The USAID’s Irregular And Controversial Funding – OpEd
By Aziz Patwary
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the largest donor agency in the United States of America (USA). The independent agency is responsible for administering civilian foreign aid in foreign countries allocated by the US government. Since its inception in the 1960s, USAID is ever expanding and currently has missions worldwide. It also has a gigantic budget of USD 27 billion. Even though USAID is perceived to be a humanitarian agency representing the US and its citizen, it seems it has questionable moral issues within itself. The latest letter from House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) also suggests the same.
HFAC’s Letter to USAID
On January 24th, 2023, the Chairman of HFAC, Congressman Michael T. McCaul sent a letter to the USAID administrator, Samantha Power to investigate one of its grantees, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). In the letter, Congressman McCaul expressed his deep concern over USAID’s funding to HHRD. McCaul alleged that his office received ‘credible allegations’ against HHRD that the Non-Profit has alleged ties with the designated terrorist organization and terror financing. The letter also said that HFAC also sent USAID the information regarding HHRD eight months ago, but USAID hardly took any initiative to resolve the matter. McCaul urged the USAID to initiate an investigation into the matter.
Further analyses suggest that HHRD is alleged to have ties with Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) in Pakistan- a banned organization in the US that has ‘alleged’ ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Through cooperation with several organizations, HHRD is also alleged to have connections with Jamat-e-Islami- a South Asia-based- far-right organization.
In the letter, McCaul also expressed his concern over USAID’s gross negligence in handling the matter.
Later in the media, McCaul also expressed his frustration over USAID’s refusal to investigate.
Apart from the latest allegation, USAID also has found itself in many controversies over the last 60 years.
USAID and History of Controversy
In Afghanistan, 40% of the USAID fund was returned to donor countries and to its crony corporates. Only big contractors with connections with USAID were awarded the reconstruction projects. And in the name of consultancy and corporate fees, these contractors earned 40% of the total fund.
The Bechtel group controversy in 2003 also revealed that USAID indulged in irregularities in Iraq’s reconstruction process. Bechtel was awarded a reconstruction project to repair Iraq’s power, water, and sewer systems worth USD 680 million. Watchdog groups and democrats complained about the bidding process. Apart from Bechtel, a handful of well-connected corporates won the bidding in Iraq reconstruction projects.
Apart from irregularities, USAID also used its funds and mission to advance the US strategic interest in Venezuela and Bolivia in the 2000s. USAID used its fund to infiltrate into civil societies of these countries. It also funded the opposition to topple the existing government there. Such subversive funding did not go unnoticed and in 2012, Bolivia expelled USAID for meddling with domestic affairs. Other countries in Latin America that had the same bitter experience as Bolivia and Venezuela also called for expelling this humanitarian agency.
Not only Latin America, USAID’s issues also reached Palestine. In 2013, USAID allegedly used its fund to promote the agenda of the ‘normalization of Israel’. Along with its EU partners, USAID launched a scheme titled ‘Partners for Peace Program’ that intended to foster cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli civil societies. USAID also placed a condition that the Palestinian civil societies must renounce terrorism. The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations’ Network, a body representing 135 NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip protested against such political manipulation.
However, USAID formally left Palestine in January 2019 in accordance with the new Anti-Terrorism law. USAID’s withdrawal from Palestine leaving unfinished reconstruction works only frustrated the Palestinians.
It seems the USAID- an independent donor agency often forgets its donor responsibilities and humanitarian morals. History suggests that quite often the agency serves the interests of ruling elite, and its cronies resulting in irregularities and subversions. It often becomes a vehicle for the US administration to impose its agenda on the world. Primorac and Roberts’s analysis also suggests the same. According to them, Biden Administration is using USAID to fund abortion, gender and identity ideology, and Climate alarmism.
The latest HHRD allegation and Congressman McCaul’s letter also suggested that USAID’s monitoring process has clumsiness and accountability issues.
The allegations against HHRD are still ‘complaint’ only. Launching an investigation should be a routine job in this regard. The USAID should not resort to ‘dilly-dallying’ in this matter. Such delaying and refusal will only create more skepticism and will raise more questions about USAID’s integrity. Hence, the agency should launch an investigation and clear the allegations. Considering the history of controversies, and the latest allegation letter, USAID’s irregularities, controversies, and lack of monitoring are unfortunate. And lastly, USAID should create better mechanisms, and institutional vision, to go beyond the allegations.
Aziz Patwary is a British-Bangladeshi and a former employee of World Bank