Serious deficiencies at Sida field office

The Bukina Faso field office of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has been plagued by deficiencies for several years, according to an internal audit of the office.

Sharp criticism has been raised against the office’s “internal governance and monitoring”.

Suppliers have avoided paying taxes and social fees, unauthorized individuals have replied to official email from private accounts and petrol coupons are missing.

Sida has also lost 118,000 kronor ($15,000) by paying VAT in the country, something which Sida really shouldn’t have to pay.

“We are of the opinion that this has been unsatisfactory. That is the strongest expression we have,” said William Stannervik of Sida’s internal audit department.

Several of the local companies hired by Sida can’t produce documentation that they have paid taxes or social fees. Security company Socokif Techno Security, for example, has refused to provide any records for 2006 through May 2009.

When asked if a Swedish agency, especially one working with development cooperation, shouldn’t ensure that its suppliers pay taxes, Stannervik said reality doesn’t necessarily meet with that ideal as many of the companies hired might be little more than “a gravel floor and a hole in the wall.”

Jan Bjerninger, head of Sida’s long-term programme-based cooperation at Sida, believes that the report is a good thing despite the critique.

“We will review contracts with companies in light of this,” he said.

In addition to tax-related issues, a locally-hired assistant has answered an incoming email, addressed to the embassy leadership. He was reported to have replied from his private email, which was one of the auditors’ most serious concern.

According to unconfirmed information, the assistant who replied to the email was supposedly the head of the security company hired by Sida.

The email reported came from the security guards who were attempting to bring the problem to Sida’s attention. Those suspicions have also been investigated.

The numbers related to petrol coupons don’t add up either. When the accountants balanced the books, the equivalent of 20,000 kronor was missing.

“There was an overlap between two individuals and we have no reason to believe there have been any irregularities,” said Stannervik.

Cecilian Gerdrum, head of the Burkina Faso field office, declined to comment when telephoned by TT.

Sida has dispatched an additional two individuals to the office and has drafted an action plan to address the deficiencies.

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Jailed Swedes on the way to Ethiopian capital

The two Swedish journalists jailed in Ethiopia are headed for the capital Addis Ababa, according to recent reports from Sweden's Foreign Ministry.

The Swedish embassy has demanded to see the Swedes when they arrive to the city, which should happen Thursday evening.

Foreign minister Carl Bildt believes the first visit from the ambassador may have saved the Swedes’ lives.

“I think it’s thanks to the Swedish ambassador’s quick intervention that they’re still alive. The others in the group aren’t,” he said, referring to rebels from ONLF.

Bildt does not want to reveal what he or the Foreign Ministry are doing for the Swedes, as the situation is highly sensitive.

Every year Sweden gives large sums of financial aid to Ethiopia. This, however, is not likely to be used as leverage in order to get the arrested and injured Swedish journalists released.

Sweden has a “long history and strong commitment with the Ethiopian people,” said development aid minister Gunilla Carlsson to the TT news agency.

She was unwilling to speculate about whether Swedish aid would be of any significance in contact with Ethiopian authorities.

“I don’t think one can bargain with aid,” she said.

“Now we’re hoping that this will really get a good solution. We’re doing everything we can on location.”

Swedish aid to Ethiopia was roughly 280 million kronor ($44 million) in 2010, according to international development agency SIDA. In the past couple of years, this aid has chiefly gone in directions other than governmental.

The development agency writes on their web page that “the cooperation with Ethiopia has many aspects. Flexible humanitarian efforts are combined with long-term strategies in the fight against poverty. Now we’re focusing our efforts on democratic and economic development as well as education and health.”

SIDA notes that the political climate in Ethiopia has had an effect on their work in the country.

“The government’s lack of respect for democratic principles has led to the financial support being stopped.”

The Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were arrested and injured in the closed border area Ogaden, on July 1st, when caught in a battle between Ethiopian government forces and the ONLF guerilla.

The journalists entered Ethiopia illegally together with the rebels, who are classed as terrorists by the regime. Following their arrest, the pair were taken to an arrest in the city Jijiga, where they were permitted to meet briefly with Swedish ambassador Jens Odlander.

Events after this are unclear. Both the Swedish Foreign Ministry and several media outlets have been given incorrect, unclear, conflicting or nonexistent information about the Swedes’ whereabouts, how long they can be held, or what they are accused of.

Since their arrest, Sweden has refrained from open criticism of Ethiopia. Considering the sensitive situation, critical comments are obviously considered to risk causing more damage than good.

On Thursday, however, the Foreign Ministry published their first report in three years on the human rights situation in 188 countries. The chapter on Ethiopia does not make for pretty reading.

“Over the past four years a deterioration of respect for human rights has occurred,” states the report.

Several journalist organisations are now joining the protests against the Swedes’ situation. The Swedish Union of Journalists (Svenska journalistförbundet – SJF) and Swedish Union of Photographers (Svenska Fotografers Förbund) are demanding their release.

“They were arrested while carrying out journalistic work, and ought therefore never to have been arrested or captured at all,” commented Jonas Nordling, SJF’s chairman, in a statement.

The International Federation of Journalists condemn the arrests “in the strongest possible terms” and demand that the Swedes be given access to healthcare.

The United States-based international journalist organisation CPJ, and Reporters without Borders (Reportrar utan gränser) have previously made similar demands.