Friday, April 2, 2010

USAID and cost and management accounting ... or lack thereof!

Dear Colleagues

The international official relief and development assistance (ORDA) community equates how much is spent with how much they are performing ... and on that basis the Haiti relief and rebuilding is a great success. A huge amount of money has been mobilized over the past two and a half months ... a lot has been disbursed and a lot has been done ... but nobody has a clue how much has been spent on what and where and whether the progress and performance achieved has been very good or really bad. The basics of good accounting and accountability seem to be totally missing.

And now the UN pledging conference is seen as a great success because more the $9 billion has been pledged by international donors to assist Haiti ... and it is reported that the World Bank will have a role in administering the funds. The intention is that the World Bank will ensure the moneys are used well ... something they have not been very good at for around 60 years! I am not sure what is driving the donor commitments, but I am not convinced that the plans are going to deliver benefit to people in Haiti commensurate with the cost of the assistance! We shall see!

In the last few hours RebuildHaiti (USAID) has made available some information including some data about its performance in Haiti relative to some other emergency situations. As a professional interested in cost and management accounting I am appalled and have responded to the people at USAID who distributed the information as follows:
Dear Colleagues

Thank you for this information ... but please see my comment below and give me feedback

TRANSPORTING & PROVIDING CLEAN WATER: To date, USAID has contributed 116,000 water containers to benefit approximately 291,500 earthquake-affected individuals. Daily water distributions from USAID and other partners reach 1.2 million people.

EVALUATING SAFETY, RETURNING HOME: The U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Government of Haiti Ministry of Public Works has assessed 12,000 houses in Port-au-Prince, identifying approximately 40 percent of assessed houses as suitable for habitation. The Government of Haiti and UNOPS, with the support of USAID are also training approximately 200 engineers to assess houses.

DISTRIBUTING SHELTER FASTER THAN EVER BEFORE: Relief agencies distributed shelter materials more rapidly following the Haiti earthquake than after other recent disasters, including the 2006 and 2009 Indonesia earthquakes and the 2008 Burma cyclone. The rate of shelter material distribution following the initial phase reached between 22 and 62 percent more people per week than distributions in the previous emergencies.
These three notes are self serving and not very helpful at all. Nothing about costs anywhere in these notes! The role of journalists and PR specialists in communicating progress and performance information should be complemented by some people who also understand cost and management accounting. While the activities may have been rapid ... what about the costs? My impression is that the waste of money in this latest incarnation of relief and development assistance is about as big as it has been in past efforts ... or perhaps bigger. Frankly we don't know because the accounting and accountability has been up to the normal abysmally low standards of the US Government and USAID.

Who in the USAID organization has some responsibility for the accounting and accountability? I would like to be in contact.

Thank you for your attention. Thanking you in anticipation.


Peter Burgess
On Fri, Apr 2, 2010 at 6:01 PM, RebuildHaiti (USAID) wrote:
I understand that in an emergency speed is important ... in the rescue stage very minute counts, and the dataflows are all focused on saving lives ... but quite soon in the relief stage the basics of administration and management are needed including logistics and inventory control ... and I would also add the metrics of progress and performance that show efficiency and effectiveness. The fact that this is ignored by the key organizations is absolutely intolerable, but leadership in the ORDA community does not "get it" and the waste of money is huge. This is a chronic problem that has continued for decades and high costs and low performance are now the norm.

I will post an update if the people at USAID see fit to be in touch on this matter.

Peter Burgess

1 comment:

  1. Yes, there should be better accounting of what money goes where and with what direct results compared to expected results.

    How do we get this needed data recognized by policy makers and funding agencies???

    I am optimistic about Bill Clinton's abilities to spot bulls*t about claimed anti-corruption measures.

    The World Bank had an excellent specialist in "Semantics", Denise Bedford, who knows how to manage data. The US GAO and the International INTOSI have mechanisms described for auditing. I will send a copy via email.