- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005


President Bush said yesterday that the United States would speed up delivery of funding to poor countries after African leaders complained that one of his signature aid projects was rife with red tape.

In March 2002, Mr. Bush said he would begin distributing foreign aid with the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). Countries would be eligible for the proposed $5 billion in aid only if they were committed to democratic, economic and human rights reforms.

The idea was that little good comes from pouring aid into a country that has corrupt or unstable leadership, but U.S. dollars can encourage good governance.

His plan was slow to get off the ground, and Congress has not been willing to give him the funding that he wants. He has received $2.5 billion in the past two years — $1.3 billion less than requested — and compacts have been approved for just four countries.

When Mr. Bush met with presidents of five African nations yesterday, they said bureaucracy and fine print make it nearly impossible to access the aid.

?I assured the leaders we will work harder and faster to certify countries for the MCA, so that MCA countries, and the people in the MCA countries, can see the benefit of this really important piece of legislation and funding,? Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush invited the presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia and Niger to the White House because all five won democratic elections last year. He said that they are an example to neighboring nations and added that debt relief and liberalized trade can help spread freedom on the troubled continent.

?All of us share a fundamental commitment to advancing democracy and opportunity on the continent of Africa,? he said, standing with the five leaders after their private meeting in the Oval Office.

Botswana President Festus Mogae said the leaders of Niger and Ghana told Mr. Bush about the problems they faced after the State Department announced in February 2004 that they were among 63 countries that met preliminary criteria for the account.

Three months later, 16 countries were chosen. Niger was not, but Ghana and Mozambique were, although neither country has received any funding.

?We complained bitterly about bureaucracy on that side,? Mr. Mogae said. He said Mr. Bush told them that he regretted the problems and told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to improve the system.

?He turned to her and said, ‘She is going to take care of it,’ ? Mr. Mogae said.

Mr. Mogae said his country never qualified because its per-capita income exceeded the $1,425 threshold for eligible countries.

?We’re struck out because it says that we are not poor enough,? he said. ?And yet we are poor.?

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