€1bn of EU aid to Congo wasted, auditors say
At least €1 billion of EU aid poured into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent years went down the drain, auditors say.
The EU spending watchdog, the Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, published the finding in a report out on Tuesday (1 October).
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Looking at €1.9 billion worth of 16 aid projects in the vast, troubled, country between 2003 and 2011, it said: "Fewer than half of the programmes examined have delivered, or are likely to deliver, most of the expected results."
It added that even those projects which hit targets are likely to vanish without trace, noting that: "Sustainability is an unrealistic prospect in most cases."
The court's Hans Gustaf Wesseberg told press that, in one example, the EU paid for a new court house and prisons in eastern DRC, but "the number of buildings planned was simply too large and the Congolese authorities have no money … to sustain them."
He said the EU in 2005 also helped to equip and train a police force of some 1,000 officers, "but when we came down there and checked [in 2012], we could find no sign of that police force any longer … we could find no trace of it."
Aside from drafting "overly ambitious" projects, the court said the European Commission and the EU's External Action Service (EEAS) overlooked the risk of corruption.
"The programme documents do not mention a number of major risks - notably the lack of political will, fraud and corruption - which are a serious matter for concern," the report said.
It noted that, in terms of financial aid during 2011 elections, the EU blind spot means "the support provided by the international community … risks being perceived as contributing to regime entrenchment to the detriment of the population."
Wesseberg urged the commission and the EEAS to learn from its mistakes when drawing up aid plans for the 2014 to 2020 period.
He also noted that DRC-type errors exist in other EU programmes in problem countries.
The auditors back in June also said some €1 billion of EU funding for Egypt in 2011 to 2013 vanished into a black hole, chiefly due to Egyptian state corruption.
The court's DRC report contained a "reply" from the commission and the EEAS which rebuffed many of its recommendations, however.
"In the context of this extremely fragile state [DRC], the commission considers that promising intermediate results have been achieved," it said.
"The risk of non-engagement in the context of the DRC can outweigh most risks of engagement. The commission and EEAS views are that EU co-ordination is working well in the DRC," they added.
The Luxembourg-based court is best known for its negative yearly assessments of overall EU bookkeeping standards.
But for his part, EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy in a speech to the auditors on 13 September said it should keep in mind the bad PR which its criticism generates for the Union.
"Your reports are not released into a void but into the rough and tumble of political life and media reporting," he said.
“Given this media handling of information, and its impact on public opinion in some countries, the court might want to give some further thought as to how it can encourage more nuanced reporting," he added.