Sunday, November 19, 2006

In the United States, $461 million would fund 584 feet of Boston’s Big Dig highway project.

In Mali, however, that amount of money will build a 247-acre industrial park, remodel an airport and provide irrigation for almost 62 square miles of West African farmland.

These Malian-developed plans became part of a contract with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) last Monday when Ambassador John J. Danilovich, chief executive officer of the MCC, and Moctar Ouane, Malian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, signed the accord.

“Mali represents the hopes and aspirations of billions on the African continent and around the world who yearn for freedom and prosperity,” Mr. Danilovich told Malian delegates at the signing. “Achieving [this plan] will transform your country and will create unprecedented opportunities for reducing poverty and sustaining economic growth.”

Proposed in 2002 by President Bush, the MCC began operation as part of the U.S. government in 2004. The corporation hopes to reduce poverty and encourage economic growth in developing countries by issuing funds over multiple years for specific projects planned by each eligible country.

Mali and El Salvador most recently received approval for grants, joining the ranks of nine other countries receiving MCC assistance — Armenia, Benin, Cape Verde, Georgia, Ghana, Honduras, Madagascar, Nicaragua and Vanuatu. Total grant money has reached almost $3 billion.

Little goes a long way

Mali’s President Amadou Toure told the audience at the signing that his country views the grant as a reward for good governance.

“The people of Mali deserve credit for making sacrifices to pursue democracy,” he said.

In an interview, he said Mali had “won the jackpot,” because it got the second largest MCC grant to date, after Ghana.

In a country with an annual income of $380 per person, $461 million goes a long way, members of the Malian delegation told The Washington Times. Moussa Ouattara, the Malian compact coordinator, said Malians expect their economy to grow an additional 2 percent each year as a result of the project.

“In five years, it’s about the amount of money that we receive from all other donors each year in terms of grant money, so this is big money,” Mr. Ouattara said. “This is money that [is spent on] projects. It’s not spread across the whole country.”

The compact will fund a $234.6 million irrigation project, which will make water from the Niger River available for livestock and growers’ cereal crops in the Alatona region, which has unpredictable weather patterns.

In addition, the compact designates $89.6 million for improvements to Bamako-Senou International Airport, designed to increase the landlocked country’s efficiency in handling passengers and freight, and $94.6 million for building an industrial park at the airport, where Malians will process crops to make them more suitable for export. The remaining funds will go to program management.

By the people

Modibo M. Makalou ,adviser to the president of Mali, said the promise of the money over five years helps the country take on such a specific plan.

“Donors come to us and they say, ‘Well, we’ll give you this year this amount, and next year we don’t know,’ ” he said. “How can you plan … your development if you don’t even know what to finance?”

The Malian delegation said MCC aid stands out because Malians, not the MCC, chose the targeted projects.

“What makes the difference between the MCC and other donors is that this project is designed by Malians,” Mr. Ouattara said.

He said the national government went to the “village level” to seek opinions on the project during its two-and-a-half years of planning.

“It’s not the government’s proposal,” he said. “It’s the people’s proposal.”

“If you want aid to be effective, it should finance national priorities first,” Mr. Makalou said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who chairs the MCC board of directors, told the audience at the signing that the MCC hopes to reward countries that make progress toward good governance, economic freedom and investing in citizens.

“Rather than doing for others, we’re helping others to do for themselves,” she said.

Only the worthy

Candidates for MCC assistance must have a per capita income of less than $3,465 for fiscal 2007 and must not be under U.S. or international sanctions. In addition, the MCC determines a country’s eligibility based on scores on indicators that reveal whether its government is governing justly, promoting environmental responsibility, investing in health care and education, and encouraging economic freedom.

Besides the 11 countries that have obtained such agreements, 14 are eligible to offer proposals for review by the MCC Board of Directors. Some are part of the group of 20 countries eligible for assistance in the threshold program, which assists countries that have not qualified for funding but have shown commitment to improving their eligibility score, according to the MCC Web site.

Yemen and the Gambia are the only two countries to have had their eligibility for MCC assistance suspended because they repeatedly acted in ways inconsistent with its standards. For instance, the MCC said in June that the Gambia had become ineligible because of reduced political rights and economic freedom and increased human rights abuses and government corruption.

For a compact to be signed, countries must present programs with clear goals, “benchmarks to measure progress” and have the ability to continue programs after funding ends, the Web site says.

Paul Applegarth, former MCC chief executive officer, said 40 percent of countries that meet qualification standards become eligible for some sort of MCC assistance.

For the long haul

The program’s critics accused it of a slow start, noting the two years between Mr. Bush’s proposal and its start as well as the small number of grants it has distributed. Mr. Applegarth noted, however, that the program does not use the “Beltway bandit” model where Westerners enter a country only to leave after completing a project.

“All of this takes time,” he said of countries developing their own compacts.

Mr. Danilovich said the MCC ensures that countries use the grant responsibly by appointing a representative to track the process of each compact, approving independent audits and publicizing progress.

“MCC partner countries understand that misuse of funds will result in the suspension or termination of the entire program,” Mr. Danilovich said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hopes an additional $2 billion will be appropriated for the MCC. Congress will vote on the appropriation of MCC funds during the current lame-duck session on the budget for fiscal 2007.

Mr. Lugar emphasized the importance of fully funding the MCC, saying critics want foreign aid money to remain tied to political situations.

“It’s not perceived as being a new way in which our country might put forth our ideals,” he said. “The need for the money, I believe, is manifest if in fact our foreign aid is going to be delivered in what I believe is a more effective way — that is, through audits.”

Jose Brito, Cape Verde’s ambassador to the United States, said the ability to “follow your dollar” will set MCC funding above other aid. He said his country has become one of the “best-performing” African countries because of its MCC compact, but recipient countries need to maintain good governance to prove the success of the MCC.

“Once you are eligible in a democratic system, you need to maintain eligibility,” he said.

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