International Development Law Organization

US Stands by IDLO in Afghan Contract Row

The US State Department has strongly defended IDLO’s record in Afghanistan. The comments came in response to allegations by the monitoring agency, SIGAR, that more than $47 million in funds allocated to IDLO for judicial training in Afghanistan lacked proper oversight.

Deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the IDLO-run Justice Training Transition Program, or JTTP, was “accompanied by a 50-page addendum describing in detail the program, a line-item budget, and the oversight mechanisms in place, including a robust monitoring and evaluation plan.”

SIGAR chief John Sopko had also questioned the “inexplicable” decision to award the work to IDLO in the first place, referring to the organization as “ill-prepared” for the job.

The State Department’s Ms. Harf said the Department was working with IDLO “because they are the best positioned to do this work, period, as they are the only not-for-profit intergovernmental organization that is exclusively dedicated to working with governments to promote the rule of law.” She added that “while this program is new [early 2013], there have been no allegations or evidence of fraud, waste, or mismanagement of JTTP.”

In a statement released shortly after SIGAR’s letter was made public, IDLO detailed what it said was a stringent oversight regime for JTTP, ranging from weekly conference calls to monthly activity reports, quarterly program reports, mid-term third-party assessment and three completion reports. “IDLO and [US funding agency] INL,” the statement goes on to say, “have agreed that the program can be audited by an independent third party at any time, at the request of INL.”

Contrary to some US reports, IDLO is neither a “foreign entity,” nor, unlike previous Afghanistan contractors, “a company”. It is an international body with UN observer status, of which the US is a founding member and the current president. It has trained some 25,000 legal professionals from the developing world in its 30-year-history, and has been running rule of law projects in Afghanistan since 2002. It is also in the process of opening a branch office in The Hague, at the invitation of the Dutch government – a sign, IDLO says, of donors’ growing confidence in its activities. Financial reports posted on the organization’s website indicate that contrary to SIGAR’s allegations of dwindling budgets, its budget expanded significantly in 2011.

In relation to JTTP, which is still in its early stages, IDLO points to the several hundred Afghan judges and justice professionals it has already trained, as part of the US government’s and the international community’s effort to enshrine the rule of law and devolve its practice to Afghans themselves. Thousands more trainees are set to follow.

As well as formal auditing processes, anecdotal evidence suggests the training is already having tangible effects in Afghan courthouses, particularly when it comes to cases involving violence against women. “Many of those we train are women defense lawyers,” says an Afghan associated with the program, “and they are already making a difference. JTTP is clearly changing Afghanistan for the better.”