31 October 2014

Chart of the Day: Major Gaps in Ebola Funding Data

Erin Hohlfelder and Anu Dathan of the ONE Campaign put together this handy scorecard to show donor spending and commitments for the Ebola crisis. What stands out are all the giant question marks for budget sources and additional budget allocations. What does this mean? There needs to be a standard for reporting and recording donor spending.

Hohlfelder and Dathan's analysis:
This is most clearly illustrated in the case of the US. Based on financial commitments alone, the US appears to have given relatively far less than its peers as a share of its GNI. In reality, of course, American military and other in-kind contributions valued at nearly $1 billion, in addition to conventional financial commitments, mean the US has been leading the response. A holistic view—while still to some degree inevitably ‘apples to oranges’—allows us to make different kinds of judgments.

Completing this data is not some dry accounting exercise. If we don’t know what’s really promised, and if it is not adequately coordinated, no one can adequately match the supply of resources to needs on the ground. That means responses cannot be properly resourced, gaps in supply cannot be easily identified, and time lags will result in more lives lost.

30 October 2014

Exposed: USAID watchdog's watered-down audits

So it looks like the report from USAID’s Office of the Inspector General, its internal watchdog, have been significatly edited over the years to not include some of the most critical findings. That is according to a Washington Post report published last week. It hints that the findings, uncovered by the newspaper and the Senate, are behind acting inspector general Michael G. Carroll's decision to withdraw his nomination to be the permanent inspector general, after waiting for 16 months.

Comparing draft versions of audits against what was finally published showed significant edits to negative references.
The Post obtained draft versions of 12 audits by the inspector general’s office, covering projects from the Caribbean to Pakistan to the Republic of Georgia between 2011 and 2013. The drafts are confidential and rarely become public. The Post compared the drafts with the final reports published by the inspector general’s office and interviewed former and current employees. E-mails and other internal records also were reviewed.

The Post tracked changes in the language that auditors used to describe USAID and its mission offices. The analysis found that more than 400 negative references were removed from the audits between the draft and final versions.

In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.
One example of this happening comes from Pakistan:
For example, in October 2010, USAID launched a program to reduce waste and fraud in the nearly $1 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan. USAID hired three contractors to help monitor the spending and train Pakistanis to manage the money.

In a draft audit of the program written in 2012, auditors found that $32 million of the program’s $44 million budget went to “fringe benefits, consultants and travel.” Auditors also found that one contractor hired to provide training billed the agency $954,000 for “expenses such as salaries, fringe benefits, and travel” but did not train anyone for the 16 months of the contract.

One key section of the audit was titled “Program Is Not Being Efficiently or Effectively Implemented.” The section detailed how the USAID mission office in Pakistan increased spending on the project, even though there were few or no reports documenting whether the program was working.

Those findings and that section were removed from the draft report, along with other negative findings, and placed in a confidential management letter. A finding that the auditors were not provided with detailed records of the spending was also placed in the management letter. It was sent to the USAID mission director in Pakistan on Sept. 30, 2012 — the day the final audit was publicly released by the inspector general’s office.

The inspector general defended the changes, saying in a letter to Coburn that the auditor’s overall assertion that the program was ineffective could not be supported by evidence of “cause, and effect.”
It is worth reading the article in full to understand all the claims made. In the end, there are some serious questions that the USAID’s Office of the Inspector General needs to answer. One good example appears to be the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The more focused watchdog has issued a series of reports outlining various problems with the US-led effort in Afghanistan. Another good example is the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which issues reports scoring programs carried out by the UK's Department for International Development.

29 October 2014

Human Rights Watch gets the documentary treatment

...and it's pretty good.

E-Team follows some of the staff Human Rights Watch deploys for ongoing crises. The teams go to civil-war Syria and Libya to document human rights abuses carried out by the respective regimes and Libyan rebels. The audience meets four HRW staffers to learn about their lives and activism. 

I found it to be a fascinating view into the inner workers of the organization. A lot is not shared about HRW, but a lot is revealed about it and the people who work for the rights body. The people featured come out as heroes, but there are glimpses into the trade-offs they make and challenges to activism. 

It is streaming on Netflix right now and well worth watching if you have an interest in HRW and/or human rights documentation.

28 October 2014

The anti-voluntourism calls just got a bit louder

Just when it seemed like the voluntourism debated stalled, in comes Mark Watson and his organization Tourism Concern. He is the latest to argue the problem with unskilled international volunteering. From his interview with the Independent:
"Volunteers often have unfulfilling and disappointing experiences; volunteer placements can prevent local workers from getting much-needed jobs; hard-pressed institutions waste time looking after them and money upgrading facilities; and abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to the visitors, who increase their trauma by disappearing back home after a few weeks,” Mr Watson said. 
“We feel that there are many opportunities for people to undertake meaningful volunteering in their own community, where they will receive proper training, support and supervision – without the need to pay a tour operator for the privilege. In the majority of cases people would be far better (and have a more rewarding experience) volunteering at home and spending their money on travelling and staying in places listed in our Ethical Travel Guide,” he added.
I tend to fall in with the group that is mostly pessimistic about voluntourism. However, people want to travel to see the world and do something good in the process. Rather than shun such good intentions, the challenge for the voluntourism industry is to responsibly channel such desires. The challenge for news media is to responsibly cover the industry.

Who can translate this dense DevSpeak?

I have to admit that I gave up pretty quickly when reading about the World Bank's "100% citizen feedback agenda," described by for Integrity Action CEO Fredrik Galtung. His blog post is detailed to the point that it is hard to understand what the World Bank is actually doing. By giving up so early, I missed this gem of a paragraph:
A feedback system that uses the fix-rate as a KPI places the emphasis on being results oriented and delivering solutions, rather than simply identifying or reporting problems. As such, it will contribute to improving service delivery and development outcomes. A rising fix-rate will improve public trust in government and public office holders, improve the effectiveness of public services and assist policy makers in identifying the policy-level changes that both reduce the incidence of problems and further improve fix-rates.
I think Tobias over at Aidnography had it right with his reaction:
Seriously...I can hardly understand this paragraph because it is an assemblage of empty, neoliberal business- and policy-speak. And remember: This only on the program level, so this is obviously not '100%' of what the Bank does-the Bank as institution will hardly become more open or responsive in this process-some managers in some programs may if they have sorted out their type As, Bs & Cs...
I'd appreciate any help in translating the DevSpeak in the selected paragraph and the whole post. The basic idea makes sense, especially when articulated by World Bank president Jim Kim, but the analysis is above my paygrade. 

Some clarity amid the murky Ebola funding/spending numbers

As with any crisis, the question of how much is spent by whom comes to the forefront. It is usually the case that the answers are not immediately apparent. Enter Amanda Glassman of the Center for Global Development. She pulled together what information she could find on how the world is responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

The big discrepancy is what UN OCHA’s Financial Tracking service does not capture. This chart she made shows what is in the OCHA totals and what is not. Her findings:

Glassman uses problematic data to show that this needs to be cleaned up. She writes:
The lack of aid accountability in the aftermath of a crisis is an ongoing problem for the development community. The amount of aid given in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake is still difficult to quantify, and tracing US government funding down to the subcontractor remains next to impossible. A public health emergency such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa faces largely similar risks when inflows of money are difficult to trace. Aid may be allocated inefficiently; contractors and subcontractors will not be held accountable for outcomes. Governments that already face the pressures of managing a developing economy often lack the infrastructure to manage these large inflows of cash. The onus for accountability therefore ought to be on the donors, not the recipient country governments that are in the midst of coping with an evolving emergency.

Releasing comprehensive, regular updates to the OCHA database would be a good first step, and should be considered a priority for all donors—if only to be sure that your press releases are accurate. But the UN OCHA database also needs to provide more detail about the allocation and use of funding to be most useful. Smarter allocation and greater accountability and evaluation are only possible if exact uses, locations, and recipients are known.
See her full post and analysis here

24 October 2014

Quote of the Day: Western hijacking of #BringBackOurGirls

From Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi, in Al Jazeera:
the arrogance behind the actions of many Western do-gooders tends to undermine the significance of local agency; the reality that African problems will never be solved without the active involvement and commitment of Africans themselves, and that external help - in the form of funding or publicity - will only be effective when hitched to expressions of home-grown effort, within the context of a clear understanding of everything that's at stake.

For example, there's a Nigerian Bring Back Our Girls movement that has daily gathered at a public square in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, since the end of April, and have kept up the pressure on the government long after the celebrity hijackers strayed away. Those are the real heroes, and the ones to whom the international celebrity backers should be seeking guidance from as to how to intervene.
Read his entire piece here.

22 October 2014

In Swaziland, "the path to freedom goes through prison"

In Swaziland, freedom of speech does not exist. Criticize the King or expose the government and prison is possible. That is what happened to Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and Bheki Makhubu, journalist and editor of the Nation magazine, earlier this year. The two soon stand trial to appeal their two year prison sentences. The above video brings attention to the injustice faced by the two men.

"When freedom is taken away, it becomes the onerous and supreme duty of men to reclaim it from the oppressor. For giving up freedom is tantamount to giving away man’s right to dignity. One can have no dignity without his or her freedom. Without our freedom we are a people without a soul," said Maseko in a July 2014 Statement from the Dock.

"The path to freedom goes through prison, but the triumph of justice over evil is inevitable. Nothing this Court can do will shake me from my commitment to simple truth and simple justice."

21 October 2014

San Antonio puts a face on 'overhead'

Nonprofits are hitting back against the overhead fetish. Next year will see a bunch of nonprofit leaders march about overhead from Maine to Massachusetts. Meanwhile, the above video from the San Antonio Nonprofit Council is meant to show why 'overhead' is a necessary investment for nonprofits to operate.

20 October 2014

The Ebola outbreak brings out the worst in people

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its importation to parts of the US and Europe has brought back some of the worst conceptions of the continent. Fears of Ebola, misinformation, fear of the other and racism all meld together causing ridiculous results like Syracuse disinviting a reporter from delivering remarks because he was in Liberia. That is one of what is now unfortunately many stories of people facing bans and discrimination due to Ebola.

An AP report from this weekend says "Africa's image takes a hit" because of the outbreak. An excerpt:

"It speaks to a whole discourse about the danger of Africa," said Michael Jennings, a senior lecturer in international development at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

He cited the recent decision of a British school to postpone a visit by a teacher from the West African country of Ghana after parents expressed concern about the Ebola virus. Ghana does not border the hard-hit nations and has not reported any cases of the disease.

Jennings said fearful people don't necessarily react in a rational way and the message of some comments on social media in Britain is: "Why don't we just stop everyone in West Africa from coming?"

Rather than read the article, just skip to the comments section to see what people think. Nigerian journalist Chika Oduah collected some of the reactions to the article. In short, they are terrible and essential affirm the thesis of the AP story. Here are a few of the gems Chika shared via Facebook.
"I won't go near a W. African....nor will I touch them. If the above-named complainers don't like it..TOO BAD! For God's sake..the fear people feel is NOT UNFOUNDED! It is real...it is normal...it is correct...and perfectly acceptable."

"Unfortunately Africa IS a hotbed of disease, poverty and tribal fighting. We DO have aright to protect ourselves."

"[Africa is a ] Horrible third world country."

"Africa has always been viewed as a toilet. So I doubt it's image has been damaged much."

"Africa's image??? Is that some kind of joke? Pick your program; Social reform, education, corruption management, ecological protection, economic reform, medical care,.....You name it and those people have screwed it up. Ebola may be a serious problem but I don't think Africa's image can get any worse than it already is."

"Africa is a basket case. You have to wonder why?"

"The image of Africa I had before hasn't changed... it's still a giant S* hole!"

"Look, Africa is a shait hole and no Libtvrd Media white-wash is ever going to convince most people otherwise. There are NO US interests, strategic military or otherwise, in that blighted region. Moreover, vast areas are Muslim and incubators for white and Christian hating Muslim terror. The Europeans, who F ed up Africa with their Colonialism, are the ones who OWE Africa something, not the USA. Just because we have this 9% minority whose black ancestors came from Africa as much a 300 years ago doesn't give the USA an obligation. Neither does the MISTAKE of electing a half-Kenyan, who's other half is white Libtvrd IDIOT, as US President."

"Oh yeah.. It was Ebola that changed my mind to think Africa is a festering, fly infested steaming pile of feces of a continent."

"I cannot think of any export or anything positive coming out of Africa.Only things I can think of are HIV/AIDs, Ebola, and Obama."

"Africa the backward dark continent that has contributed nothing to society."

"I never got the memo those [African] mud hut dwellers eating bush meat had been elevated."

"OLD stereotypes? They eat bats and monkies right NOW!! Africa IS full of aids and malaria and disentary. That is not a stereotype it is a fact."

"Western Africans were slaves for a reason. Come on - these people are just trash."

"Africa's image? I've always thought that place was a hell hole. Now it's been confirmed."

"Africas image took a hit a long time ago! Over population,AIDS and dirt,filth everywhere. They dont even use toilets. They go where and when they please!"

How much of a problem is inequality in East Africa? How can it be reduced?

A video from Ben Taylor (aka @mtega) shows the distribution of wealth in the three East African countries. It comes at no surprise that the top 1% have a lot and there is little left for everyone else. He ends the video with a series of questions, but it is rather obvious that there are some issues to deal with when the 6 individuals have as much wealth as the bottom 50%.

How can it be dealt with? Not everybody agrees. Claire Melamed of the Overseas Development Institute says the attention has to be placed on the poor in order to reduce inequality. She writes in Aeon:

The mainstream narrative – about the runaway incomes of the richest people in the richest countries, the absurdities of boardroom pay and tax avoidance and so on – might prick our sense of fairness, but it has only a limited amount to offer the analysis and treatment of extreme poverty. The second, lesser known, inequality story is about the things that keep people poor. This story offers fertile ground for the coalitions and policy agendas that can actually address both poverty and inequality.

These stories are, of course, linked. Concentrations of income and opportunity at the very top might well make progress at the very bottom harder, in some cases – for political, economic or social reasons. And more money, generated by taxing the super-rich, would give more options to those governments that do want to act.

But at present too much analysis and attention in the development sector is given to the first story. This has led to a situation where people want to believe that inequality is important, but they don’t quite know why. Answering that question requires us to grapple with the second type of inequality. And that, in turn, requires better information.
At present, the empirical foundations of our inequality debates are far too weak. Perhaps that is the most basic inequality of all: between those of us who are counted, and those of us who are not.
Oxfam's Duncan Green disagrees arguing that both the top and bottom need to be addressed at the same time. He writes:
Recovering and strengthening the sense of social responsibility of the powerful is important, as is attacking the chronic poverty of the people at the bottom of the heap – why can’t they be mutually reinforcing? At the top, the effort includes more and fairer redistribution through taxation, but also thinking about ‘predistribution’ – some economic models pile up inequality by, for example, favouring capital intensive sectors, whereas others generate more benefits to the poor by creating jobs or involving small farmers in value chains. Then there’s the need for constraints on elite power and political capture – when was the last time a development organization talked about the rules governing lobbying or financing political campaigns, North or South? Put them all together and the overall task becomes something like supporting the strengthening of the social contract between (all) citizens and the state.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the chronic poverty agenda is really important (that’s why I’m on the advisory board of the Chronic Poverty Action Network). But I felt their most recent Chronic Poverty report lost the plot a bit on the SDGs: instead of arguing that chronic poverty is what is left when all the relatively easily reducable poverty has been tackled, and should thus be at the core of ‘getting to zero’ in the post 2015 process, the report went off at a tangent about what to do about people who are not chronically poor, but ‘churn’ in and out of poverty over the course of a year. That’s interesting and important, but people who churn are by definition, not the chronic (i.e. permanent) poor.

So within ODI, Claire Melamed (who runs the team on growth, poverty and inequality, but mainly does post 2015 stuff) is advocating putting chronic poverty at the heart of the SDGs, while the actual chronic poverty people are talking about something else. And anyway, I disagree with both of them, because we should be addressing both the top and bottom of the inequality equation. Feels like time for a poll (if only to put Tim Gore out of his misery for getting the ‘wrong’ answer on the last one).
Who is right? I think Duncan makes a good point and am curious to hear if Claire agrees. Where there is no disagreement is on the point that wealth and income inequality is a problem in need of solving.