Australian aid program comes under fire anew over large contracts

Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the opposition in the Australian parliament and shadow minister for both foreign affairs and trade. Photo by: Mick / CC BY-SA

A high-ranking member of the Australian opposition coalition wants Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to “urgently” announce how the government can better measure the foreign aid program’s performance benchmarks.

Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the opposition in the Australian parliament and shadow minister for both foreign affairs and trade, made the call amid local media reports highlighting seven Australian corporations that have won at least 1.81 billion Australian dollars ($1.85 billion) worth of contracts over the past 18 months, with some even receiving more than what Australia gives to the World Bank per year.

One of the companies, Cardno, reported AU$59 million in profits for 2011 from all of its global operations; the company holds $442 million in AusAID contracts, according to The Advertiser. (The company is worth even more, we might add.) Other companies cited include Coffey International Development, GRM International and SMEC

Bishop said her call reflects the recommendation of an independent review of the Australian aid program, whose findings were released in July 2011. In response to the review, the Gillard administration pledged to develop “a high-level results framework” to improve its ability to measure and report on Australian aid results.

“With some organisations awarded contracts involving hundreds of millions of dollars, it is essential that aid programs under their management are scrutinised for accountability and effectiveness,” Bishop said, as quoted by The Advertiser.

The review followed criticism over how the aid program had spent its funding. In mid-2010, a study indicated the Australian Agency for International Development paid exorbitant fees to technical advisers, with some earning more than the Australian prime minister. The agency later announced it will cut a significant number of technical adviser positions, especially in Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.