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The Canadian Press, January 11, 2007

Audits not released on millions spent on aid in Afghanistan

Critics say it's a massive reporting void that leaves the public in the dark


OTTAWA — Five years after Canada began pumping millions of aid dollars into Afghanistan, taxpayers still have no idea how well the money is being spent.

Not a single audit has been publicly released by federal government officials.

"This is the foreign-aid equivalent of the sponsorship scandal," says Amir Attaran, a law professor and development expert at the University of Ottawa.

"They're just scrambling," he said of Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) officials who have not sent him "a single page of information" since he filed an Access to Information request last June. He asked for all evaluation and audit reports for Afghanistan since 2001.

Attaran was taken aback when the development agency said it would need the equivalent of eight months to consult with co-funding "third parties" such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

He has appealed what he says is a preposterous delay that breaches CIDA's duty to release information within reasonable time limits.

"This is a very poorly run organization. It's an embarrassment to Canada and it's not bringing much development to Afghanistan."

An initial program review of progress isn’t expected until this summer, says Patti Robson, a spokeswoman for CIDA.

Critics say it's a massive reporting void that leaves the public in the dark as Conservatives promote a mission that has been heavy on combat, light on reconstruction. It has also cost 44 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat their lives since 2002.

An inquiry by the US daily, the Washington Post (Nov.20, 2005), has discovered serious flaws in the US efforts to rebuild Afghanistan, suggesting that corruption and inefficiency caused millions of dollars to be wasted on useless projects.
AKI/DAWN,, November 21, 2005

Afghanistan, still an international basket case of economic and security problems, received $100 million last year from CIDA and is to get the same amount for the next four years. Contributions are expected to total about $1 billion between 2001 and 2011 — more cash than Canada has promised to any other foreign-aid recipient.

Josee Verner, the minister for CIDA, says her government will account for every dollar. Her officials cite new wells, schools and several hundred kilometres of new or repaired road as proof that Canadian efforts are working.

Documents are being prepared for release to Attaran, Verner added.

"We are committed to give all the answers people can have on what we're doing in Afghanistan," she said in an interview.

"We work with well-known partners" but it's still early days for many programs that are just getting off the ground.

Money flows to non-governmental organizations and local agencies through the World Bank which itself releases independent audits, Verner said.

"More than 90% of the more than $1bn that was spent on about 400 UN projects in Afghanistan in 2002 was a waste of money
Within six months of starting my job as finance minister, my best people had been stolen by international aid organisations who could offer them forty to a hundred times the salary we could," Ashraf Ghani says.
BBC NEWS,, February 26, 2006

Attaran received several such reports. Trouble is, it's impossible to assess how well Canadian funds were spent because money from several sources is pooled, he said.

"You can't separate it out."

He says distinct tracking of Canadian cash is needed.

Alexa McDonough, foreign affairs critic for the NDP, has repeatedly raised questions about spending in Afghanistan.

"In overall terms, the government's release of information has been pathetically inadequate."

The development agency finally released a list of funded projects in November after weeks of badgering by opposition MPs, McDonough said.

Still, "it's pretty short on any clear sense of objectives and how you’d measure progress."

Of the 38 initiatives vaguely described, six were not scheduled to start until last month. Projects include everything from micro-credit loans for helping women launch businesses, to de-mining programs, new schools, vaccinations and road construction.

Development slowed last summer when intense combat against insurgents in Kandahar siphoned away reconstruction soldiers who were needed on the front lines. New troops have arrived to bolster the military's focus on aid.

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