Rajiv Shah is the Answer to Bill Easterly

August 23, 2010 By Joel Paque

In a recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Bill Easterly questions the effectiveness of foreign assistance in Afghanistan given the level of corruption found across government there. Citing reports recently released by both the Afghan government and USAID, Easterly also highlights a high level of corruption and a lack of transparency among aid agencies and implementers. However, he fails to acknowledge that USAID Administrator has identified transparency as one of his top priorities. Speaking to the development community in May 2010 about his plans to address the challenges for USAID, Shah named the need for more transparency, stating, “Finally, in the fall, we will launch a major monitoring, evaluation and transparency initiative. I am convinced we can be the most transparent development agency in the world, and that the American people will accelerate their support of our work.”

Easterly’s arguments against foreign assistance seem to imply that these programs only enrich corrupt officials, and should be ceased altogether.  There is little to suggest this is true.  Working in weak states such as Afghanistan always runs a risk of corruption because of the absence of the rule of law and democratic institutions, but turning away from such countries also risks breeding extremism and undoing the gains that have been made. In fact, one of the key difficulties in preventing corruption and increasing transparency and accountability is the lack of funding to install better monitoring and evaluation programs, as well as personnel capable of providing more oversight where needed.

Administrator Shah seemingly might be the first to agree with some of Mr. Easterly’s critiques of the current situation involving a lack of transparency surrounding USAID projects, but this makes it even more important that the broader development community seize this opportunity to strengthen the ability of USAID to hold itself more accountable through an increased focus on transparency and increased investment in monitoring and evaluation.