Thursday, January 19, 2006

Times, They Are a'Changing

My comments are in parentheses at the appropriate area that captured my attention. / World / US - ‘Political hijack’ fear over US aid shake-up: The Bush administration on Thursday appointed (no recess?) Randall Tobias, a retired pharmaceuticals executive, to the powerful new position of director of foreign assistance, in a move officials said would subordinate US overseas aid programmes to the broader policy objectives of government.

Mr Tobias, a big donor (surprise!) to the Republican party who heads the US global anti-HIV/Aids campaign, will run a combined $19bn (€16bn, £11bn) budget and also replace Andrew Natsios as head of USAID, the US agency for international development.

“The resources we commit must empower developing countries to strengthen security, to consolidate democracy, to increase trade and investment, and to improve the lives of their people, (according to our terms and conditions)” Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, said in announcing the overhaul of how the US runs its aid bureaucracy.

Mr Tobias’s appointment requires Senate approval (should be no problem with the eunuchs who currently occupy it). He will have a rank equivalent to deputy secretary of state and report to Ms Rice, who is driving what she calls “transformational diplomacy” with the aim of changing the world (into what?).

But development organisations are concerned that USAID, created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, will lose its independence and that development assistance will become hijacked by a short-term political agenda driven by the “war on terror” (I'd be worried too!).

James Bishop, a director at InterAction, an alliance of development non-governmental organisations, said it was too early to tell how policies would evolve and he looked forward to the Senate confirmation hearings (why?).

Two senior State Department officials, explaining the reorganisation, denied that USAID was being “merged” into the department, as critics fear. The two agencies were becoming “aligned”, they said, and the move had the support of Mr Natsios (If it is anything like corporate alignments, this agency is toast, and burnt at that).

The current aid system was a legacy of the cold war and had spawned 18 separate accounts in the State Department and USAID. Mr Tobias would have authority and oversight over all these different accounts and bureaux, including the administration’s programme to promote democracy in the broader Middle East, the officials said (oh I see, Halliburton needs more money).

One official pointed out that when Ms Rice first came to the State Department a year ago and asked how much the US was spending on democracy promotion, it was not easy to give an answer because of a proliferation of programmes, budgets and bureaux (maybe because if it isn't a pie chart it strains their brain cells?).

A former CEO of Eli Lilly, the pharmaceuticals group, and with little background in public health, Mr Tobias spearheaded the administration’s sometimes controversial anti-Aids campaign that has been criticised for overemphasising abstinence and fidelity, rather than condoms. While at Eli Lilly, Mr Tobias lobbied for stronger intellectual property rights to protect expensive drugs (not a surprise).

Ms Rice was impressed by Mr Tobias’s management and leadership abilities, the State Department officials said (she does seem to have a thing for domination).

The next battle for Ms Rice will be to take further control of the aid budget by attempting to diminish the powers of the Senate to “earmark” funds – attaching money to specific projects. (another attempt to make an end run around the Constitution, that pesky piece of paper).

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