By ILYA GRIDNEFF
AUSTRALIAN aid agency, AusAID, is afflicted with problems of transparency, accountability and a lack of communication capacity, an audit has found.
High staff turnover within the agency was another concern that may have even hindered responses to Papua New Guinea’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report stated.
AusAID represented 83 % of Australia’s annual A$3.8 billion aid budget, spending A$3.2 billion a year on programmes in the Pacific, Asia, Latin America and Africa, with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia being the largest recipients of aid.
Jenny Hayward-Jones, of the Lowy Institute’s Melanesia Programme, said such a widespread programme was poor use of taxpayers’ money.
“The interest in Africa and Latin America of late is really motivated by Australia’s desire to be elected to the UN Security Council,” she said.
Australia should focus on specific countries in the Asia-Pacific region or Southeast Asia, she said.
The ANAO gave AusAID a tick of approval for handling the growth of its aid programme “in a way that supports delivery of effective aid”.
But the 180-page report, tabled in federal parliament on Nov 26, found “AusAID faces considerable management challenges amidst ongoing programme growth”.
The report stated that about 46% of AusAID budgets went to “technical assistance”, twice the average of other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Technical assistance covers administration costs and salaries for experts, advisers or consultants for “capacity building” in a range of sectors.
But Australia had “a tendency to rely too much” on technical assistance while not offering local staff greater responsibilities, the report found.
While promoting greater transparency and accountability through good governance programmes in countries like PNG, AusAID itself struggled with the concepts.
“AusAID’s approached to classifying costs is not in line with conventional practice and reduced the transparency of aid programme expenditure, and the agency’s accountability for costs that it controls,” the report stated.
Another hurdle was communication, with the report saying AusAID had “not yet achieved effective internal collaboration”.
“For two of the main posts, only 6% of Australian public servant staff in Honiara, and only 8% in Port Moresby, agreed communication between different areas of AusAID was effective.”
Dissatisfaction was due to a “lack of understanding between Canberra and posts, and insufficient or ineffective communication from the executive and other senior management”.
Countries and agencies working with AusAID “consistently” listed high levels of staff turnover as a “dominant concern” and “a long-term problem”, reducing programme effectiveness.
An AusAID 2007 review of the Timor Lesta aid programme found staff turnover in Canberra was a major deficiency, while AusAID’s 2005 evaluation of the PNG National HIV/AIDS support project found “rapid turnover of AusAID personnel responsible for the activity may have hindered timely responses to problems”.
Australia’s aid programme had been increased by 42% since 2004-05 and was likely to double in size by 2016 with a projected A$8 billion spent a year.
AID/WATCH spokesman Gary Lee said that the important issue was the quality of aid, not quantity.
“AusAID say they are increasing their aid commitment but who is that money reaching?
“What is the actual impact of that money on the ground and who is having a say over how the aid money is being distributed?” he asked. – AAP