Kerry pushes for tougher controls on aid to Pakistan

By Farah Stockman
Globe Staff / May 28, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry is urging the State Department to tighten controls over $1.45 billion in aid to Pakistan this year, warning that if the money is squandered or stolen, a massive five-year effort to help Pakistanis could collapse.

“Among the Pakistani population there is already a fear that the funds will merely enrich the corrupt elite,’’ the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in a May 25 letter obtained by The Boston Globe. “Channeling so much of the money through untested institutions so quickly could serve to confirm these suspicions.’’

The aid is part of a landmark, five-year $7.5 billion assistance package to Pakistan that Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pushed through Congress last year. It is aimed at trying to roll back extremism by improving the lives of ordinary citizens through greater access to water, energy, education, and health care, as well as bolstering Pakistan’s fledging democratic government.

But the letter — Kerry’s most forceful statement yet on how he believes the money should be spent — is a sign of unease among some on Capitol Hill over the administration’s plans for the money.

Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, intends to funnel more than 50 percent of the funds directly through Pakistan’s government or local Pakistani organizations, bypassing the American organizations and companies that the US government usually hires to deliver aid abroad. Holbrooke has said US entities have higher overhead costs and relying on them creates the perception that US aid benefits Americans, rather than the intended recipients.

But Kerry, who has oversight responsibilities over the funds, fears that Pakistani organizations might not be ready yet to effectively spend so much money and that incidents of corruption in Pakistan will make accountability a challenge.

“The danger is much greater than merely the possibility of a portion of funds being poorly spent,’’ he wrote in a letter addressed to Holbrooke. Referring to the aid bill that bears his name, he wrote: “lf significant portions of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds are, for example, siphoned off to private bank accounts, political support for continued appropriation of the money could evaporate in Washington and Pakistan.’’

Holbrooke’s office said it is seeking the best way to provide the most benefit. “We’re always open to ways to operate in a manner that enhances sustainability, transparency, and accountability, as Senator Kerry has called for, and which are already core precepts that we have built into our assistance programs,’’ said Dan Feldman, Holbrooke’s deputy.

Kerry’s office declined to comment on the letter, but Frederick Jones, a spokesman, said that the senator “wants to work cooperatively with the administration to think through the potential pitfalls that could occur.’’ He said Kerry does not oppose funding for Pakistani institutions but wants to ensure that the right controls are in place for adequate monitoring, such as pre-award and post-award evaluations of development contracts.

The letter urges more attention on Pakistan’s criminal justice system and greater coordination with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, which have spent decades trying to build dams and improve water delivery systems in Pakistan. Kerry also suggested launching a website that tracks how the money is spent.

“This process is still largely opaque to the broader public, including our Pakistani friends and partners,’’ he wrote. “This lack of transparency can generate suspicion and distrust, defeating the core intent’’ of the aid.

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