USAID program for Pakistani tribal areas making 'little headway,' audit finds

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2010

NEW YORK -- 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 local authorities and private charities provide basic services in one of Pakistan's poorest and most politically unstable territories. So far, only $15.5 million has been spent on the initiative.

The program, which is run by Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc., was set up in January 2008 to help local officials and charities develop the capacity to absorb the large amounts of Western assistance that have flowed into the area to challenge the political standing of extremists.

It funds the activities of the FATA development authority, which employs 100 people, and the FATA secretariat, which oversees nearly 30,000 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," the inspector general reported. 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, among other things, a deteriorating security situation that forced Development Alternatives and other American contractors to relocate from Peshawar, where an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development was killed in November 2008, to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

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

In June, USAID refused to provide full funding for a $15.3 million request from Development Alternatives as the agency began to rethink its strategy 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 in Pakistan but never made a decision on closure.

In response to the audit, the director of USAID's Pakistan mission, Robert J. Wilson, said the agency had agreed in December to extend Development Alternatives' contract through 2010.

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