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‘We’re working smarter’

With a smaller budget, USAID speaks of paradigm shift

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Features Editor — Sunday ?thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012    

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IT’S no longer business as usual for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Jamaica. In this its 50th year of existence and in line with policy shifts articulated by Washington, the agency is redefining itself, and making stricter demands of Government.

Its staff is the smallest it’s ever been, and the annual budget is nothing compared to the allocations in some other countries.

But, as Mission Director Denise Herbol puts it, the agency is doing as much work as ever now. It is just seeking, in the face of shrinking aid budgets worldwide, to be more efficient.

“We’re now working smarter as we streamline our portfolio,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

Herbol, who took up the post last November, said the local mission has an annual implementing budget of roughly US$20 million and currently has 20-plus employees, down from 175 in the 80s.

In Pakistan, where she was posted as senior deputy mission director prior to coming to Jamaica, the budget for 2011 was approximately US$1.1 billion and the staff complement neared 240.

“[But] we’re doing more here with US$20 million,” Herbol said, comparing Jamaica and Pakistan.

“Partnerships with the Government make the difference. Our partnership with the Government of Jamaica is so positive that we have the opportunity to work much better,” she added.

The agency, the arm of the US government tasked with providing economic, development and humanitarian assistance to developing countries established a partnership with Jamaica in 1962, the same year the island nation declared independence from Britain.

Since then, it has spent billions here on programmes spanning the health, education, agriculture and governance. Up to 2002, the figure was close to US$2 billion. In the last 10 years it has appropriated over US$165 million, not including monies granted directly by Washington such as those for disaster preparedness and response.

In 1985 alone, for example, USAID Jamaica says it contributed US$239 million to Jamaica. Other examples to which it points are the US$533-million Food for Peace programme between 1975 and 1988 — through which it donated wheat flour, cornmeal, bulgar, corn, and soya blend, and introduced the patty/milk programme under the Ministry of Education’s school feeding project — and the Debt for Environment swap in 1991 and 1992 which reportedly reduced Jamaica’s debt burden by US$311 million.

Other donors to the school feeding programme were the European Economic Council — which sent butter, oil, milk powder and cornmeal — and the Canadian International Development Agency, which donated dried skimmed milk powder.

But according to programme specialist for education Claire Spence, the agency is ceasing to be all things to all people. As such, it is narrowing its areas of outreach. It has shifted focus from agricultural productivity to global climate change, and from the broader family planning and adolescent reproductive health area to HIV/AIDS. Where education is concerned, it has changed from a math-centric focus to English and literacy, and in terms of democracy and governance, it is now focusing on anti-corruption — a considerable part of which falls under the US Government’s Caribbean Basin Security Initiative.

Herbol pointed out, however, that whereas the agency previously executed some programmes with little or no input from governments, it is now requiring that governments take the lead roles.

“Things have changed from what it used to be in the old days, when aid was just given to countries as grants and (there) really was little requested or asked of some of the countries who participate,” she said.

The “old days” to which Herbol — a 25-year veteran of the USAID — refers, are those that predate the Paris III donor conference in 2007.

“That paradigm has changed,” she stressed. “This (new platform) is about ‘how can we support government initiatives? What are their priorities? They must be putting money and resources up at the table and we are supporting those, but we are not going to be going out ahead of them because it is counter-productive to have programmes that we or any of other donors are funding, stopped. Furthermore, she said, the agency is not prepared to “waste money on programmes that will not have a positive impact on the country where those programmes are implemented”. “So it’s really important that we are focused on working with governments; they are in the leadership role,” said the mission director. Also factoring in the new paradigm is more empirical — and therefore less anecdotal — measurement of projects. “We are emphasising (that) under every activity that we design now,” she said, adding “We have to be good stewards of the funding we get”.

USAID’s achievements in Jamaica in the past 50 years include:

• Expanding family planning services and institutional capacity;

• Private sector promotion; AND

• Poverty alleviation

Institutions established in Jamaica with assistance from USAID

• Jamaica Agricultural Development Foundation

• Fair Trading Commission,

• National Development Foundation of Jamaica,

• The College of Agriculture (which later became the Passley Gardens Teachers’ College and is now the College of Agriculture, Science and Education)

• Institute of Business

• Institute of Management and Production (which has since merged with Institute of Management Sciences to form the University College of the Caribbean)

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