US says no direct money to PPP government
By Shaheen Sehbai
The United States made it absolutely clear on Friday, days before President Asif Ali Zardari is to meet President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in New York, that bulk of the money it will provide under the Kerry-Lugar Bill will not go directly to the PPP government but to specific projects and purposes for which it is intended.
This statement was made at a State Department briefing by Jacob J Lew, US Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, who returned to Washington on Friday morning from a trip to Iraq, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.Lew spoke specifically about the “anxiousness” in Pakistan that money should flow through the government but he almost threw cold water on these hopes.
It was the latest indication that the US government was still grappling with the issue of a huge trust deficit and would not feel comfortable with aid money getting into the hands of the PPP government despite efforts in Washington to repair and whitewash the image of PPP leaders.
Jacob Lew told the briefing: “On the question of aid, there, as any of you who have seen the press releases put out would know, they’re very much anxious to have as much of the assistance as possible flow directly to the Pakistani government.
“We made clear that we’re looking at a variety of approaches, that we certainly intend to be supportive of Pakistani ministries where the programmes are ready to accept that support effectively, but that we also needed to look at the provincial level and to work with the traditional NGO community, and it wouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.”
In a blunt statement, Lew said: “The key to us was that for each of the undertakings that we agreed upon, and they had to be things that were mutually attractive from the point of view of the Pakistani government and the US government, we had to choose a method of funding that was most likely to produce results efficiently and effectively, and that the money needed to go to the purposes for which it was intended.”
The official made it obvious that instead of providing aid to the government to spend wherever it liked, they would look at the ministry projects which are ready on a case to case basis and also provide direct aid to provinces and NGOs. That is what he meant by saying that “it would not be a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The News has learnt that the US is talking directly to provincial governments and other organisations working inside Pakistan to come up with specific projects.A top level delegation of the MQM, headed by Governor of Sindh Ishratul Ebad and Nazim Karachi Syed Mustafa Kamal, arrived in Washington on Saturday to talk directly to the State Department and other government agencies for projects in Karachi and Sindh. The visit apparently fits into the US policy of direct contacts for disbursing aid.
The visit of MQM leaders has been specially authorised by the MQM secretariat in London and sources in London told The News that the channels of the Pakistan government, including the embassy, had not been used to arrange these meetings. The Pakistan embassy comments on the possibility that the embassy may have been ignored for these direct MQM contacts with US officials were not immediately available.
Jacob Lew also spoke about his visit to Pakistan in general. “We focused on a number of issues. I think, as you all know, with the Kerry-Lugar programme being worked through now in Congress and the budget process working through, in terms of the appropriations, we’re ready to take the next step and put a detailed programme out there that really goes and specifies what forms of assistance will be provided.
“In the conversations we had with the Pakistani officials ñ we met with Prime Minister Gilani, we met with Finance Minister Tarin ñ they are very much focused on not just the amount of assistance in Kerry-Lugar, but the fact that it’s a multi-year commitment. They see it as an extremely important statement from the United States that weíre thinking in multi-year terms and thinking about a programme that has integrity over a period of time.
“We had detailed discussions following up on the secretary’s interest and the issue that Ambassador Holbrooke raised when he was there recently, of an energy relationship with Pakistan, how we could work together using the assistance that we’re providing to help Pakistan address what is one of its core economic issues. We raised also the fact that itís not just a question of assistance on projects, but that Pakistan had to take some very hard steps to reform its electric utility sector in order for there to be the real opportunity for sustainable progress. I was pleased that both in the conversation with the prime minister and with the finance minister, they heard that message and they responded very positively.
The US secretary also talked about his visit to the NWFP and said there was a “great deal of interest there, much as we heard at the federal level, in having US assistance provide a basis for partnership at ñ for provincial development. ìThere also seemed to be a fair amount of capacity at the provincial level. It was ñ we were impressed that the chief minister had a very good sense of his budget, his needs, and his limitations. And you had the sense that there was the capacity to partner quite effectively.”
Lew said he also met NGO and international organisation officials on the ground and asked a lot of questions about what they saw as being the next steps.“And thereís obviously two things that theyíre focusing on. One is kind of getting the first round of IDPs back home and safe for the winter. But they also are aware that with ongoing military activities, there could be new IDPs. So theyíre kind of working on coming to some kind of closure on the current experience while knowing that there may be more ahead.
“They were all focusing on the need for ongoing food and clothing support. It was not clear, frankly, the scope of damage to be repaired. Apart from the reports we got about schools and police stations, one didnít have the sense that there had been the ability to do the detailed assessment. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are supposed to complete an assessment even this week. So we will work together as we go through that.
“I guess the conclusion that I drew from the days we spent were that the government of Pakistan and the people of Pakistan have really done an extraordinary job in dealing with millions of displaced people in a way that, from the brief time we spent there, seemed to have left considerable feeling of ñ that people had been taken care of in very difficult circumstances. And it doesnít mean that there arenít problems. There certainly are still problems. But it ñ the notion of people taking tens of people into their homes, their small homes, on very modest incomes, it just ñ people-to-people ñ gave you great respect for the outpouring of help that came from just regular people,” he said.