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Caritas questions evidence for lack of accountability

Caritas questions evidence for lack of accountability

The Catholic aid and development agency Caritas strongly refutes suggestions that poor paperwork and lack of professionalism and accountability is why many of its projects were declined under the government’s new funding scheme for international development NGOs.

Twelve of Caritas’ 14 applications for projects under the new Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) were declined. Two others - in Afghanistan and Palestine - were ‘approved in principle’.

Responding to comments today by Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Ministry officials that Caritas and other agencies needed to be more professional and accountable, Mr Smith said,
“We have highly committed, professional staff on our international development team. In addition, their work is overseen by a Board and a Programmes Committee that contains experienced development professionals – including university development studies staff.”

When the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) launched the new scheme at the end of July, their own schedule indicated that concerns about information gaps or poor quality in SDF applications would be discussed in late September and October. “They never got back to us seeking more information till last week – and that was only for the projects approved in principle,” said Mr Smith.

“We’ve received very limited and non-specific feedback on the projects declined,” said Mr Smith. “After seeking more information from MFAT officials, they queried start dates for some projects, but have said nothing about the quality of application or previous accountability.

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‘We’d welcome more specific feedback on reasons for decline,” said Mr Smith, “but MFAT is not ready to discuss in detail until 5 January. We find that very disappointing. We would also welcome any specific clarification direct from the Minister too if he’s able.”

Mr Smith added, “Accountability was not seen as a problem when MFAT granted funding to us in August for Pakistan flood relief under the new Humanitarian Response Fund – the corollary fund to SDF for emergency relief.”

“There has also been some misunderstanding about the previous funding available to NGOs. The previous KOHA scheme was highly accountable and effective,” said Mr Smith. “The scheme was jointly administered by former government aid agency NZAID and NGO representatives. NZAID always had the right to refuse funding for any projects. A 2008 Audit Office review of the KOHA programme said that “members of the programme were being held to account for the funding they received”.

Mr Smith said Caritas projects under KOHA funding met criteria for sound community development, and were reported on fully. The last independent review of Caritas by external NZAID appointed consultants in 2007 found it had very good systems of accountability and clear documentation of development practice.

Mr Smith also noted, “Although Caritas has expressed concerns about the change in aid policy and processes around the new funding schemes, we have written to the Minister earlier this week stating that we wish to continue to work in partnership with government. We have also requested an urgent meeting with the Minister to discuss SDF concerns.”
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

ENDS

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