Where our money goes in Afghanistan

Colleague Aaron Wherry points to an op-ed by University of Ottawa professor Nipa Banerjee, who ran Canada’s aid program in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006, in which she alleges that the United Nations and bosses at the Canadian International Development Agency chose to ignore and suppress reports of fraud and incompetence at an NGO and aid project Canadians were financing rather than do anything to fix it:

“Upon receipt of my e-mail alerting CIDA headquarters about the alleged fraud, a superior instructed me to not write any more e-mails on the subject, specifically so as to not leave any written trail that might have to be made available to the Canadian public under the Access to Information Act. My attempts to probe the results of any audit on the NGO met with similar stern warnings.”

Ms. Banerjee’s bosses need not have worried. I can personally attest that the chances of the Canadian public finding out that CIDA wastes their tax dollars on dubious or fraud-ridden projects is negligible for the simple reason that CIDA is neither transparent nor accountable.

Her boss wanted to avoid a paper trail that might have been revealed because of the Access to Information Act? Please. CIDA ignores the act. I have an access request with CIDA that is now almost three years old.

Incidentally, the University of Ottawa recently hosted a excellent lecture on Afghanistan by Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He described war that is on the verge of being lost because it is under-resourced; because of a lack of unity among allies; because some of the international forces in Afghanistan are more of a hindrance than a help due to their inability or unwillingness to actually fight; and because of a disastrous aid and reconstruction effort.

On this last point, Cordesman said waste fraud among western NGOs and at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is rife. “Any Afghan showing up at a bank in Dubai with less than one million dollars to deposit has to wait in line,” Cordesman said. There are others with bigger sums to stash.

Cordesman concluded that any aid organization or agency that doesn’t provide a detailed accounting of all funds spent on its website doesn’t deserve funds. For kicks, check out CIDA’s.