective analysis has congealed into a textbook litany of historical generosity producing serial failure: Over and over and over again we set up Haiti and Liberia with all the cotton, rattan and moral fiber to weave their own basket cases, and Liberians and Haitians only seem capable of raveling it into rope to snare–or hang–themselves.

    And then–here they go again; hear the Liberian Finance Minister below, or read anything deposed Haitian President Aristide says–Black demagogue wannabe tyrants incite their publics. They talk back and speak out–out of turn, out of proportion, out of ingratitude, out of a shared chip on their well-healed welt-hatched shoulders as citizens of the only two independent Black republics during the last 150 yrs of formal White colonialism and informal White imperialism.

    Time and again, both peoples’ leaders and citizens like Mr. Ngafuan and Mr. Aristide, adopt a defiant stance uniquely prone toward uppity acting out and snippy back-sassing at White fingers wagging the way out of the black hellholes they insist on digging when left unsupervised to their own devices, like recalcitrant adult children of alternately indulgent and stern foster parents with only the welfare of their charges at heart. It’s as if Liberians and Haitians will never just get over the old traumas and rise above the waves of aftershock tremors of American systematized race-based chattel slavery that, after all, birthed both nations.

    The meaner and leaner Haitian and Liberian skeletal states at last offer the hope not only of containing the obstructionist whines of angry nationalist ingrates with personal pathological agendas of political exploitation of their own people–ask any neo-con–but, more important, the hope of mutual benefit in a win-win cooperation unfettered by jangling chains of history: profit for the First World and harm reduction for the Last.

    Perhaps in the unfolding new world order Americans won’t have to ask ourselves, Why can’t they be more like their little brother Barack?”

  3. The sad reality is that while NGOs and donor agencies should absolutely be looking at ways to improve their transparency, auditing, etc… they should be doing that for the sake of their contributors, not Minister Ngafuan, the Liberian media, or the Liberian people. Minister Ngafuan should focus more on improving the systems within his own Ministry,which I’m sure are still woefully behind those of NGOs, so that he and the rest of the Government can continue to attract the monies of those NGOs and donors that Liberia is so dependent on.

    • I tend to look at the goal of development and work backwards in order to sort through tough issues like you’ve raised. Donors can not both want a country to develop sustainably and also *not* provide transparency to the receiving country re: how funds are allocated. Those are cross-purposes. No country can become self-sufficient, i.e. develop sustainably, if its gov’t can’t perform a basic function, i.e. plan a budget. I’m not saying it’s easy but donors must reconcile these conflicting points.

      And, the most interesting question of all: to whom are agencies accountable? Of course, to the donors who fund them. But what complicates that answer is when donor-funded agencies act as quasi-governments in foreign countries. Those public actions invite a different standard… one where those directly impacted by the services take precedent over those who’ve given their money.

      The other way to solve these issues–of acting like a gov’t but not wanting to be held accountable by its people–is for donors to get out of development altogether. That’s simple enough.


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