- How does the government of Eritrea use the development aid given by the European Union or other donors?
The EU and the other donors know well that the government of Eritrea is difficult to work with as a development partner, that it is the most secretive and repressive regime with no transparent and accountable institutions in place. The government never makes public its budgeting planning.
This question is a tough question to answer because there is no way that the donors can monitor and evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the programmes and projects they fund. I think the EU does not have the answer for this question (‘how does the government of Eritrea use their development aid’): they can not give the answer whether the government uses their funds for the intended purpose according to the terms and conditions of the funding arrangements. The EU mainly depends on the reports supplied to them by the government for information on how the programmes have been implemented. Even the reports the EU gets them with a lot of difficulties, delays and in many instances the government fails to produce reports in breaches of the reporting obligation as specified in the funding agreements. The donors have no access to monitor their programmes and projects.
The government misuses development aid in the following ways:
- diverting of the funds
The government diverts the funds to other purposes to finance other programmes and projects that are not part of the financing agreements and arrangements. Among the sectors that benefit from the diversions are the security agency and the military establishment. For example many students that were pursuing higher education on distance learning could not complete their education as the result of ceasing of funding because government used the money for other purposes. Many projects and programmes fail to be implemented or are partially implemented other results of diverting of the funds. The education sector is a good example such diversion. During the time when students were allowed to pursue higher education abroad on scholarship, only a negligible proportion of the planned number for who funds were granted got the opportunity to pursue their education.
- Wasteful and inefficient use of the funds
This involves using the funds as a means of source of income to the government supporters by paying them money from the development aid funds as rewards for their allegiance to the government. For example
- Those qualified and eligible for academic, vocational and professional training and education are denied the opportunity to provide for those old (on their retirement ages), unqualified and ineligible government supporters. For instance internal scholarship was funded by international donors and the government mainly admitted to the University of Asmara those people who are old and junior academic level. This means automatically getting payments 2-3 folds higher than the payments in the positions of their respective employments. Another example is the funding for the demobilization: the purpose of the funding was to provide financial support for those active participants of the national service but the government re-registered the already demobilized fighters (mothers and disabled fighters) and re-demobilized them making them beneficiaries of the demobilization programme.
- Using the funds to cover the expenses for operations and personnel costs which are not part of the project. For example if 100 people are actually involved in the running of a project, 200 or more people are covered by the project to cover their salaries and allowances.
- Systematic stealing of the funds
This is done by making people sign for the amount of money they have never received under threatening and coercion conditions. For example people who are working full time or part-time for a project funded by donors are forced to sign for the receipt of say, 4000 Nakfa while they actually receive 1000 Nakfa. This serves as the basis for the reports to be submitted to the donor showing inflated expenditures on the project while actually the money has been used for other purposes.
- Embezzlements by the corrupt officials
Corruption in the country is very widespread. The managers and coordinators of the programmes and projects know one another and are comrades starting from the struggle era and have developed mutual trust, personal and working relationships to the extent they cooperate and collaborate in excessive actions such committing crimes, doing injustices and stealing public funds and properties. As they are well protected under the existing system, they are above everything, thus they plunder the development funds even in the eyes of the public and their colleagues. Trying to expose their actions as a junior worker or as national service member is life threatening act. Let me give you an example, a person I know very well (let us call him Berhe) was working for FAO. FAO had funded food security programme of which poultry was one component. Berhe was responsible for monitoring and follow up of the programme which was implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture – animal department (MOA –AD). After a lot of restrictions and difficulties to visit the project site, he finally managed to visit the project site. However, what he found on the ground unbelievable. According to the report he had received from the MOA- AD, the report puts clearly in figures the number of chickens and coops distributed and the number of beneficiaries. And the distribution was completed before one year. Nevertheless, he found out that only coops were distributed to the beneficiaries. When tried to follow it up and discuss it with the responsible officials, they threatened him for his life thus he kept silent. There are a lot of cases where projects have started but have been aborted because of the embezzlements of the funds and no body was held accountable for their failures.
In general, the following points highlight the difficulties associated with monitoring the development aids and ensuring accountability and transparency of their implementation. The donors rarely monitor the developments they finance if not at all for the following reasons.
- Limited presence with limited capacity. Most of the bilateral donors even do not have presence in Eritrea.
- Lack of cooperation and collaboration from, and restrictions by, the government of Eritrea. Any foreigner has to apply for travel permit for visits outside her/his residence area and their applications rarely get positive Reponses and after long delays.
- For a visit to a project site, whether local staff or expatriates, a special permission to the visit the project site (and to meet the responsible persons) is required and passes through the same process of application and associated difficulties of granting permission as outlined in the above bullet.
- Fuel problems for traveling vehicles – rationing of fuels
- Information dissemination is centralized and access to information by donors is extremely restricted, i.e. those active participants of the development aid projects are prohibited form sharing information with the donors unless instructed do so by their seniors. Furthermore, the government has not only purposely instilled the state of hate, suspicion and fear among its members to words foreign agencies and foreigners but has also terrorized the general public not to share any information they know with any organization representatives without authorization from, and under close supervision of, the government representatives.
All these serve the governments purpose of hiding information. Under these circumstances and contexts the development aid programmes go almost unmonitored, uncontrolled, unchecked and unevaluated. The EU and other donors depend for their information regarding the programmes and projects they fund on the inadequate, distorted and manipulated reports of the government. I know the EC in Eritrea very well since I had working relationships with them. Because of their limited capacity, they used to contract the monitoring of their food aid distributions and associated programmes to my organization. Moreover, though not in the programmes and projects that are granted to the government as direct development aid, my organization received funding from the EC for development project proposals we submitted to them. These projects include agriculture, food security, forestry… etc. And I was one of those who were actively involved with the EC projects from 2001 until 2007. This involvement has really given me the opportunity to know the EC staff and their capacity and how they monitor their projects in the country. For the project they had with us, they only make occasional visits to project sites (once per year) and really they had hard times to make the field visits because of the restrictions by the government. When their food aid, amounting 12,500 metric tones (sorted food: wheat, lentils and oil), which my organization had taken the responsibility for its monitoring, was confiscated in 2005 by the government from the warehouses along other food aids from other donors to be fed to the army, the EC was unable to do anything. The only thing they did was to make claims on the government of Eritrea for the food on monetary values and that claim was only made after three years after the confiscation. And I do not think the government has repaid it.
My conclusion therefore, is that the government uses greater portion of the funds to fund its security and military programmes with almost no monitoring and control from the donors’ side.
- How does the Cash for Work project work in Eritrea?
The rationale behind the Cash for work programme is not the economic benefits that will accrue to the people and the nation but is motivated by the recognition that the Cash for Work programme would present better and easier control to the government to divert the funds to finance its other priority sectors that are suffering from shortage of financing. What the people need is food and this can only be addressed through direct food aid under the existing circumstances. First of all Cash for work programme in Eritrea is technically not feasible and not accepted in principle under the existing conditions because the productive, healthy and the able segment of the population is tied up in the endless national service or languishing in the prisons. Thus, the Eritrean population is composed of only the elderly, child rearing women, children and the disabled people. This means the disabled, the elderly, the lactating and pregnant women and the children are physically and physiologically not fit to work hence will not participate in the Cash for Work programme. The likely people to participate in the programme are school children in the age range of 15 -17 years old (I am not sure if the government would include this group to participate in the cash for work programme) and family caring women who are not in the lactating and pregnant groups. This means actually there are no people on the ground that can participate in the Cash for Work programmes. Practically most of the population would be excluded from participating and benefiting from the programme and participation of the small proportion of the population (school children aged 15-17 years) and the family caring women (excluding the lactating and the pregnant women) in the programme would cause social problems in the population because the family caring activities will be forgone for participation in the Cash for Work programme and the school children will drop out of school or even fail as they would give priority for the work to feed their families.
So if the EU is funding the Cash for Work programme in Eritrea, are they funding this programme with these people in mind? And why they are doing it? Who is to benefit from this funding? What are the expected outcomes from their funding – prolongation the life of the current regime? I think these questions need to be posed to the EU.
So far, as to my knowledge there are no Cash for work programme taking place in the country. What the government is doing is that it has organized the rural population in each village according to the military organizational structure, i.e. battalion campany and teams. The organization is at household level. These households are then forced to work in the soil and water conservation programmes in addition to the work they undertake at the government agricultural fields and other activities. For the participation in these activities, people are paid nothing.