Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Daily Nation: "UNDP’s shortcomings a reflection of a wider failure within the UN system"


by Rasna Warah  

Those who have been reading this column will know that I have for some time been advocating for a more thorough and independent evaluation of the United Nations and its various programmes and projects.
The reason I believe this is necessary is because few UN agencies have actively been monitoring or evaluating the work they do and its impact, with the result that millions of taxpayer dollars are simply unaccounted for, pilfered or wasted.
Corruption and mismanagement are often worst in the poorest and neediest countries, particularly those experiencing civil strife. In many countries, including Iraq, Rwanda, the DRC and Haiti, UN failures have had disastrous – and often fatal – results.
Meanwhile, no one is questioning why the UN Security Council, the “peacemaking” organ of the UN, comprises countries that are the leading suppliers of arms to the world.
It is, therefore, heartening to see that the United Nations Development Programme, the UN’s flagship anti-poverty agency that has offices in 177 countries and territories around the world, has not only conducted an evaluation of its projects and activities, but has made the findings public.
The decision to go public is particularly praiseworthy, considering that the report’s findings do not paint a pretty picture of its efforts to reduce poverty around the globe.
This could be due to the fact that apart from UNDP’s own Office of Evaluation, the team that prepared the report comprised external consultants and an advisory panel of experts.
The use of external experts is in itself quite unusual, as the UN is prone to evaluating itself using its own staff, a practice that has seen the worst cases of mismanagement and fraud conveniently swept under the carpet.
Key donors make assessments about which agencies to fund based on claims made in these internal evaluations, which are likely to be flawed.
According to the evaluation report which was ordered in 2009 by UNDP’s executive board and released to the public last month, only about half of UNDP’s projects have had significant outcomes and many have “only remote connections with poverty”.
After spending more than $8.5 billion on anti-poverty activities between 2004 and 2011, the organisation has only “limited ability. . . to demonstrate whether its poverty reduction activities have contributed to any significant change in the lives of the people it is trying to help”.
The report notes that some UNDP national offices are pursuing too many dispersed and small-scale projects that not only have little impact but add to unnecessary costs.
Moreover, many projects are not sustainable as sustainability is “rarely considered in detail as part of the selection and design process”. These problems are not unique to UNDP; they reflect a wider failure within the entire UN system.
Whether a UN agency, or aid agencies in general, actually reduce poverty, is, of course, debatable. Countless studies have shown that aid has little impact on poverty reduction, and in many cases, actually impoverishes people further.
In many African countries, aid substitutes efforts to improve domestic revenue collection or to grow and improve local industries.
In Somalia, aid became part and parcel of the war economy. It is no coincidence that the most aid-dependant countries are also the poorest.
Aid creates crippling dependency. It saps local initiative. It often encourages corruption, as governments and ministries pilfer aid at the expense of their own people. The impact of aid, as the UNDP report shows, is often not assessed, either by the donors or the implementing agencies. This leaves a lot of room for corruption.
Fortunately, an increasing number of donors are demanding more accountability in the way their aid is disbursed. This is partly prompted by a shrinking European economy where citizens are having to bear the burden of harsh austerity measures and are calling for a halt to overseas assistance.

Donor countries are under pressure from their own populations to prove that the aid they have allocated to poor countries is worth it.
The UNDP findings will, hopefully, make donors more selective in choosing the agencies they wish to continue supporting.

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