by Emad Mekay
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The United States has unveiled a new plan for how it spends foreign aid dollars that links U.S. security to democracy and development overseas.
But development activists fear the new overhaul could be ideologically motivated and criticized the appointment of a new aid director who they say had performed poorly in his previous position.
"In today's world, America's security is linked to the capacity of foreign states to govern justly and effectively," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday as she announced the plan. "Our foreign assistance must help people get results."
The new re-structuring plan unifies U.S. aid agencies, aid accounts and individual programs under one director. President Bush said he will appoint Randall Tobias, who now heads the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U.S. global AIDS program.
Tobias will also be the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and will oversee all U.S. foreign aid work. He will also carry the title of Deputy Secretary for Development.
Around 80 percent of all U.S. assistance goes through USAID and the State Department.
Tobias takes over USAID, which works in more than 100 countries with a $14 billion annual budget, from outgoing administer Andrew S. Natsios, whose resignation was announced last month.
He previously served as chairman, president and chief executive officer of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. Officials from the State Department say the new changes will involve a sharper focus on the spread of democracy and the push not to have "failed states" without U.S. intervention.
Under the overhauled program, Rice said, State Department officials and those from USAID, which has been independent since its founding in 1961, will have to exchange experiences and work. Diplomats will now get training in "complicated foreign assistance programs," she said.
Rice said she will also initiate talks with Congress soon as to how the U.S. can better use its foreign assistance.
The State Department says that U.S. money should be used to empower developing countries to strengthen security, to consolidate democracy and to increase trade.
Rice also said that Washington should further link its aid to defeat terrorist threats. In her speech Thursday, she invoked the attacks of 9/11 and noted that the terrorists used the previously failed state of Afghanistan to launch their attacks.
"In the final analysis, we must now use our foreign assistance to help prevent future Afghanistans -- and to make America and the world safer," she said.
Rice named terrorism, weapons proliferation, diseases, and trafficking in persons and drugs as global threats that require the U.S. to develop new diplomatic strategies. She said that without the new changes, U.S. foreign assistance may be ineffective.
"The current structure of America's foreign assistance risks incoherent policies and ineffective programs and perhaps even wasted resources. We can do better and we must do better," Rice warned Thursday.
But some civil society groups criticized the appointment of Tobias, citing his record in the fight against AIDS.
"Under his direction, HIV prevention programs have shifted from being based in public health science to being dictated by the abstinence-only-until-marriage ideology of the Bush administration," said James Wagoner, president of the Washington-based Advocates for Youth.
Activists fear that too much ideology in the foreign aid system may derail other important programs like family planning and population management.
"As head of USAID, Ambassador Tobias will not only be responsible for AIDS funding, but also in charge of population and family planning programs," concluded Wagoner. "How will his anti-science ideology impact programs vital to protecting the health of women and young people around the world?"
Tobias' record in the fight against AIDS has also been marred by accusations of favouring drug corporations by displaying a preference for using more expensive, brand-name drugs instead of cheaper, safe generic versions that could have reached many more people in impoverished countries.
"An administrator of USAID should be committed to the most cost-effective and far-reaching response to such international challenges, rather than championing corporate interests and profits," said Ann-Louise Colgan, director for policy analysis and communications at Africa Action.
Advocacy groups have also expressed concerns that sensitive aid programs will now be run by a pharmaceutical company executive with no experience in development work.
"We feel that these concernsˆ must raise serious questions about Mr. Tobias' qualifications to run the U.S. Agency for International Development," said Colgan.
The new aid strategy announced by Rice is also part of an overarching restructuring of the State Department that Rice has called "transformational diplomacy." This means U.S. diplomats will have to work directly with foreign citizens to help them "build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system."
Under the plan, areas previously not at the top of development priorities, like the Middle East and Islamic nations, where the U.S. claims it wants to spread democracy, will apparently take precedence.
The secretary said that the new front lines of U.S. diplomacy are in the transitional countries of Africa, Latin America and the Middle East and emerging regional leaders like India, China, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia and South Africa.
January 18, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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