CGD Policy Blogs
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department have added FY2009-FY2011 budget data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard. The dashboard aims to capture all US foreign aid spending from across twenty-some different US agencies. There's a long way to go before all the information is included, but the dashboard--and the latest updates from State and USAID plus previous contributions from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)--are important steps in the right direction. Can Congress or crowdsourcing help get to the finish line? The dashboard is designed to include all US foreign assistance data and break it down by country, sector, initiative and agency in a user-friendly format. While it's always a bit of a shock to realize this information doesn't already exist, the Foreign Assistance Dashboard is a welcome tool to improve foreign aid transparency. And the Obama administration deserves applause for getting the tool out there early, even if it's not yet complete (and hats off to the unsung heros who designed the website and entered the data).
Corruption in aid programs is a cyclical topic. Every scandal generates headlines, political reaction, tighter controls and then, usually, silence until the next scandal erupts. Such cycles are not helpful and we never really find out if such corruption is large and systematic or small and isolated.
Last month, two major international conferences were convened – the G-20 in Los Cabos on food security and sustainable development and the Rio +20 conference on the environment and more. Lawrence MacDonald contrasted the two meetings in his blog, pointing out that in both cases “much of the action is on the sidelines.” And he’s right.
This is a joint post with Julie Walz.
On January 12, 2010, at 16:53 hours, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the city of Port-au-Prince, killing over 200,000 people and leaving several million homeless. Foreign aid poured into Haiti, at the rate of almost a thousand dollars per Haitian. For the past two years, we have been putting together the various pieces of data we could find on aid flows and foreign involvement after the quake. We found that the big international NGOs and private contractors have been the primary recipients of billions of dollars in U.S. assistance have been not been required to report systematically on how they use the funds. There has been a lack of accountability to both the funders and recipients. Our preliminary impressions based on our visit to Haiti are that this lack of accountability is if anything worse on the ground: the NGOs are frequently not accountable to the Haitian government or to the people they aim to serve. We even learned something about earthquakes--for example, did you know that Haiti’s two major faults (the northern Sententrional fault and the southern Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault) are called slip-strike faults, and are similar to the San Andreas Fault in California? It was the southern fault that triggered the quake two and a half years ago.
Thunderstorm over Port-au-Prince
Credit: Vijaya Ramachandran
Since the 2010 earthquake, $6 billion has been disbursed in official aid to help the people of Haiti. Nearly all of it has gone to intermediaries such as international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private contractors. Yet there has been a surprising lack of reporting on how the money has been spent.
The January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, killed over 220,000 people, displaced several million, and flattened much of the capital, Port Au Prince, also unleashed a tsunami of outside assistance. In the 28 months since the earthquake official donors have disbursed almost $6 billion in aid to help the people of Haiti, the equivalent of $600 per person for a country where per capita annual income is just $670. Where has all the money gone? On the second anniversary of the quake we set out to answer this question; our new CGD policy paper is the result. The short answer is that the vast majority of the money so-far disbursed has been paid to international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private contractors. And while many of these organizations do excellent work, there is shockingly little information on how they used the funds.
This post is joint with Julie Walz.
Last week, USAID finally published an external review on its activities in Haiti: “Independent Review of the U.S. Government Response to the Haiti Earthquake”. The report is dated March 28, 2011. Yes, 2011. It took over a year to post the document on the USAID website. The review was conducted by MacFadden and Associates – which operates an $80M Indefinite Quantity Contract from USAID. There are some frank and enlightening assessments of USG response and coordination, but very little discussion of aid accountability.
A couple of weeks ago, CGD hosted a workshop on a transparency proposal we’re calling (at least for the moment) Publish What You Buy. In the spirit of openness, I meant to blog about it straight after --but where would have been the irony in that? So, two weeks later, (still) faster than a speeding freedom of information request denial, here’s a brief write-up.