While a recipient government should have the right to know how and where foreign donors are spending their funds in local programs, such an arrangement could prove problematic in countries where governments have too much control or power, a human rights activist argues.
Catherine Fitzpatrick points to the case of Uzbekistan’s Maxim Popov, who received jail time after Uzbek authorities had deemed his anti-AIDS brochure to be incompatible with the country’s traditions. Popov ran the anti-AIDS nonprofit Izis, which receives funding from foreign donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.K. Department for International Development, Fitzpartrick writes in EurasiaNet, a New York-based advocacy group that docuses on political, economic, social and environmental developments, primarily in Central Asia and the Caucasus region.
Fitzpatrick explains that most foreign donors failed to support Popov, who was also accused of embezzling funds, during his trial. Now, USAID promises that staff and other workers engaged in AIDS-related initiatives in Uzbekistan that they are not likely to go through Popov’s ordeal, she adds. Fitzpartrick raises some doubts regarding the engagement.
“Ferghana.ru [a Russia-based news agency] concluded that the USAID program was now essentially under control by the Uzbek government, as Uzbek state agencies were now taking a role in both receiving and auditing funds and overseeing grant recipients,” Fitzpatrick says. “That means that small independent NGOs like Izis, the group which Popov ran, actually doing the work of reaching at-risk populations, would not be included – ‘USAID learned their lesson from the Popov case,’ said ferghana.ru. It’s easy to see why the Embassy can now make assurances that staff won’t get into trouble – they will likely have to operate with the government closely looking over their shoulder and will understand the limits.”
She adds: “While any host government should have a right to know how foreign donors are expending their funds on programs in their country, with an authoritarian government like Uzbekistan, there’s clearly overreach, making the work of authentic civic groups difficult – and still risky.”