Tuesday, June 15, 2010

US plans audit office in Islamabad to monitor aid


WASHINGTON: The Obama administration would set up a separate auditing office in Islamabad to monitor financial assistance provided to Pakistan, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

The office will monitor all assistance programmes under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill, the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) and the Pakistan Counter-Insurgency Capability Fund (PCCF). The office will report to the Office of Inspector General in Washington and would employ two auditors, programme analysts and the local staff recruited in Islamabad. The Obama administration has set up a similar office for Afghanistan as well.

“It is part of their internal process,” said a Pakistani diplomat when asked for comments. “Their programme for Pakistan is America’s largest civilian aid package, so it is only natural that they would like to monitor it.”

US officials, when contacted by this correspondent, also said they had similar accountability processes for other recipients as well. “Pakistan is not being singled out,” one of them added.

However, last month, Senator John Kerry, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, sent a letter to the US State Department, saying that he feared the massive civilian aid flowing into Pakistan would be squandered or stolen. He argued that the high level of corruption in that country would make effective aid distribution a challenge.

Partly reported by Boston Globe and Dawn last month, Senator Kerry’s seven-page letter to Richard Holbrooke, the Special US Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, is now widely available on the internet.

“Among the Pakistani population there is already a fear that the funds will merely enrich the corrupt elite. Channelling so much of the money through untested institutions so quickly could serve to confirm these suspicions,” he wrote.

Senator Kerry highlighted the need for long-term development progress, more transparency and policy reforms in key sectors like energy.

“This administration should be as transparent and specific as possible as how US funds will be spent in Pakistan. To date, this process is largely opaque to the broader public, including our Pakistani friends and partners.”

The lack of transparency could generate suspicion and distrust, defeating the core intent of the act to help build stronger ties with the Pakistani people, Senator Kerry said.

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