Saturday, November 8, 2014

World Bank's response re: AAA/Keumang raises more questions than it answers . . . and $6.7 million still unaccounted for

Last week I wrote a letter to World Bank, addressed to one of the compilers of the 65-page EDFF Completion report expressing shock and surprise that it had left JMD out of the final EDFF report as the DSF subcontractor for IOM’s Arabica coffee project (2009-2011).  I was stunned, I tell you—there it was, big as life on the chart: “IOM had no local partner.”  How many hands and eyes did that report have to pass (including IOM’s), and still they omit JMD’s name? Especially considering that one of the requirements of getting EDFF funding was that a foreign NGO MUST have a local partner.

I also asked some slightly pointed questions regarding the AAA/Keumang project, which the report had rated as “moderately unsatisfactory.” 
No, really?

Well, knock me over with a feather, I received a response from their Jakarta office of External Affairs this week, apologizing for the oversight and promising to include JMD in its amended report, and offering some additional (but not much) information on the ill-fated $6.7 million project that never materialized.

The email stated in part that “With regard to your query about the Action Aid Australia and Keumang Foundation sub-project, the Implementation Completion Report has indicated that this project faced a number of implementation delays and procurement issues (page 49), and was scaled back as result of extensive project monitoring. We attach below the link to the report for reference:

I thought this was cute as the dickens, since my email to them had quoted this very report and mentioned this very page.  So their answer was to quote me back my question.  Probably because the question's subtext went something like this: “You would have only attributed ‘the project’s failure to a number of implementation delays and procurement issues’ and labeled it ‘scaled back as a result of extensive project monitoring’ if you had never visited the project site or did any comprehensive examination of reports.”  I do believe that ‘scaled back as a result of extensive project monitoring’ really means “worked like mad to figure out something different since the original scope was impossible from the outset, the banks were never on board with the scheme, the implementing partner was crooked, and the lead NGO had little idea of what it had gotten into.”  But that would mean that $6.7 million was not well spent, and that just wasn’t something that anyone wants to admit, not at this late date.

The email went on, however, stating that “in February 2014, the World Bank Group announced the debarment of Mr. Yusri Yusuf, Director of the Keumang Foundation, . . .  for a minimum period of five years, in response to allegations of fraudulent and coercive practices under the Aceh Economic Development Financing Facility (EDFF) Project.” The link explains that “an investigation by [the World Bank’s] Integrity Vice Presidency reveal[ed] evidence that Mr. Yusuf submitted fraudulent expenses and made threats in an effort to have the fraudulent expenses paid.  The debarment represents the first sanctions resulting from coercive practices.”

The AAA/Keumang project ran (if you can call it that) from 2008-2009.  Why did the World Bank take 5 years to make the announcement? Why has AAA been so loathe to rat out what was clearly a horrible agency (whose name still makes people spit on the ground every time JMD staff mentions it)?

My response to the folks in External Affairs:

Dear Ms D----

Thanks so much for your prompt reply.  We appreciate your amendments to the EDFF final report, which will now state that JMD was the subcontractor for IOM's Arabica coffee improvement project in Central Aceh.

We are still interested in the AAA/Keumang project, in that we had written to AAA and World Bank several months ago offering to conduct a monitoring and evaluation visit based on AAA's final report to World Bank/EDFF, a copy of which was forwarded to us by AAA. (We were going to seek a small amount funding for this evaluation from either USAID, WB or another interested donor, and wanted to make sure that it would be a useful addition to EDFF's closeout documents.)

JMD was interested in this project for two reasons: 1) it had been conducting a small but successful cocoa improvement and integrated farming project in the same area since 2009, and was hoping to build on AAA's existing work, and 2) JMD had been asked by a cocoa processing company to provide specific IPM trainings to farmers in some of the locations indicated in AAA's report as containing their beneficiaries.  In March 2012 and again in early 2013 and 2014, staff traveled to those areas to determine the extent of the AAA/Keumang project's completion, to avoid duplication of services.

With very few exceptions, staff could find no evidence of any of the project goals as being completed in terms of construction, materials/equipment, or pre-paid services such as 5-year advance payments for rental facilities.

Since Keumang was tasked with, among other things, participatory rural appraisal and developing baseline data, we understand that it is difficult to gauge the extent to which these particular services were delivered and the funds legitimately allocated to this component.  But as a small agency that was not given the opportunity to bid on this project, and who could most likely have completed it successfully for far less than half of the $6.7million total cost, JMD is interested in learning where exactly  that $6.7 million went.  AAA reports that it spent all of its allocation, and yet both your report and theirs state that many interventions were "scaled back." 

We were not allowed to see the financials for this project, and so have had to make some assumptions based on information which may be incomplete.  However, to date we have not encountered anyone acquainted with that project who knows of any part of it, save one-half of a co-op's construction, that was completed. 

Prior to making any claims of fraudulent activity regarding this project in the link you have provided, we wanted to see if we could pursue the matter through a formal evaluation to determine exactly what services were provided to the 4,000 farmers in north/east Aceh.  Our primary goal is to help these communities become economically self-sufficient stewards of the natural resources that surround them; encouraging production of this carbon-neutral commodity is beneficial to the entire province.   By highlighting the components of this project that have not been sufficiently addressed, we hope that possible future funding requests will be understood by the donor community as not duplicating an effort already addressed by EDFF.

Thanks again for your time and assistance.

See? I can be diplomatic when I want to be.
But it’s killing me, because still, nobody knows (or is telling) where that $6.7 million went. 

And next time, I’ll tell you something even more bizarre: reports that in 2012, supposedly long after this project closed and slunk away and AAA left Indonesia, AAA signed MoUs with Bappeda in Aceh for the same project . . . it’s like the Twilight Zone, I swear.

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