ISLAMABAD: In a bid to maximize benefits of civilian aid, Pakistan and the United States have agreed to reconsider the economic assistance programme as dividends of the $7.5 billion five-year package remain largely invisible.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Dr Rajiv Shah and Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh discussed this in a meeting on Friday, held to review progress of civilian aid to Pakistan.
“His (Shah) trip built upon very important discussions that have taken place over the last several weeks, including between Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides and Foreign Minister Khar in Islamabad, President Zardari and Ambassador Grossman in Dushanbe and President Obama and Prime Minister Gilani in Seoul,” said a statement issued by the US embassy after the conclusion of the visit.
An official of the finance ministry said Pakistan urged the US to maximize “formal objectives” of the civilian assistance while at the same time asking that aid flows through non-governmental bodies should be transparent.
He said the finance minister also asked the visiting official to enhance government-to-government assistance instead of relying more on assistance through non-governmental channels.
Under the $7.5 billion aid package, Pakistan has so far received only $680 million in over two years. The US has also delayed approval of spending plan for Kerry-Lugar-financed projects due to strains in bilateral relations.
Shaikh, who along with his team is leaving for the US to participate in meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), will also take up the issue of coalition support fund and spending plan with US authorities, the official said.
He said the US was interested in giving assistance for economic reforms and devolution programme, besides education, health and energy.
According to the finance ministry, Rajiv Shah highlighted priority areas for funding, achievements and expectations through USAID. The key areas were energy, agriculture, education and health.
“We are steadily moving forward and we have identified what we need and what USAID can provide,” said Dr Waqar Masood, Secretary of Economic Affairs Division during the meeting.
The ministry said Shah underscored the importance of institutional stability and the need for public-private partnership in the agricultural sector.
He pointed out that they had prepared long, medium and short-term plans. In the long term, focus will be on institutional stability while in the medium term social sector will be provided support.
Shah emphasised that “despite challenges the broader bilateral relationship has faced, civilian assistance has remained steady and USAID looks forward to continuing to work together to support mutual objectives in the future.”
According to the US embassy statement, the two sides discussed the important role of economic assistance in bilateral relationship and how US civilian assistance could create jobs and raise incomes of Pakistanis.
It claimed that the US has disbursed more than $2.6 billion in assistance to Pakistan since October 2009. The assistance also includes disbursements made before the Kerry-Lugar package. Much of this assistance has focused on developing the energy sector and increasing economic opportunity for the Pakistanis.
In the energy sector, the US has collaborated with Pakistan to finance the Tarbela Dam extension project and other major energy projects which have expanded electricity-generation capacity by over 400 megawatts, bringing electricity to over six million more poeple.
By the end of 2013, US assistance will be adding another 900 megawatts to the national grid, providing electricity to over 14 million people, according to the statement.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2012.