Do donors know? [Archives:2003/657/Viewpoint]

August 7 2003

Last week I paid a visit to one of Sanaa's most prominent and active NGOs. I was given an idea about how it is run, whom it serves, and what difficulties and problems it faces.
One of the main conclusions I came up with after the meeting was that the inefficiency and corruption taking place in the government has extended far beyond imagination and reached donations given by donor countries and organizations.
“Our work with the government and donor communities has given us a clear idea of the magnitude of corruption in the country. You will be surprised” the NGO's chairman said.
One of the examples given about the corruption level in the country was about a case in which a former minister refused to receive a massive donation worth millions of rials because he did not get a 'commission'!
What makes the situation worse is that no one holds those officials accountable for the damage they have inflicted on Yemen when they turned down offers to give free supplies of various goods deeply needed in the country.
I have heard of cases where officials demand bribes so openly to allow contracts, etc. and this does take place in many countries in the world. But what I couldn't imagine was that officials could reject donations just because they would not get money in return.
Isn't this a signal of how frightening the level of corruption has reached?
On the other hand, citizens are outraged at the fact that many international organizations and donor countries may know that there are projects that include corruption and mismanagement, yet do nothing about it. This is mainly attributed to the sensitivity that may emerge when bringing such issues in the diplomatic and foreign relations level.
However, this is the era of transparency and accountability. It should be clear to governments that do not handle donations or assistance properly that if they do so, they will be deprived from future donations and aid, which could somewhat wake up the receiving government's conscience and make it 'less corrupt' when dealing with donations.
But sometimes, governments don't care what donors think or do, resulting in a waste of time, money, and energy on projects that never materialize and whose assets and capital is lost on the way, either in the pockets of officials, or for intermediate procedures that are never completed, leading to the collapse of the project before it is open.
The question 'Do donors know?' is perhaps a naive one. Yes, they do know, but they should also realize that by keeping silent or not pushing for change is not only passive, but also damaging. By doing so, they are not only preventing Yemeni people from benefiting from donations that they offer, but they also are indirectly supporting corrupt officials to be even more corrupt.
I just hope they would understand my point.