AUSTRALIA’S $5.2 billion foreign aid program has been hit by corruption claims involving a flagship project in Afghanistan, while a forestry deal in Papua New Guinea has triggered a diplomatic rift.
AusAID has confirmed an investigation is under way into allegations that education scholarships, known as Australia Awards, were being on-sold for profit by corrupt officials in Afghanistan.
AusAID said GRM International, which had managed the program, was conducting an independent investigation after losing the $80 million contract when the allegations were raised in August.
However the new manager, US firm International Relief and Development, is itself subject to a fraud claim involving US aid.
AusAID boss Peter Baxter said he had expressed “strong concern” to the head of IRD that AusAID was not told about that allegation. He said the level of fraud activity had halved across its programs but it was investigating 178 “active” allegations.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised that hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted on useless climate change programs.
In one case Papua New Guinea’s Forestry Minister Patrick Pruaitch wrote to his Australian counterpart Senator Joe Ludwig to complain that PNG was not consulted before Australia engaged US-based environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy to help deliver a $6 million sustainable forestry program.
The PNG government said the decision could have “serious ramifications” for the livelihoods of local communities.
“We are not happy with the manner in which the project has been formulated,” Mr Pruaitch wrote on January 18. “Consultation and needs analysis have not been undertaken to capture the requirements of the (PNG) government.”
It comes after opposition whip Warren Entsch blamed AusAID cutbacks in PNG health funding for a rise in tuberculosis cases, which had spread to Australia. The Coalition has said it would redirect aid funding to Australia’s East Asian and Pacific neighbours.
(Source: Steve Lewis and Lisa Cornish, News, 11 March 2013)