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Yesterday, the U.S. Congress struck a blow against corruption abroad when Chair of the Foreign Ops Appropriations Subcommittee Nita Lowey (D-NY) removed all non-military and non-humanitarian aid to Afghanistan from the FY11 budget. She claimed:

I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords, and terrorists. Furthermore, the government of Afghanistan must demonstrate that corruption is being aggressively investigated and prosecuted.

That ought to instill fear in hearts of the Kabul elite and make American taxpayers breathe a sigh of relief, right? Two big problems with this:

Development in Afghanistan is supposedly part of our national security. Our national security strategy is largely based on the idea that the U.S. Government can help promote development abroad through its aid program.

The most important places for this to succeed are precisely those that pose the greatest threats, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. But these are also some of the most corrupt countries on earth. (Actually, according to Transparency International, Somalia and Afghanistan ARE the most corrupt countries on the planet; Pakistan is only 139th, behind Nigeria and Belarus).

Many of our “development partners” are hardly much better. If you read Lowey’s statement and insert “Senegal” (or “Haiti” or “Yemen”) where she says Afghanistan, there is equal justification for an aid cutoff. Senegal has lately become an exemplar of wasting public money, such as President Wade’s “gift” of $170,000 in cash to the outgoing IMF representative, the obscene $27 million African Renaissance statue, and alleged wrongdoings related to telephone licenses. To make matters worse, when the U.S. ambassador tried last month to raise her concerns over corruption with President Wade, he verbally attacked her on national television (see the video here):

“[The United States is] accusing Senegal of corruption. This is something I cannot accept… If you want, take the Millennium Challenge Account and go to a country where they will accept these criticisms and insults."

Yes, that’s right, Senegal is set to receive a $540 million MCC compact. The country is also slated for other U.S. funds worth nearly $100 million per year, is part of the major HIV/AIDS and malaria programs, and is one of the proposed targets for the new food security initiative. (To complete the Afghan comparison, Senegal also has problems with drug traffickers and is increasingly close to Iran.)

One answer is to cut off aid, and I’m sure Lowey will be keeping a close eye on Senegal and other worrying “partners” too.

Another better answer for countries where we probably won’t walk away for other reasons is to innovate more on the aid delivery side to ensure we get what we think we are paying for. Cash on Delivery, perhaps?

Disclaimer

CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.