UD didn’t pursue abuse of aid funds

Bookmark and Share

Audits finally conducted of Norway’s foreign aid to Tanzania revealed irregularities and corruption, but critics claim Norwegian officials reacted much too mildly. The Foreign Ministry (Utenriksdepartementet, UD) appears to have been reluctant to take up difficult questions with Tanzanian authorities.

Aid minister Erik Solheim, shown here getting on a plane in Tanzania, claims he's satisfied with the audits done of aid to Tanzania. Critics are not. PHOTO: Christian Grotnes Halvorsen/UD

Newspaper Aftenposten, which is examining Norway’s foreign aid programs, reported that the alleged corruption in Tanzania, uncovered as far back as 2007 and 2008,  was connected to the Management of Natural Resources Programme (MNRP) that received around NOK 300 million from Norwegian taxpayers from 1994 until 2006. The audits were made of 11 projects under MNRP, which sought “to increase benefits to rural communities based on sustainable natural resource management,” according to Norway’s foreign aid agency Norad.  Much of the money remained unaccounted for, while the audits uncovered suspiciously high receipts for such things as seminars and travel.

“Norwegian authorities closed the doors on getting answers to the important questions of who enriched themselves, and in which pockets the money landed,” accountant Einar Døssland of Faktum Nor AS told Aftenposten. He went through the two audits plus a third that the Norwegian Embassy in Dar es-Salaam had ordered when it decided to try to tackle alleged corruption.

Abusers unchallenged
Døssland said the audits were comprehensive and well-done, but the findings raise many questions and Norwegian officials failed to follow them up. Suppliers that doubled their prices, for example, haven’t been challenged.

He said he can understand that it may be difficult for the Norwegians to get answers if Tanzanian authorities don’t cooperate, but then additional aid could have been held back pending answers, he notes.

The Norwegian authorities, including the government minister in charge of foreign aid, Erik Solheim, claim they have done all they can to investigate how Norway’s money was used on the Tanzanian projects. Solheim has repeatedly noted that the Tanzanians at one point refunded some of the money, but it only amounted to less than NOK 12 million to cover alleged irregularities and tax discrepancies. Solheim has claimed he’s quite satisfied that any money was repaid at all.

‘Not very transparent’
A report from Norad admitted that the financial management of MNRP was “not very transparent” and that revenues collected “accrue to central and local governments with insignificant amounts left for village communities.” Norad, according to Aftenposten, glossed over the scandal itself in its own reports at the time, either ignoring it or mentioning it in just a few sentences.

Critics continue to claim that the Norwegians have been naive and should not be satisfied with the relatively small refund. One of the main auditors estimated that as much as half of the NOK 300 million (about USD 54 million at current exchange rates) may have disappeared. Døssland, asked by Aftenposten to examine the audits, said many important questions were neither posed nor answered. He thinks it’s “just horrible” that the projects meant to be carried out in Tanzania lacked proper accounting and controls “at all levels” and that problems weren’t detected for 12 years.

He claims Norwegian officials must ensure proper accounting systems are in place on foreign aid projects before any money is released. Instead, claim some critics, Norad and other officials involved maintained minimal monitoring and then seemed to want to ignore or cover up problems.

Professional journal Development Today (DT) asked for copies of a contracted report that eventually provided the basis for the refunds paid by Tanzania. The foreign ministry refused and when DT complained, it only received copies where many sentences were blacked out.

Norad finally did refer to anti-corruption efforts in Tanzania, which it has supported. Aftenposten reported that Norway has since followed up its MNRP aid with more aid to Tanzania, via the Norwegian forestry initiative REDD.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

Please support our stories by clicking on the “Donate” button now: