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Posts Tagged ‘Oxfam America’

I fight corruption, and I support procurement reform.

Thursday, August 9th, 2012
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See below for a guest blog from Livingstone Sewanyana, a human rights lawyer and the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. This is the third post in our field feedback series; click here to read a post from Save the Children in Guatemala and Women Thrive in Ghana. This post was originally published on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.


My name is Livingstone Sewanyana and I am a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) in Kampala, Uganda.  I have worked in the field of human rights for 25 years at the national and international level.  I support USAID’s Implementation and Procurement Reform and I signed this letter to send a message to the U.S. Congress that if they also want to fight corruption and promote development, they must work more with the principal actors in the development process:  local people.  I have seen that development dollars, when directed at both the civil society groups and local governments, add more value and reduce the risk of waste and abuse. More support to local civil society actors means more support for campaigns against corruption. In Uganda, civil society groups like the Coalition Against Corruption and the Uganda Debt Network, among others, have spearheaded campaigns against corruption. Citizens are monitoring electoral votes to protect democracy, and Ugandan civil society has been instrumental in shining a light on development projects where there have been failures or misuse of funds. In one high profile case, when the Ministry of Health misallocated funds, some of which came from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, it was citizen groups monitoring health care delivery that discovered that funds were being misused. As Ugandan citizens, they were highly motivated, watching their fellow countrymen and women die due to lack of drugs and other related services.  It was precisely because of strong civil society groups that the Global Fund was aware of the corruption. It was civil society efforts that led to an audit, which uncovered massive misuse of funds.  Even a sophisticated operation like the Global Fund, which has in place safeguards to reduce corruption and increase transparency, needed local partners to hold their government accountable.

But the fight against corruption isn’t just about money – it is also about education, trust building and partnership.  Groups like the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative work with both civil society organizations and local governments.

On the government side, we train local leaders, judiciaries and Members of Parliament and their staff on human rights issues and legal procedures. This is especially important because Uganda adopted a decentralization policy in 1997 with an objective of bringing services nearer to the people. While local governments are closer to the people and can be very useful, they do not always have the knowledge, skills and motivation to achieve this objective. So the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative has for several years engaged local government in programs that enhance their human rights knowledge, skills in budgeting and policy formulation and monitoring, and help them set up committees to develop initiatives targeting women, the disabled, and youth.

On the civil society side, we work with citizens to ensure they know their rights and can speak out when they detect problems or rights being violated.  In order for these anti-corruption campaigns to be successful, there must be space for people to come out and blow the whistle and know that they will be protected.    Having the support of strong partners and leaders like the U.S. can go a long way in making it easier to blow the whistle.

As a human rights activist, I support initiatives like USAID Forward where the U.S. government works more directly both with my government – even though it is not perfect – and through local civil society groups like mine, because direct support to these groups reaps high rewards in creating a better Uganda.



At USAID, it’s bye bye bureaucracy, hello local competition

Friday, January 13th, 2012
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This blog post was written by MFAN Partner Porter McConnell, Policy and Advocacy Manager, Aid Effectiveness Team, Oxfam America. The post originally appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

As part of a broader reform effort to make U.S. foreign aid more effective, USAID is peeling away layers of bureaucracy, bit by bit. The latest casualty in this battle against obscure and painful regulations that get in the way of helping people help themselves? A little thing called the Source, Origin, and Nationality regulation, or S/O/N. The S/O/N led USAID to buy much of the goods it needed in the field from the U.S., and submitting to a lengthy waiver process when this was impractical or costly. After a year-long public consultation, reforms to this clunker of a rule went live this week.

Wangari Matthai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a PhD, and she went on to become a lifelong environmental activist. She passed away in 2011. Photo:

Now that USAID has used its authority under law to change the S/O/N rule, it can buy the goods it needs not just from the U.S., but also from the country where the good is being used, or another low income country with a competitive price. But wait, isn’t buying American a good thing, you ask? Well, not always. If it’s ten times as expensive and takes months to get there, it’s probably not the best use of taxpayer dollars, especially when delay could cost peoples’ lives. Also, if your goal is to help people in poor countries help themselves, you probably want to support the local small businesses that employ those people, so they can feed their families, and be less dependent on our aid, right? In that case, buying American is shooting ourselves in the foot.

Fixing the S/O/N is just one regulation peeled back in a much larger battle. There are still plenty of other senseless or antiquated regulations whose demise would make a big difference for the lives of poor people overseas, and also save U.S. taxpayer dollars. Ultimately, the best use of U.S. foreign aid dollars is to invest in genuine partnerships with poor people and their governments, the kind that will put us out of the aid business for good. But make no mistake: this one little reform will make a big difference for that small business in Kenya that gets the USAID contract, and can hire more Kenyans, who can send their kids to school. Who knows, maybe one of those kids will grow up to be the next Wangari Maathai or John Githongo.


Stuck in the bottom of your stocking

Monday, January 9th, 2012
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This blog post was written by MFAN Partner Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America. The post originally appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

Most people probably weren’t paying attention to the Washington Post business page on Dec 25. (Myself, I was trying to corral two toddlers and navigate a sea of legos and torn paper). But for people in poor countries who are trying to lead their societies out of poverty, Christmas day brought good news: USAID is changing the way it works to get closer to the people it’s trying to help.

Since Administrator Rajiv Shah came on board, USAID has been trying to rebuild itself so it can build stronger partnerships with poor countries and their people. It’s based in the reality of good development, which is that development isn’t something done by USAID—development is done by poor people and poor countries themselves. In order to be a better partner, USAID needs to get closer to poor people to know better what they actually need and want. That means having more USAID people talking and working directly with people in poor countries.

Dy Yong keeps the books for the rice Bank Committee so that everybody can see how it run and maintained at the Rice cooperative in Takom village, Battambang. The rice store committee has many members and they introduce villagers to the principles of trading rice to give them security at a much reduced rate than the market offers. Photo by Jim Holmes/Oxfam

This isn’t a new idea; it’s called “partnership,” and the hard-working people at USAID have been trying to do it since the agency was created 50 years ago—with varying degrees of success. The problem is that budget cuts in the 90’s gutted the agency’s ability to do this well. Budget cutters defined “efficiency” as more dollars managed by fewer people, rather than judging the depth and effectiveness of USAID’s partnerships. As a result, things deteriorated to the point where USAID contracting officers were each managing five times the amount of money that federal guidelines said they should. By necessity, USAID’s business model was reduced to “shoveling money out the door” rather than getting to know countries, communities, leaders, and their needs.

Increasingly, to manage this, USAID starting relying on “intermediaries”; often well-meaning partners like big NGOs and contractors that could manage the money for them. US-based NGOs and contractors each have distinct roles and contributions to make to development. But in this case, the way they were used was both a substitute for USAID expanding its own knowledge and expertise, as well as an impediment to change leaders in poor countries being able to tell the US government what they really needed.

Administrator Shah is trying to change that. The Dec 25 Washington Post article unveiled his effort to get USAID back to a better business model, by cutting out the middlemen and putting more emphasis on building relationships directly with the people who are making development happen in their own countries. These are exactly the kind of people that the United States wants on our side: not because of charity or because they necessarily like us, but because they want the same things we do: a world that can fight back against problems like poverty, injustice, and disease.

These reforms have a rather bureaucratic sounding name: “Implementation and Procurement Reform.” But what they mean in practice is that USAID is making an effort to get back on the ground to work more closely with the people it’s trying to help. That means better value for American taxpayers, more power for change leaders in poor countries, and ultimately better progress in the fight against poverty.

This week, USAID takes on the blurry line between development and democracy

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011
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This blog post from Porter McConnell, policy and advocacy manager for aid effectiveness, first appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

Once in a while, the development and democracy communities have a “Eureka” moment:

  • Development types are realizing that poverty + stuff does not = development. Development is a relationship that we can support; it’s not a set of items that poor countries are lacking.
  • Democracy types are realizing there’s no way to build country systems short of actually using them. Developing country governments are like muscles:  if the U.S. and other donors leave them to atrophy because we can’t “trust” them, they will never become strong.

In part because of the Arab Spring, the democracy and development communities are seeing anew that their fates are inextricably linked. This week, USAID is holding a conference called Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance 2.0. Speakers from USAID Administrator Raj Shah to Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment are calling for better integration of U.S. development and democracy efforts.

It’s about time:  in the last 10 years, the pendulum of donor opinion has swung from excluding governments entirely and funding civil society to focusing entirely on supporting governments and downplaying the importance of civil society. Heading into the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan this fall, the development community needs to avoid the temptation to engage in these wild pendulum swings. Both government and civil society have to be engaged in order to see any lasting development impact.

Development at its core is about the compact between people and their governments. U.S. programming, whether it’s development or democracy, needs to keep that compact front and center. I’ll give you a recent example from Ecuador:  the EC announced it was funding the Ministry of Education directly to implement its ten-year national education plan. Local civil society had to convince the EC to fund civil society oversight too, to hold the government accountable to the plan. If the EC had had the compact in mind, they would have sought from the start to support Ecuador’s education plan in a way that strengthened that critical relationship between people and their governments.

That’s not always easy to do. For civil society to play a “watchdog” role, they need the space to operate without government crackdowns. Cambodia is a test case of this right now. If the Cambodia NGO law that’s being discussed right now becomes law, exercising healthy oversight over the Cambodian government will effectively become illegal. Human Rights Watch and Freedom House are speaking out, but many of the development groups are staying silent. Development groups have historically stayed out of the fray when civil society space is threatened. They reason that they can be more useful addressing economic and social rights by maintaining relationships with the government. The problem is, under the proposed NGO law, small community-based organizations may find it difficult to continue current operations, and flagship U.S. programs like Feed the Future won’t have any implementers. Development NGOs simply cannot afford to shy away from talking about civil society space. That’s why Oxfam, and now Save the Children and CARE, are speaking out.

But why should democracy groups care if their development colleagues speak out? It turns out that one of the best ways to make progress on governance is through development programs, where “democracy” is not the central goal of the program. One oft-cited example of this is adaptation to climate change, where some governments have given their blessing to multi-stakeholder bodies because the frame is climate, not governance. Democracy, human rights, and governance groups would do well to engage development colleagues, and their resources, in the broader effort to increase accountability.

For more about what the future holds, check out video coverage of the Tuesday panel on “Integrating Democracy, Human Rights & Governance across All Development Goals”, featuring Oxfam America Vice President Paul O’Brien.


Preview of Secretary Clinton’s OECD Speech on Development

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
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See below for a guest post from Greg Adams, director of Oxfam America’s Aid Reform Initiative.

Clinton preaches development—are rich countries listening?

As the governments of rich countries scramble to plug their budget holes, it’s been little surprise that poor people are getting smacked with the brunt of the cuts.  (Case in point, the depressing news that the G8 have cooked the books to make it look like they’ve spent more on fighting poverty than they really have.)  But what’s more depressing is the effort to get out of commitments that don’t cost any money.  This November, the OECD will be reviewing its efforts to make rich country aid dollars more effective.  The early data shows that they’ve fallen down on the job—foreign aid is still too opaque, too unpredictable, and too driven by donor desires, rather than the needs of poor people.  But rather than recommit to these cheap but effective policy reforms, the OECD looks like it might be giving up.

Secretary Clinton is scheduled to speak today at the OECD’s 50th Anniversary celebration.  Her speech gives her the opportunity to push OECD countries in the right direction.  We expect the Secretary to emphasize “Domestic Resource Mobilization”—the idea that poor countries themselves have to do more work to make sure that their local assets (taxes, natural resource revenue, etc) are best invested in advancing development.  This is fertile ground; there is a lot more that can be done to better employ funds that are already available and under control of poor countries, without rich country interference.  But we hope she doesn’t leave out what rich countries need to be doing to make this easier for poor countries.  Two big things she should stress:

  • Donor aid needs to be more predictable and transparent.  Too often, we whipsaw poor countries around with our aid, making it hard for them to plan.  Investors, whether public sector or private sector, rely on information to make their investments.  When either the present or future is cloudy, investors keep their money in their wallet rather than spending it.
  • Citizens in poor countries need more information—and more say—over how resources are generated and spent.  The U.S. has been a leader on this.  The U.S. government has its foreign aid “dashboard” which is a first step in providing easily accessible information about what the U.S. is spending.  And Congress last year passed sweeping legislation that would require oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose deals that they make with governments, intended to make it easier for citizens to follow the money and demand it be spent for their benefit.

The Obama Administration has been trying to remake the OECD as a force for global development.  The reaction to Clinton’s speech tomorrow could be an important test of how well this effort is going.  Will OECD member countries commit to continuing their aid effectiveness work?  Or will they look for the new flavor of the day?  Stay tuned . . .