State auditor urges better aid control

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Norway’s state auditor general is among those calling on cabinet minister Erik Solheim to impose much better control over Norwegian foreign aid programs. Questions persist over what happened to aid given to Tanzania, for example, over a 12-year period.

Erik Solheim (left), Norway's cabinet minister in charge of foreign aid, was in Tanzania earlier this year and met with Finance Minister Mustafa H Mkulo. Solheim has since promised more aid to the country. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet

“The foreign ministry and Norad (the state agency administering aid) have improved, but they still have a long way to go,” State Auditor (Riksrevisor) Jørgen Kosmo told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “The control has to get better.”

Kosmo was reacting to reports in Aftenposten that as much as half of the NOK 300 million in aid given to Tanzania’s Management of Natural Resources Program (MNRP) remains unaccounted for, and is believed to have disappeared through corruption and mismanagement. Norway did demand money to be returned, but claimed to be satisfied with refunds amounting to less than NOK 12 million.

Kosmos said that state auditors conducted evaluations in 2003 and 2011 of Norwegian authorities’ control of the billions of kroner distributed through foreign aid programs. He said control has improved but that both the ministry, where Solheim has political control over foreign aid, and Norad remain in “a very demanding” situation.

State Auditor General Jørgen Kosmo says Norway's control over its foreign aid isn't good enough. PHOTO: Regjeringen.no

“What we’re asking for now are examinations of programs before aid is released, to evaluate risk, the chances for corruption, infrastructure and the chances for the programs to succeed, all in advance,” Kosmo told Aftenposten. Asked whether the ministry has complied, Kosmo said “somewhat,  but not well enough.”

The “demanding situation” faced by the ministry (Utenriksdepartementet, UD) is that most of the aid is earmarked for countries with a culture of corruption, far away from Norway, Kosmo said. The closest Norwegian embassies have limited capacity and competence to follow up on the aid programs, much less carry out detailed controls.

“In some countries, it’s so difficult to rely on national authorities to undertake controls that we have to go in with our own resources,” Kosmo said.

He thinks it’s important to get to the bottom of irregularities that occur, not least to secure that aid money lands in the right hands on future occasions. He warned against relying too heavily on private auditors hired in to help.

Several opposition politicians in Parliament also reacted to reports of the trouble Norway experienced in Tanzania. “We have to be tougher with detailed control of several aid programs,” claimed Morten Høglund, a Member of Parliament and foreign affairs spokesman for the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet). Peter Gitmark of the Conservatives agreed. “In countries known for corruption, like Tanzania, it’s very important to follow in detail what’s being used on goods and services,” Gitmark told Aftenposten.

Solheim, of the Socialist Left party (SV), took over as aid minister after SV joined the Labour-led coalition government in 2005. The first audits of the Tanzania program, which began in 1994, started becoming available the next year, so it can be argued that Solheim inherited the aid problem from earlier governments including the center-right coalition of which the Conservatives was a member.

Høglund remained concerned that Solheim’s administration never “rolled up” what happened to Norway’s aid money, and suggested the ministry has misled the public. “It looks like there’s a systematic culture here of secrecy, manipulation and independent research results and lack of communication of critical accounting reports in Norad and UD,” Høglund told Aftenposten.

Svein Roald Hansen of SV’s government partner Labour said he had no basis for believing the public has been misled and demanded evidence of it. Solheim, currently on a trip to Burma, said he was “absolutely not naive” about the potential for corruption and pointed to “intense” work going on within an anti-corruption unit at UD.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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