Development agencies fear the CIDA chop

  • December 10, 2009
{mosimage}The axe that landed on KAIROS , ending 35 years of Canadian International Development Agency funding, has left Canada’s Catholic development organization and others wondering, who’s next?

“It gives all organizations in the development community... pause right now to wonder what’s going on,” said Michael Casey, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.

A Nov. 30 phone call from one of CIDA’s vice presidents informed KAIROS executive director Mary Corkery funding for the group’s international programs would cease immediately because the KAIROS program, with 21 partners in 15 poor countries, no longer fit CIDA priorities. In eight days following the phone call, Corkery had no further communication from anyone at CIDA, nothing in writing and no response to requests for a meeting with CIDA Minister Bev Oda.

KAIROS was asking for just over $7 million over four years from CIDA, with another $2 million coming from the organization’s supporters — mainly Catholic and Protestant churches that represent about 18 million Christians nationally.

“It’s disconcerting to see the way this was handled,” Casey said. “Particularly that there was no notice.”

Development and Peace has begun preparing its proposal to CIDA for funding from 2012 to 2016. In light of the decision not to fund KAIROS’s 2009-2013 program, Casey said he’s not sure what criteria CIDA will use to judge his organization’s proposal. The current agreement ends in 20 months.

Opposition politicians called the decision political payback for KAIROS’s outspoken criticism of the government’s record on the environment, promoting human rights abroad and aboriginal affairs.

“There’s no doubt it came directly from the Prime Minister’s Office,” said New Democratic Party’s CIDA critic John Rafferty.

“They have fallen within the crosshairs of this government,” said Liberal CIDA critic Glen Pearson.

The Liberals would fund KAIROS if their party formed the next government, Pearson said.

“Of course we would reverse this decision,” he said. “Not just because of the subject matter involved — human rights and climate change — but you don’t turn your back on your partners. It’s not good business. It’s not good for your reputation as a country.”

Oda’s press secretary, Jessica Fletcher, told Canadian Catholic News Ottawa correspondent Deborah Gyapong the minister would not answer reporters’ questions on KAIROS. In an e-mail Fletcher said, “After completing due diligence it was determined that the organization’s project does not meet CIDA’s current priorities.” In answer to nine questions from The Catholic Register, CIDA’s manager of media relations Scott Cantin repeated the same sentence word-for-word.

“We didn’t get any information from Bev Oda about why we were cut. The phone call said it was because it was deemed that KAIROS does not fit CIDA priorities,” Corkery said. “I said, which priorities are you referring to?”

KAIROS received a positive program evaluation from CIDA in February, just before submitting its 2009-2013 proposal.

“Experience and good judgment is one of the important reasons for their success in achieving the results as defined in the program proposal,” wrote the CIDA evaluator.

The KAIROS proposal was in to CIDA on March 15 and KAIROS staff made subsequent adjustments to the proposal requested by CIDA officials. The proposal passed various levels of approval and landed on Oda’s desk in July. When Oda had still not signed off in September, CIDA gave KAIROS a two-month extension on its previous agreement. Nov. 30 was the last day of the extension.

Oda made a series of speeches and announcements over the summer to promote her “aid effectiveness agenda.” In February she issued a new list of 20 countries which would receive 80 per cent of Canada’s bilateral aid. CIDA officials emphasized this would not affect the kind of partnership programs KAIROS and Development and Peace run.

In a May 20 speech she announced three new “themes” for bilateral aid — food security, sustainable economic growth, children and youth. In the same speech she committed CIDA to democratic development, human rights work, the environment and programming that promotes equality between men and women.

Development agencies had no indication that the new themes or priorities would apply to CIDA’s partnership branch, said Casey. CIDA officials have characterized the new priorities as policy for the much larger bilateral aid programs which the government controls directly.

The idea that priorities sketched out in a May speech could be applied to a proposal submitted in March is less than fair, said Gerry Barr, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation , a think tank and lobby organization for most of Canada’s development agencies. The cuts are “a classic case of moving the goal posts after the play has started,” Barr told a Dec. 8 press conference in Ottawa.

KAIROS is not going out of business and will continue its activism, Corkery said. But as of Dec. 1 the 21 organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East that relied on KAIROS have been defunded.

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