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US-PAKISTAN: FATA Aid Programme Largely a Flop, Audit Says

Sananda Sahoo

WASHINGTON, Jan 30 2010 (IPS) - A 45-million-dollar programme funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that has been in place for nearly two years in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has failed to develop local government agencies to ensure delivery of basic services, according to an audit by USAID’s inspector general.

The three-year project is run by Maryland-based private contractor Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI). The programme is one of several in western Pakistan that are funded by U.S. taxpayers to counter the growing influence of Taliban and al Qaida in the region.

Pakistan is set to receive 7.5 billion dollars over the next five years from U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration as part of a long-term economic assistance plan.

The region has been the site of an intense conflict between the Pakistani military and Taliban fighters since 2008. The fight has displaced thousands of civilians and has killed hundreds.

Two years and 15 million dollars later, the report said, all that DAI was able to achieve was to provide some initial steps toward modernising the institutions in the region along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and complete some media activities.

“Little has been achieved in building the capacity of FATA governmental institutions and NGOs,” said the audit report, dated Jan. 28.

The USAID programme aims to empower the FATA Secretariat, which is responsible for providing services such as health care, education and public works. The FATA Development Authority, a governmental institution that was created in 2006, is responsible for the region’s economic development.

Both the agencies report to the governor of the North-West Frontier Province, a particularly poor region of Pakistan.

In January 2008, USAID awarded a three-year, 43.4-million-dollar contract to Development Alternatives to increase the capacity of FATA governmental institutions and NGOs.

In May 2009, to cover the cost of security measures, the mission increased the contract amount by 2.2 million dollars to a total of 45.6 million dollars. The increase includes the costs of relocating contractor expatriate staff from Peshawar to Islamabad, following the assassination of the chief of another USAID programme in November 2008.

As of Oct. 31, 2009, USAID had allocated around 19.7 million dollars and spent around 15.5 million dollars.

According to the report, most capacity building activities began after October 2008, 10 months into the 36-month period. The late start led to little progress in building the capacity of the FATA Secretariat and the FATA Development Authority.

The audit says that one of the reasons for the delay is the deteriorating security situation in Peshawar.

Still, it criticised the project’s plans involving installing computers and training of staff. It said 340 of the 400 computers remained boxed up and unused.

“The report is a very partial perspective on a broader issue,” Steven O’Connor, DAI’s communications director, told IPS. “It can be dangerous for the people – both from DAI and Pakistanis – who are working on the project.”

The report said that the programme also failed to increase the capacity of NGOs to promote good governance. It, however, acknowledges that the few FATA-based NGOs that exist lack human and financial resources to promote aims of the programme effectively.

The report noted that in most instances, local NGOs needed to strengthen their proposal preparation skills, financial management practices, and monitoring and evaluation capabilities before they could start to promote good governance.

After President Obama took office last year, the United States started rethinking its strategy toward Pakistan, including greater involvement of Pakistani organisations in implementing aid programmes. As a result, in June 2009, USAID rejected a DAI funding request of 15.3 million dollars and approved 4.7 million dollars in additional funds.

The report did not address the financial problems of the project consistently, according to O’Connor. “This project was stopped in its tracks by funding freeze,” he said.

It also did not take into account the security issues which have been a key factor in the project, he said. As the project was picking up speed, there was a spike in drone attacks and later, almost midway through the project, there was a blanket order to move the project out of Peshawar, O’Connor said.

“That eroded the trust of the people,” he said.

There also is a discrepancy between some facts in the report and DAI’s version of it. The inspector general’s report recommends that USAID confirm the existence of 72 laptops that were given to DAI.

But O’Connor says that all those laptops were in use in the field when they were reported “missing”.

“We have accounted for 68 laptops and I am sure the rest will be accounted for soon,” O’Connor said.

The Maryland-based company says that the project is ongoing and is still funded.

Harry Edwards, a spokesperson for USAID, confirmed to IPS that the project will continue to run through December 2010.

“USAID/Pakistan agreed with the audit’s four recommendations, and has already taken action on all of them,” he said.

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