Alleged misplaced priorities of Pakistani policymakers are leading to the wastage of $23 million in funds provided by the US under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act. Differences over the allocation of resources for research to promote pro-poor economic growth are likely to deny the country any long-term sustainable benefits.
An audit report of the four-year Pakistan Strategy Support Programme, carried out by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US, and background discussions with policymakers involved in designing the programme revealed how the foreign funds are being wasted.
The audit findings, in this case at least, contradict the belief that the US was forcing its will on Pakistan when it comes to using resources allocated under the five-year $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman civilian assistance package.
In 2011, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a $22.7 million contract to the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). USAID has already committed $16.2 million and disbursed $12.4 million till the end of April.
The programme was aimed at improving agriculture production, water management and irrigation, macroeconomics, markets, trade and poverty reduction with the core goal of contributing to pro-poor economic growth and enhanced food security in the country. The project was initiated at request of the then Planning Commission (PC) deputy chairman, Dr Nadeemul Haque, the OIG report said.
However, Dr Haque, who is currently in Abuja, Nigeria, says that he never sought funds for the agriculture sector.
“I had requested funds for supporting the Framework of Economic Growth (FEG),” Dr Haque said, adding that while IFPRI and USAID had asked him to sign the agreement for agriculture purposes, the funds were supposed to be given to support the FEG.”
“IFPRI and USAID deceived me as they did not provide funds to support the FEG,” he told The Express Tribune. Dr Haque said he had no role in this and the money was used according to the wish of the Americans. He added that he was against any further research in the agriculture sector.
What Dr Haque said is not supported by the project agreement, however. The former PC deputy chairman, as head of the project’s National Advisory Committee (NAC), did not approve the formulation of provincial subcommittees in the panel, the OIG report said.
Due to differences over the use of resources, funds were provided for agriculture without the involvement of the provinces, which had the ownership of the sector under the 18th constitutional amendment.
The OIG audit did find that the programme was making progress. Through two competitive rounds of applications, USAID awarded 37 research grants to Pakistani researchers – amounting to $808,091 – which helped improve their skills. The programme also financed 33 studies with $3.3 million, which will help formulate educated policies in the agriculture sector, according to the OIG report. As many as 32 workshops, conferences and seminars were held for discussions on policy research.
But insiders say the original idea was to set up a state of the art agriculture research institute. The idea was overturned by former NAC deputy chairman Haque, who supported giving grants to the youth for research.
The programme is still suffering, this time in the hands of Dr Haque’s successor, PC Deputy Chairman and Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal.
Auditors found out that Iqbal was not giving due time to the NAC meetings. He was not providing the programme the required time as well. As of April 2014, he has not approved the NAC’s work plan. According to the OIG report, although the programme was making progress, implementation weaknesses may threaten its sustainability.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2014.
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