EU humanitarian aid to refugees from conflicts in the African Great Lakes area is responding to the challenges faced but may be costing too much to deliver, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. Despite the difficult working environment, EU aid has made a valuable contribution to addressing the problems but there are some weaknesses in the way the aid is managed, say the auditors. More information is needed from the UN and its partner agencies as to how the money is spent.
The auditors examined the European Commission’s humanitarian support in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania for the period between 2011 and 2015, which amounted to about €300 million. They concluded that the aid was, in general, managed effectively. However, as humanitarian needs are increasing and funds are limited, efficiency is ever more important. The budgets examined were not detailed enough and there were no assessments of whether the proposed costs were reasonable. About half of the EU aid was spent through UN agencies and when the UN sub-contracted its activities no data was made available on how much was actually spent on the beneficiaries.
“I am concerned that the Commission does not have the figures it needs to check whether the aid is being delivered in the most efficient and economical way” said Mr Karel Pinxten, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “The more links there are in the chain between the EU taxpayer and those in need, the more difficult it becomes. The Commission should press UN agencies such as UNHCR and the World Food Programme, together with NGOs, for more information on how the EU’s money is being spent. Otherwise, this aid risks being too expensive.”
The auditors found there was a lack of documentary evidence to determine geographical priorities and assess project proposals. As a result it was not possible to determine whether the projects chosen complied with the relevant criteria and if the most appropriate projects were selected.
The monitoring framework was appropriate, given the difficult working environment. The reports from the partners were, however, frequently late and this limited their usefulness. The expertise of the Commission’s field staff was helpful to the funded partners but reporting from the field visits was not sufficiently comprehensive. Because of inadequate recording of the follow-up of problems raised, it was not possible to ensure that these were satisfactorily resolved. On a more global level, there is no reporting on the Humanitarian Implementation Plan to provide an overview of results and lessons learnt.
The results achieved overall for the projects examined were satisfactory. One partner, however, managed to spend most of its budget but only achieved a small percentage of the planned results. In a few cases the justification for time extensions and additional budgets was not apparent. While the desirability of linking relief, rehabilitation and development has been widely accepted by the Commission and other donors, there are very few examples of this being applied in practice. Without very actively pursuing this goal, say the auditors, there is a danger that opportunities to move from humanitarian aid to development aid will be missed.