Activists urge local partnerships for global aid

By jlee

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Washington, DC— International relief and development organization Oxfam America joined sixteen high profile anti-corruption and human rights activists today to call on the US Congress to support crucial reforms at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to reduce wasteful contracts in favor of direct partnerships between the US Government and local organizations.

In an open letter to Congress that appeared in today’s Roll Call and CQ Daily ahead of the House Foreign Affairs markup, the activists urged Congress to oppose earmarks and set-asides for special interests that cost both dollars and lives.

“As leaders and activists fighting corruption and defending human rights in our home countries, we often risk our lives to change our countries for the better,” said the letter signed by John Githongo, CEO of the Inuka Kenya Trust, Nader Nadery, Chairman, Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, and Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, among others. “The United States can be our partner by directly supporting our efforts to lead change on the ground.”

USAID recently began to prioritize “Implementation and Procurement Reform,” sending more resources directly to recipient governments, businesses and organizations, while shifting away from large, inflexible contracts that historically bypass local governments and organizations. USAID is also beginning to hire local organizations and businesses to do development work, spending money through local country governments and financing civil society watchdog groups to ensure the funds are well spent. This long-term approach will bring about lasting change and long-term impact in the fight against poverty.

“USAID’s plan to move toward providing assistance directly to governments and civil society groups can actually help root out corruption at its core and achieve better development results,” said Paul O’Brien, vice-president for policy and campaigns at Oxfam America. “This is a small portion of assistance—less than a third of USAID’s resources— but this shift can have a huge impact on fighting corruption.  What remains to be seen, however, is if Congress is going to stand with the people on the frontlines of the fight against corruption or side with entrenched special interests.”

“We know that as members of Congress you want to “follow the money” to protect taxpayer dollars,” said the activists in the published letter. “However, USAID’s overreliance on contractors often makes it more difficult for us to follow the money.”