USA Today ran a story this week on a $644 million program in Iraq suspended by USAID four months short of its end date. The program was launched three years ago to create jobs and infrastructure in cities throughout Iraq. The Community Stabilization Program, said one hopeful report from 2006, “will provide safe and productive alternatives to insurgent activities while reinforcing democratic values and processes.”
Baghdad billboard for CSP job skills program Source: USAID/Iraq
So why was CSP suspended? According to a USAID statement, an external review begun in February discovered “inconsistencies” in the implementation of the project in one of the target cities. This deadpan response from USAID leaves aside just a few other reasons to be concerned about the project, namely a 2008 audit that found evidence of fraud, phantom workers, and money being diverted to insurgents through trash collection contracts.
The audit also found “short-term employment generated by the program was inadequately substantiated.”
Surely any reasonable understanding of transparent and honest reporting practices would require USAID to indicate in some way on their website that there were questions being raised about the transparency and efficacy of the CSP program.
We brought this to the attention of the USAID press officer in an email on Monday:
Dear Mr. Edwards,
Here at Aid Watch we read USA Today's article … we noticed that the text currently available on the USAID website (among the press releases or on the Iraq page) gives no information about investigations into the CSP projects or the decision to suspend the program.
The CSP accomplishments page still lists: "Almost 45,000 long-term jobs created; Nearly $80 million in grants approved for almost 10,700 businesses; More than 40,200 Iraqis graduated from vocational training courses; More than 9,900 apprenticeships awarded; About 316,000 young people reached through sports and arts program" as highlights of the CSP.
In light of the March 2008 audit and subsequent investigations, reported by USA Today in today's paper, is USAID planning to modify the claims on its website?
USAID responded promptly:
This is the response from USAID as to your questions.
1) USAID suspended payments and new commitments under CSP to allow the IG to conduct and complete an investigation of allegations uncovered in the course of a USAID evaluation of the program. At the time, CSP was only operating in two cities and was on a path towards being phased out entirely as the program was nearing its end.
2) The accomplishments listed on the USAID website are from completed projects that were previously audited by the IG. We implemented all of the recommendations of the IG to their satisfaction, including doing a data quality assurance exercise.
Please contact me if you have more questions.
USAID Senior Press Officer