Turtle Bay

Audit deems Pakistan aid program a failure

A $45 million USAID program aimed at improving the ability of Pakistani tribal leaders to govern a politically sensitive stretch of territory along the Afghan border has failed to achieve its primary mission of improving the delivery of basic services, according to an audit by the agency’s inspector general. The two year-old development program for ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

A $45 million USAID program aimed at improving the ability of Pakistani tribal leaders to govern a politically sensitive stretch of territory along the Afghan border has failed to achieve its primary mission of improving the delivery of basic services, according to an audit by the agency's inspector general.

The two year-old development program for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was designed to help improve living standards in one of Pakistan's poorest and most politically unstable territories. So far, only $15.5 million has been spent on the initiative.

More specifically, the program -- which is run by Development Alternatives, Inc. -- was set up in January 2008 to aid local government officials and charities in developing the capacity to absorb the large amounts of Western assistance that have flowed into the area to challenge the political standing of the region's extremists.

A $45 million USAID program aimed at improving the ability of Pakistani tribal leaders to govern a politically sensitive stretch of territory along the Afghan border has failed to achieve its primary mission of improving the delivery of basic services, according to an audit by the agency’s inspector general.

The two year-old development program for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was designed to help improve living standards in one of Pakistan’s poorest and most politically unstable territories. So far, only $15.5 million has been spent on the initiative.

More specifically, the program — which is run by Development Alternatives, Inc. — was set up in January 2008 to aid local government officials and charities in developing the capacity to absorb the large amounts of Western assistance that have flowed into the area to challenge the political standing of the region’s extremists.

It funds the activities of the FATA development authority, which employs 100 people, and FATA secretariat, which oversees nearly 30,000 local employees, including teachers and health- care workers. But the "program has made little headway in achieving its two main goals," according to the audit.

"It has not achieved the goal of improving the capacity of FATA governmental institutions to govern," according to the audit, which was produced by the inspector general’s office in Manila, the Philippines. And it "did not increase the capacities of [local] NGOs to promote good governance, although some progress was made."

The report cites some advances, including training in financial management and program and development planning for 1,224 local officials. The program also provided some training and office equipment for 42 nongovernmental organizations.

The program has been plagued by a deteriorating security situation that has prompted USAID to order Development Alternatives and other American contractors to relocate to Islamabad from Peshawar, where a USAID official was killed in November 2008.

The report says that the program was further delayed after the contractor’s chief representative resigned in September 2008, leaving the position vacant until January 2009. It took 9 months to identify local charities to support, and 400 computers purchased for government offices remain in unopened boxes. Another 72 laptops were unaccounted for at the time of the audit.

In a response, USAID’s Pakistan mission director, Robert J. Wilson, said the agency would seek to ensure the delivery of the computers by the end of March. He said that 55 of 72 missing laptops have been found and that USAID will bill the contractor and the Pakistani authorities for the rest if they don’t turn up.

The report also faults a change of political strategy by the Obama administration, which is now calling for U.S. assistance to be channeled through local charities, for placing the program in limbo.

In June, USAID refused to provide full funding for a $15.3 million request from Development Alternatives as it began to rethink its practice of directing most of its funds to U.S.-based contractors. In October, USAID asked the company to prepare a plan to shut down its operations, but never made a decision to close it.

In response to the audit, Wilson said that USAID had agreed in December to extend Development Alternatives’ contract through the end of 2010.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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