Aid down the consultants' drain

March 16, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

EVERY other word in Washington these days, at least about foreign policy, seems to revolve around Russian aid. We did not want to cut off aid over the Ames spy case, for instance, because it would benefit the most reactionary forces in the Russian government.

Then, this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released its report on the $3 billion assistance program, and it was qualifiedly critical. "It does not appear," the report said, "that the average citizen of Moscow, Almaty or Bishkek . . . is aware of or affected by international assistance or the reforms that it is supposed to foster."

The report also suggested strongly that U.S. advisers should actually live in the countries to which aid is going to go, instead of relying on short-term visits -- and here is where you uncover the most amazing and least known revelation of the entire aid saga.

For the terrible truth is that the great majority of the U.S. "aid" -- which has been both so widely criticized as a giveaway to the Russkys and hailed as the savior and democratizer of Mother Russia -- actually goes to American "consultants."

The Wall Street Journal recently went into detail in a remarkable piece headlined, "U.S. Aid to Russia Is Quite a Windfall -- for U.S. Consultants: While They Reap Millions Sowing Capitalist Seeds, Russians Feel Left Out."

Consultants are reaping between 50 percent and 90 percent of the money in any aid package, the Journal's respected John J. Fialka reported after a great deal of investiga-tion, and at least one consultant has demanded $1,150 a day! The norm is $800 a day, including benefits and overhead. Not surprisingly, the Agency for International Development, or AID, which is overseeing most of the package, was overwhelmed with more than 1,200 consultants applying to get into the program, a record for the agency.

The Journal article quotes Aleksandr A. Jitnikov, head of a Russian commission coordinating foreign aid, as saying, "We don't need 90 percent of technical-assistance money going to American experts." In addition, Marshall Goldman, the pre-eminent Russian specialist and professor at Wellesley College, recently testified before the Senate Banking Committee that Russian salvation through consultants and "Beltway bandits" benefit Russians "minimally, if at all." Then he predicted, "I look for a scandal down the road that's going to upset the American taxpayer."

Almost exactly the same thing has happened in Poland, which was the first in Eastern Europe to receive substantial Western aid and thus can be seen as a warning of what aid can or cannot do.

In still another Journal article, journalist Barry Newman wrote of those early, halcyon years in Warsaw after communism fell in 1989: "Revolution was still rolling across Eastern Europe when the West's advisers began pouring into Warsaw. They entered a world none of them knew, and took on jobs no one could tell them how to do. . . .But nothing stopped the advisers from charging their usual fees, paid for by Western aid, and helping themselves at least as much as they helped Poland."

Now, it would be easy to criticize the AID bureaucracy and the consultants as greedy no-goods or hapless naifs. But most AID workers are able people, who should ensure that the consultants are strictly controlled by the program.

The problem is twofold: 1) the administration has sold the aid policy to the American people as though the salvation of Russia was up to us, while the truth is that our acts or non-acts are almost irrelevant to Russia's fate, and 2) by placing so much money and confidence in these highly paid and high-flying consultants, the program is causing deep resentment in Russia toward the very lessons that the West wants to imbue in the people.

Every once in a while, someone recalls the Marshall Plan, whose immense success in rebuilding Europe after World War II inspired and energized a tired world. The Marshall Plan, instructively enough, deliberately eschewed the use of consultants, knowing they would breed resentment; instead, the plan brought 26,000 European leaders to study in America to learn the skills and theories necessary for rebuilding a war-devastated Europe.

I have long believed, since it is so difficult and often counterproductive to export skills and aid, that the vast majority of our aid should be given to bring foreign students to study here. This would aid our colleges and universities at the same time that it would eliminate the resentment of questionable intermediaries. The students could learn what they wanted and apply or not apply the knowledge back home.

I think so even more after seeing what we are doing with our "aid" consultants in the Eastern Bloc. I fear we have created a situation in which we may be provoking the very forces of reaction that we want to defeat.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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