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A member of the Maronite Scouts is pictured in an undated photo helping cleanup following the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut’s port area. CNS photo/Stefanie Glinski for Catholic Relief Services

Ottawa slow to get money to people in Lebanon, says prof

  • October 1, 2020

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says he wants Canadian aid to Lebanon to reach ordinary Lebanese on the streets of Beirut, but that’s not what’s happening, says Ruby Dagher.

Dagher, an international development studies professor at the University of Ottawa, accuses Global Affairs Canada of avoiding grassroots, Lebanese NGOs — especially those with religious roots — for fear of unwittingly funding corrupt actors in Lebanon’s complex sectarian landscape.

“Discussion more and more is not being held with the locals,” said Dagher, a Canadian of Lebanese origin who once worked for Global Affairs on Middle East development aid.

“It’s actually being held more and more with UN agencies and other multilateral agencies and other NGOs. The government feels more comfortable talking to these people at an official level and at the decision-making level.”

What that has meant in practical terms is that giant, non-Lebanese, international NGOs, along with agencies of the United Nations, are first in line for a share of Ottawa’s money. Local agencies with religious roots, like Caritas Lebanon, are left wondering where Canada’s aid is, Dagher said.

Big international NGOs, such as Oxfam and Save The Children, are top heavy with administrative costs. Like the UN agencies, their international offices will deduct their costs from any money earmarked for Lebanon, Dagher said.

But it isn’t just the layers of bureaucracy that worry Dagher. Ottawa has been slow actually getting the money out the door, she said.

“In international development there’s a difference between committed and disbursed,” Dagher explained. “The government can say, ‘We’ve committed that much money, or up to that much,’ but in effect, does it really get disbursed?”

So far Global Affairs has actually delivered funds for six humanitarian projects in response to the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut that killed nearly 200 people and left about 300,000 homeless, Global Affairs spokesperson Patricia Skinner told The Catholic Register. Canada’s preferred relationship with the UN and international NGOs is just the government being responsible with tax dollars, said Skinner.

“Canada provides humanitarian funding by supporting experienced partners who deliver assistance in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Development and Peace – Caritas Canada is working hard to support its sister organization Caritas Lebanon, saying it’s not trying to take anything away from the UN system or the big NGOs.

“There needs to be a balance between multilateral funding and funding of local organizations through Canadian NGOs,” said spokesperson Kelly Di Domenico. “Multilateral organizations bring their own expertise and efficiencies in terms of rapid, large-scale responses.”

Development and Peace has been able to generate matching funds for Caritas Lebanon through its partner in the Humanitarian Coalition, Canadian Food Grains Bank. Ottawa has set aside up to $8 million of the $30 million so far pledged in matching funds to be distributed exclusively through the 12 Humanitarian Coalition member agencies. Development and Peace is not a member of the coalition, but has a seat on the board of Foodgrains.

Canada should avoid giving money to religious NGOs that have close ties to powerful and corrupt political leaders in Lebanon, Dagher said. But treating all the religious Lebanese NGOs as suspect does a disservice to Caritas Lebanon, she said.

“Caritas, for me, is one of the truest representations of really just helping other people and doing it just to support other people, with no other intentions,” she said.

Independent religious NGOs are highly effective and deeply connected to the people, which is why they’re also better than the UN agencies and international NGOs at avoiding corruption.

“Caritas and the Lebanese Red Cross and others have been on the ground and know who the liars are — who are the people who are trying to make money off of other people. They know where the dire needs exist and know who to avoid and who not to avoid,” Dagher said.

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