Thursday, September 21, 2006

On incredible sources

CBC points out that the results of Canadian foreign aid spending are currently far too difficult to trace:
Canada's access to information laws make it hard to find out how billions of our foreign aid tax dollars are spent, says an Ottawa researcher.

Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said part of the problem is Canada's foreign aid money is now funnelled through third party agencies in other countries — such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) — that are not required to release the information to the Canadian public...

Attaran filed an access to information request as part of his research and said he was told by a CIDA official that the foreign agencies running the projects must OK any information that's released.

"Because the money from Canada is pooled with that of other countries, those other countries may have a right of veto over whether Canadians can know how the money was spent," he said...

Alasdair Roberts, an expert on government secrecy at Syracuse University, said the World Bank and the UNDP have an abysmal record for releasing information, despite having very good transparency rules on paper...

"There's nothing blocking the Canadian government from saying that we want audits for programs that are being funded with Canadian money and that we intend to release those audits under Canadian access law," he said.
Based on that beginning, it would seem appropriate to highlight the issue with a quote from a remotely credible opposition party on the issue. Sadly, the article instead turns to Keith Martin:
Liberal foreign affairs critic Keith Martin said the secrecy about how the money is spent is only one disadvantage of funding development projects via third party agencies.

"When monies are going to large organizations like the World Bank, not only do we lose control — we also lose credit on the ground," he said, adding that people in countries benefiting from our aid seldom work directly with Canadians anymore.
Now, I'd hope it can be agreed that the main question in foreign aid should be how much assistance it can provide - not how much credit Canada can seek for it. But that aside, the even bigger problem with Martin's statement is that the aid structure he's criticizing is essentially the same as what the Libs themselves funded for over a decade before.

Need I even point out that current Afghanistan funding through the World Bank merely expands on funding long provided by Martin's own party? Or that in a document which appears to go up to 2003, the World Bank described Canada both as "deeply involved" in shaping the World Bank, and as a consistent top contributor?

It could well be that the benefits in providing funding through third-party agencies such as the World Bank may outweigh the costs - and indeed it's worth considering whether Canada may be able to get the best of all worlds by using its "deep involvement" to ensure more accountable structures. But one way or the other, it's plain that the Libs don't have the slightest bit of credibility in criticizing the aid structures which they put in place. And any plausible suggestions for improvement will have to come from a party which can't be held responsible for precisely the problems that may now exist.

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