A $21.5 million US government programme to democratise Pakistan’s top political parties and make them responsive to constituents has all but failed due to their reluctance to adopt standards for internal democracy and transparency.
A recent report by the US Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed that the “programme activities largely stalled and it was doubtful the programme would achieve its objectives”.
In its mid-term review of the five-year programme, the US auditors also criticised the performance of the USAID Islamabad Mission. One of the reasons for poor performance was USAID’s continued policy to award contracts of programmes financed under the Kerry-Lugar-Brahman Act to US-based firms that did not have ground experience.
In this case too, the USAID-hired US-based institutions that according to the report could not hire quality guest speakers, and forums were also ‘poorly organised’.
To help a dozen top political parties become more effective and responsive to local concerns, USAID awarded the $21.5 million cooperative agreement in July 2011, to the National Democratic Institute (NDI). Former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, is the chairperson of NDI’s Board of Directors.
The NDI awarded sub-agreements to the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and to Pakistan’s Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO). The IRI, in turn, made an award to the Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR), also a Pakistani organisation. Influential Republican Senator John MacCain is the Chairman of IRI’s Board of Directors.
As of September last year, the US had obligated $14.6 million and disbursed $10.9 million for the programme, according the report. The US decision to award the contract to IRI highlights one of the serious objections on the Kerry-Lugar-Brahman Act funding. In certain cases, the money benefited the Americans more than Pakistanis.
The programme is also aimed at providing opportunities to grassroots members of the parties to participate in shaping their parties’ strategies. The stated objective was that the parties could strengthen their democratic credentials.
However, political analysts believe there is lack of internal democracy in all mainstream political parties and dynastic politics is rampant.
“Thirty-two months into implementation of the programme, none of 12 parties attended a roundtable designed to help them incorporate reforms into their party bylaws and practices,” according to the report. The political parties did not establish enough research units and policy working groups.
“The parties did not adopt standards for internal democracy and transparency,” said the report, criticising the NDI for not getting a written commitment from the party leaders at the outset of the programme.
The report said IRI also did not prepare a Pakistani research entity to be independent as planned. The NDI did not effectively manage award of sub-contract to the SPO. The NDI sidelined SPO after poor performance but continued paying it for full performance. This resulted in ineligible questioned costs amounting to $138,375, stated the report.
While criticising the USAID mission, the report stated that it did not do effective monitoring of the programme. The report said USAID claimed it conducted site visits but could not provide documents showing that it did.
The programme did make some gains like training of poll watchers and facilitation of youth and women at the grassroots levels.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2015.