Controversies Haunt AusAID Spending

AusAID draws criticism after an investigation revealed hefty salaries, huge contracts with private firms and questionable foreign aid projects. Photo by: Josh Estey / AusAID

Australia’s foreign aid program has drawn criticism after an investigation revealed hefty salaries of consultants, huge contracts with private firms, and questionable foreign aid projects, Herald Sun reports.

AusAID consultants working as advisers in poor countries such as East Timor, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tonga allegedly receive “mega-salaries,” which even exceed the remuneration of the Australian prime minister.

For instance, a senior justice adviser to East Timor is paid 757,960 Australian dollars (USD627,286) tax-free on a two-year contract. A justice adviser to Papua New Guinea receives more than 500,000 Australian dollars annually, and a Vanuatu energy adviser gets 746,730 Australian dollars for a two-year contract.

As cited in a Devex report, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is earning USD350,000 per year.

According to Herald Sun, AusAID justifies the “huge” salaries of consultants as a way to encourage top-notch experts to work in high-risk places such as Papua New Guinea. However, newly appointed AusAID chief Peter Baxter vows to crack down on consultants earning six-figure contracts.

Moreover, a high-level review, reports say, has slammed aid to Papua New Guinea, as 100 million Australian dollars of the total 414 million Australian dollars had gone to a handful of firms that didn’t deliver lasting results.

Investigation points out that five firms including Coffey, GRM and Cardno Acil secured 1 billion Australian dollars in AusAID contracts.

Millions of Australian dollars in taxpayers’ money were also diverted to questionable aid programs such as 13 million Australian dollars to redevelop one school in Nauru and 12 million Australian dollars to research the giant panda in China, the Herald Sun says.

The controversies emerged amid the Rudd administration’s plan to double annual spending from a projected 4.3 billion Australian dollars in 2010-11 to more than 8 billion Australian dollars by 2015.  

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    Chiden Balmes

    Chiden, a correspondent based in Seoul, focuses on computer-assisted reporting to provide international development professionals with practical business and career information. He also contributes to the Development Newswire and the Global Development Briefing, two of the world's highest-circulation development publications.