Audit says US aid program failing in northwest Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A $46 million American aid program aimed at strengthening the government in Pakistan’s tribal regions and blunting the appeal of al-Qaida and the Taliban has achieved little since it began two years ago, a US government audit found.

The program is one of several US initiatives in the tribal areas close to the Afghan border and elsewhere in Pakistan, which is set to receive $7.5 billion in humanitarian assistance from American taxpayers over the next five years.

The audit shows the difficulties facing the Obama administration as it seeks to boost aid to the violence-stricken region. The strategy is to convince impoverished residents that their interests are best served by the government, not by extremists who have seized control of much of the area.

The program, run by Development Alternatives Inc., a US-based private contractor, was set up to improve the performance of local aid groups and the government agency that oversees the tribal areas. Both need to be strong to ensure future aid money is spent effectively.

The audit, dated January 28 and posted on the website of the inspector general, said ”little progress” had been made toward either goal of the program. It said the program ”got off to a slow start” and had been delayed by confusion over a new US government initiative to direct money through Pakistani institutions, not US contractors.

As a result of the new strategy, it said DAI did not know whether its contract would be terminated, meaning many key programs were put on hold.

The audit added the contractor had requested $15 million in June 2009 from the government to continue with the work, but was only given $4.7 million.

The audit did mention some successes, such as the creation of a public outreach campaign promoting peace and 74 project and financial management training events held for more than 1,000 local government workers.

Still, it criticized the program’s planning and implementation. It said a plan to install computers and train staff to use them at the agency’s headquarters in Peshawar had barely got off the ground and had set unrealistic goals. It noted 340 of the 400 computers delivered remained boxed up and unused.

It said the program had so far only spent $15.5 million in what was supposed to be a three-year initiative.

No one from the program was available to comment on the audit. Most employees and contractors for the aid arm of the US government are not allowed to speak to the media.

The audit noted since 2008 security in the region has deteriorated, with attacks by militants on government and Western targets spiking. All foreign staff had to be withdrawn from Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, after a US aid worker was killed in 2008.

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