Peacekeeping: Let's Kill All the Auditors

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March 4, 2006: Afghanistan may be a poor country, and it's population poorly educated. But they want schools, and are smart enough to see they are getting screwed around by the foreign NGOs that come in to build schools for them. For example, NGOs spend several hundred thousand dollars to build a school, with most of the money going to foreign technical advisors, security and the like. The Afghans could build the schools, using local contractors, for about $40,000 each. The NGOs contend that if the Afghans were given the money to do this, a lot of it would disappear due to corruption. That's probably true in many cases, and even Afghans will admit this. But there has to be some kind of compromise, perhaps involving foreign auditors. Some developing countries have tried that, and often found that the foreign auditors needed security details. Ratting out locals for stealing aid money often produced a violent, sometimes fatal, reaction, among local politicians and notables.

The cost of foreign experts has long been a contentious issue with aid recipients. Some of the more innovative NGOs have tried to work out compromise plans, that deal with corruption, but cut down on the portion of the money going to pay expensive foreigners. That is often not popular with some donor countries, who only get generous when they know that a lot of the money is repatriated by hiring its citizens to do a lot of the work.

Then there is the morale problem. There are often local technical and professional people who can do a lot of the work the imported foreigners do, and at a fraction of the cost. The local civil engineers and programmers resent being unemployed, while a foreigner is brought in to work at five times (or more) the local rate. Often, the locals know they could do a better job than the foreigner, because the local guy speaks the language and knows the customs. Moreover, the foreign guy sometimes went to the same universities the imported foreigners attended.

Finally, even the work done by foreigners cannot completely escape the corruption. Sometimes the locals will simply scam the NGOs, loot their work site, or come in and practice a little old fashioned extortion. Worst of all, this issue is becoming more of a sore point for recipient nations. People are getting angry, and putting more heat on the NGOs.

 


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