NGOs worry about how CIDA will disperse its dollars

Church-related aid groups are concerned that Canada's new way of providing aid may not be the best way to help the world's poorest citizens—or involve Canadians in international development.

That's the sentiment being expressed by some Canadian aid groups following a decision by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to send more money directly to governments and local groups in the developing world, instead of channeling it through Canadian organizations.

"It makes sense in theory," says Kim Pityn, vice president for International Operations for Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). "But there is also the possibility that such an approach is ripe for corruption, fraud and misuse of funds."

From CIDA's point of view, the change to what it calls a Program Based Approach (PBA), where money is pooled and funneled through local governments or groups, will be more effective than funding dozens of individual projects operated by Canadian aid groups. At the same time, it aims to build up the ability of fledgling governments and local groups to serve the needs of their own citizens.

Pityn says that MEDA, like other Canadian aid groups, seeks to work with and build up local partners in the developing world. "But many of these groups have limited capacity to handle large amounts of money," she says, adding that interference by government officials and lack of transparency can result in money being wasted.

"This isn't the thought of a greedy Canadian group wanting to keep getting money from CIDA," she says, noting that her agency is not expecting a large downturn in funding. "Canadian aid groups have expertise, and have something to offer. We have an effective role to play in grassroots development."

Other groups are more alarmed. The new policy will have "a disastrous effect on hundreds of Canadian non-governmental organizations," says Dave Collins, president of Canadian Food for the Hungry International.

Collins says that more than 400 aid groups will no longer be eligible to receive CIDA funding, "in spite of excellent aid delivery track records." By placing control for funding inside CIDA, instead of within aid groups, he claims that this is a move by a government "in desperate need of a success story."

Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, is more circumspect, simply stating that CIDA needs to "develop a clear strategy for cooperation with Canada's many non-governmental agencies."

For Pityn, the challenge will be keeping Canadians involved and interested in helping poor people if the agencies they support no longer can receive CIDA funding. Noting that much of CIDA's funding for aid groups comes in the form of matching grants—for every dollar given by Canadians, CIDA provides additional money—she wonders how Canadians will stay connected if the groups they support can no longer operate programs overseas.

The new policy also will find CIDA reducing the number of countries receiving Canadian aid dollars. In the future CIDA will focus on 25 high-priority countries, which will receive two-thirds of Canadian funding, while an additional 50 will split the remaining funds. This is down from 151 countries, which was the most of any industrialized country. Aid groups that have programs in countries not included on the list will be unable to obtain government funding.

Along with concerns about the changes in the way CIDA provides funds, aid groups continue to be critical of Canada's failure to meet the internationally accepted aid target of 0.7 percent of gross national income by 2015. "Canada is clearly not acting as the global leader it aspires to be, as it continues to fall behind its neighbours on addressing global poverty," says Micah Challenge Canada spokesperson Geoff Tunnicliffe.

According to Toycen, statements by Prime Minister Paul Martin that "our economy is doing so well that Canada is now too rich to meet a long-standing target for helping poor children escape poverty," is a "lame excuse," and "unacceptable to the children dying from preventable diseases, to other governments that Canada wants to influence and to Canadians who show their generosity in good times and bad."

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About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada and Making the News Canada