The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has published today a Special Report (13/2013) on “European Union development Assistance to Central Asia”. The ECA examined how the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) planned and managed development assistance to Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) in the period 2007-2012.
The audit concluded that the Commission and EEAS made serious efforts, under challenging circumstances, to plan and put into effect the programme. This resulted in generally satisfactory planning and allocation of assistance but with slow and variable implementation.
The Commission discussed priorities with partner countries and sought to align its spending plans with their national priorities with a geographical distribution of aid that took into account relative prosperity. Projects chosen for EU support all contributed towards meeting the broad objectives set out in the regional strategy paper. However, the Commission provided assistance to a larger number of sectors than is consistent with best practice.
The Commission made use of a variety of delivery modes in implementing its plans. This included a large number of small projects, which placed a greater administrative burden on delegations. Managing the programme was also made more difficult by the wide range of financial instruments involved and multiple lines of reporting, which makes it difficult to establish how much the EU has spent per sector and per country in Central Asia. Furthermore, the Commission has not attempted to assess the overall administrative costs of its development assistance programme in Central Asia.
The Commission could and should have been more rigorous in managing its budget support programmes in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and tied it to specific anti-corruption measures. Disbursement decisions were based on partner countries’ commitments to reform rather than on progress achieved.
Implementation was slow overall, though with some significant variations. The regional programmes did not achieve a genuine regional dimension; a significant share consisted merely of ‘multi-country’ facilities available to each partner country individually. The Commission set up arrangements to enable it to learn from experience and improve its programmes over time. This process yielded useful results, although in some cases they were not always available on time, and in others useful recommendations were not taken on board. Its reports focused on activity rather than results.
Based on its findings, the ECA recommends that the EEAS and Commission:
• design any future regional programmes so that they are likely to achieve a genuine regional dimension;
• concentrate all assistance provided on a small number of sectors;
• set up a system for calculating and reporting on the overall administrative cost involved in delivering its development assistance;
• define and apply robust and objectively verifiable conditions for any continuing budget support programmes, in particular giving sufficient attention to support for anti-corruption mechanisms;
• improve programme design and delivery in the light of lessons learnt and changing circumstances;
• report on results and impact in a way that allows comparison with plans and objectives.