OIG and USAID Report to the Congress on US Aid to Syria
On Thursday July 14th, 2016, a subcommittee hearing within the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Middle East and North Africa titled “U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Syria: Minimizing Risk and Improving Oversight” was held. Mr. Thomas Melito, director of International Affairs and Trade within the Government Accountability Office and Ann Calvarseri Barr, the inspector General within the United States Agency for International Development USAID were present to give their testimony.
The U. S has been the largest humanitarian aid and assistance provider with over $5 billion, around half of which were provided for assistance to people inside Syria. Because of the nature of the Syrian conflict and therefore the complexity of humanitarian challenges, USAID and Department of State have been relying on third-parties in indirectly delivering their assistance. While, the USAID has been funding UN organizations and NGOs inside Syria, the Department of State worked with three main partners two of them were UN organizations and the other was one public international organization. The UN has reported in May 2016 that 13.5 million people inside Syria have been affected and in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN also reported that 4.6 million people inside Syria are located in hard-to-reach areas and more than 500,000 of those remain besieged by Islamic State, the government of Syria or non-State armed opposition groups.
As the Syrian conflict enters its sixth year without any indications in sight for eventual evolution towards a political resettlement, it becomes even more crucial to ensure an effective and efficient use of the U. S resources. To this end, members of the OIG were asked to investigate the if the State Department and USAID “are doing everything to mitigate waste, fraud and abuse” and were giving the opportunity to present their findings in the hearing. Twenty-five investigations were indeed conducted after receiving 116 complaints of alleged abuse of taxpayers’ dollars. Witnesses said that State and USAID partners have assessed some types of risk such as formal risk assessment, most of them have not assessed the risk of fraud.
The OIG report affirmed that “effective delivery of US humanitarian assistance to people inside Syria is complicated by three related factors- a dangerous operating environment, access issues and remote management of programs. These factors can hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance and, because US agency officials must manage programs from outside of Syria, create challenges for financial oversight, such as increasing the opportunity for fraud and diversion.”
The report finally recommended that the State and USAID should require fraud risk assessments from their implementing partners, as well as ensure that the M&E firm contracted by USAID divisions are trained to identify fraud risks and collect information according to these required accountability standards. People Demand Change as a M&E firm with extensive experience operating in Syria is highly appreciative an in concurrence with the steps laid out in the OIG report and the necessity and the value of making all Syria programs as accountable as possible to the US taxpayers and Congress.