CIDA funding in limbo

By 
  • December 13, 2011

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is not alone in its anxious wait for a funding decision from the Canadian International Development Agency.

There are more than 200 non-profit development agencies waiting for the government to say yes or no to new or continued funding, wondering whether they will have to lay off staff and cut off funding to co-operatives, clinics and seed banks in some of the poorest regions of the world.

In November, CIDA told Development and Peace its proposal for $10 million per year in program funding over the next five years had passed through the CIDA approval process and only needed a final yes or no from the Treasury Board. CIDA expected the Treasury Board to deal with the matter by Dec. 1.

There's been no word since then. After two years of negotiations and developing their proposal in close co-operation with CIDA staff, Development and Peace is reluctant to comment on the delay.

None of the agencies biting their nails and waiting for an answer on proposals to CIDA are talking, an insider in the international NGO community told The Catholic Register.

"Publicly, they have no comment for fear of creating problems for their applications," said the insider, who feared government reprisal against his agency if he spoke on the record. "To be clear, it's not that they have been told no. They have been told nothing. Promised deadlines for information have come and gone."

The delays have become so dire the association for Canadian NGOs with programs and partners abroad surveyed its members in November and found nearly half (45 per cent) were already slowing down or stopping international project work. Fully a quarter of Canadian Council for International Co-operation members answered yes when asked whether people are suffering or dying because community development and health initiatives are not being funded.

A CIDA spokesman refused to comment on when the Development and Peace could expect to hear about it's future.

"The due diligence process is still underway," said CIDA communications staffer Justin Broekema.

The Treasury Board refused to comment on whether Development and Peace was even on its Dec. 1 agenda on the grounds of cabinet secrecy.

The process of deciding which agencies get funding from CIDA's Partnership with Canadians branch has become more political and less transparent, said Julia Sanchez, Canadian Council for International Co-operation executive director.

"The criteria — on what basis CIDA would decide which programs would be funded and which wouldn't — have been very unclear," Sanchez told The Catholic Register.

While Development and Peace was negotiating the next five years of its large and complex 40-year partnership with CIDA, the government changed the entire system. Instead of applicants working with CIDA staff to develop and negotiate program funding, agencies would respond to a CIDA "request for proposals." In the name of neutrality and fairness, CIDA staff would not communicate with the applicants until a decision is rendered.

"On the political side our impression is that there is a very large amount of influence and interest in this process," said Sanchez. "It's not left to the bureaucrats."

Sanchez endorses the government's view that nobody has a right to automatic funding and the government should be free to set its own international development priorities.

But the sector has been left in limbo, not knowing whether to lay off staff and buy out of leases or get to work on programs they proposed to CIDA months ago.

"We have a lot of questions about how this new system is actually going to help improve our effectiveness as a sector," Sanchez said. "We're not sure, at  the end of the day, some elements of this new system will actually benefit development. We're all in the business of reducing poverty in the world."

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