Three years ago, I worked as an intern for USAID United States Agency for International Development under the Fisheries Investment for Sustainable Harvest Program in Uganda, Africa. When I first arrived, I was extremely proud that I was working with the U.S. government to provide aid to people in a country that is much less fortunate than my own. By my third week, I experienced a shift in beliefs. These people needed our help to organize themselves and to teach them how to properly grow and harvest fish to make an income; what they didn’t need were foreign diplomats and their interns handing out checks to locals who had “fish farms”. Surprisingly, this is exactly what is happening in most of our government funded aid programs.
This is the least productive way to make a lasting change in developing countries. It encourages locals to act as con artists. USAID’s programs last, on average, three years. This means every three years, the locals can create a new means of funding. For example, a farmer could say he’s growing wheat and go to the city to get his monthly check for his wheat farm and turn in forged paper work, then three years later he can “become” a fish farmer and do the same thing.
When USAID was first created, they were allowed to operate outside of the Department of State which gave them a lot more power, allowing them to track their budget as they saw fit. The Chief of Party for the FISH program refused to hand out checks or monetary donations of any sort. Instead, FISH organized workshops and bought materials such as fish feed and equipment to teach farmers the new techniques for growing and harvesting fish. By doing this, the program was able save 20% of the 2 million dollars allotted for the three year program. By supplying the farmers with the equipment they needed, it was easier to teach the proper ways to run a farm and be responsible for animals’ lives. This is the best way to bridge the cultural gap and convey the responsibilities they must learn in order to be successful.
Four years ago, there was a situation in Cuba that came to the Associated Press’ attention. USAID gave Cuba $65 million to help Cubans who had fled to Miami and were forced to return back to Cuba. Additionally, they gave 385,000 lbs in food, medicine, and books to the country. After collecting receipts from the different groups who acquired donations for exiled individuals, USAID discovered that around 30% of the money had been spent in a questionable manner. This tragedy totaled $19.5 million misspent. According to the USAID report for the 2009 fiscal year, $19.5 million is more than the total sum of money requested in the Merida Initiative by USAID for the fiscal year of 2009 which sends aid to five countries, including Haiti. Their sum total for aid in government, economy, peace and security, health care, and education is only $3,067,515.
The Cuba example is a mere glimpse into the spending habits of USAID. There are five other continents and more than 72 countries where USAID is currently working. We need to hold our government accountable for the money they spend, they should be keeping better track of monetary aid funds It’s time to stop the quick fixes and start investing in long term solutions. It is our job as citizens and taxpayers to keep tabs of how our Federal Government is spending our money, especially if our goal is to help make these developing countries stand on their own feet.
Reading this made me wonder, what is going to happen with USAID’s Haitian relief effort? For those of you who are still unaware of what is happening in Haiti, on January, 12 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti devastating the small island nation. 70 percent of the buildings in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, were destroyed. The death toll is 200,000 people, with 250,000 injured and 1.5 million homeless according to the AP. Wednesday January 20 a 6.1 magnitude aftershock hit Haiti, the largest of the more than 40 aftershocks that have followed since the initial quake. the As of January 17, USAID was sending 70,000 bottles of water from the Dominican Republic to Haiti and sent three “major water purification systems in” that can purify and produce 100,000 liters of water a day. With this newest aftershock more debris has been shaken loose and causalities’ are expected to rise once again.
So far, the way USAID is handling it seems very responsible, they aren’t writing blank checks like they have in the past. Following the debacle that happened in Cuba, USAID started to be more responsible with tracking money. Additionally, USAID created the Haitian Diaspora Investment Challenge Facility, which was funded initially with $2 million. The program sponsors competitive grants for Haitians who want to start businesses in their local communities. However it is still to be seen whether or not USAID will keep tabs on how the grant money is spent once they pick a business to fund.