CALGARY - In a country where government corruption and payoffs are pervasive, only pennies from each aid dollar being sent to Afghanistan are actually reaching the people who need help, an international aid expert said Thursday.

Marco Vicenzino, the founder of the Global Strategy Project, a non-partisan, non-profit foreign policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C., said he is "appalled" by the inefficiency of humanitarian aid efforts in the war-torn country.

"You've got 15,000 foreigners, primarily westerners, based in Kabul - a lot of overlapping, poor co-ordination - and it seems a battle between the NGOs (non-government organizations) in terms of territoriality and a battle of egos," Vicenzino said at a gathering hosted by the United States Consulate in Calgary.

"I was very depressed and discouraged by the disorganization of the international aid efforts."

Vicenzino, who is a strategic adviser for the Afghanistan World Foundation and a former official with the World Bank, said about 80 cents of every dollar goes back to donor countries, largely through the contractors doing the work.

"You have 20 cents left for Afghanistan and those 20 cents have to go through their layers of corruption. By the time any money reaches the ordinary citizen, you're lucky if you even have five cents ...."

Vicenzino said the aid system in Afghanistan has to be streamlined. He said a piecemeal approach cannot replace a "proper, full-scale and accountable" aid process.

"The Afghan government has not been able to even calculate how much money comes into the country for NGOs, although it was estimated to be about $1 billion last year," he said.

Jonathan Papoulidis, senior policy adviser for World Vision, disagrees that non-government organizations are inefficient or in competition with each other.

But he agreed that corruption does hamper efforts.

"Problems like corruption and this weak governance situation are really symptomatic of a bigger problem that the international aid community has to find better ways to make their aid more effective in transforming the status quo," Papoulidis said in a telephone interview from Mississauga, Ont.

Papoulidis, who previously did an assessment for the United Nations, said there needs to be a way to include local government and leaders in making the system more efficient.

"So the actual people suffering the most from poverty are actually being served through the enormous aid that is being poured into some parts of the country."

CARE Canada, which operates in 13 Afghan provinces, has been successful by enlisting local partners in Afghanistan to provide aid, said Steve Cornish, director of bilateral programs for the group.

"There have been difficulties in the past and will continue to be some. But there are also several ministries that we have had very good co-operation and been able to implement successful programs," Cornish said.

"One of the problems in Afghanistan is we say aid and mean anything that is non-military and it goes into the same bucket and so aid delivered through contractors or the military or through upstart organizations are all lumped into the same basket."

Cornish said the changing political climate has had an impact as well.

"We originally had enormous success throughout the country but now, as the government is in less favour and the insurgency is gaining ground, we find that in areas where we have been seen to be part of the government programming that is reducing our space to operate."

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