Donor money: attention shifts to checks and balances

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A week after international donors pledged more than U.S. $2 billion in grants, loans and debt relief for hurricane-hit Caribbean islands, attention is turning to the systems in place to ensure the assistance goes where it is intended to go.
Economist Thomson Fontaine, formerly with the IMF, was part of a panel on OBSERVER media’s “Big Issues” recently where the issue was examined.
According to Fontaine, the onus is on regional governments to ensure that they have a transparent system for handling the funds.
 “The pledging countries like to see a situation where the use of those funds are transparent and accountable and if they have any doubt as to whether or not this is in place in the country they could very well withhold whatever amounts have been pledged.”
Fontaine noted that that when the World Bank releases funds for countries in the region it is normally through the Caribbean Development Bank, and even then it monitors the process.
On whether there was a role for the regional institutions to be involved in how the monies were utilised Fontaine said having some form of oversight at the national level would be ideal.
“The prime minister of Dominica indicated in his speech that he was putting in place some parliamentary oversight for the use of these funds. I know that is something that would certainly be encouraged but the fact that it was not yet in place, it might make sense for example, to channel those funds through the CDB and through CARICOM which would allow those institutions to be the ones ultimately responsible.”
According to Fontaine, Dominica does not have the types of safeguards in place, and perhaps entities like the CDB could be tasked with disbursement.
Meanwhile, former Barbuda Council member Courtney Burton for his part noted that the issue of transparency could not be overstressed since the aid is coming from the donors’ taxpayers.
“We must prove, by opening up the accounts, by bringing individuals on board, and having people from the private sector managing these monies and making sure that each dollar that is spent is accounted for.
“You can’t have a building that is worth $200,000 being built for $400,000 so there must be some mechanism to make sure the money is spent rightly,” Burton said.
Burton said he was dissatisfied with the government’s accounting for the monies donated so far.
“If we’re talking about us getting more storms in the future, if the government is not transparent now, if the government is not accountable now to the people of Barbuda and to the people who had given these monies, how can we ever go back to the international community and ask for monies again?” Burton asked.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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