Extended Interview: Randy Hatfield
Randy Hatfield served as the director of USAID's education office in Pakistan between 2006 and 2008. Effectively, he oversaw education programming for the United Sates. He has worked in education in Pakistan for 20 years, for a variety of international development organizations, including the Agha Khan Foundation and UNESCO. Currently based in Dubai, Hatfield continues to serve as a consultant on education reform in Pakistan for organizations such as the World Bank. He discusses how U.S. development aid has been dispersed and audited previously in Pakistan, and what lessons can be learned. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted in New York City in January 2010.
Alexis Bloom: The U.S. development aid to help Pakistan’s education system under President Musharraf was hard to account for. Can you explain why?
Randy Hatfield: Well, I think, in general, donor funding is difficult to keep track of, wherever you are in the world and wherever it’s being administered. Pakistan is one example of that. Yes, it would be difficult to account for all of the funding, but we did have controls in place for the projects assistance that we were given. However, the budgetary support perhaps was less monitored, and I think that's where the U.S. government could improve accountability measures -- where the money is going, and whether it is applied appropriately by the government of Pakistan.
You are saying that USAID (United States Agency for International Development) wasn't able to conduct an audit of the money spent by the Musharaff government. Why not?
Well, the agreement was that the Audit General of Pakistan would conduct the audit. And USAID was comfortable enough with that to agree. And the government of Pakistan did the audit of that money.
What did they find?
The Pakistani government found that everything had been spent properly, and that was it.
What conclusions can we draw from that? The Pakistan government concluded that the money had been properly spent, but there are people who disagree with that view. Correct?
Again, I don't think there were large discussions on this. It was just business as usual. The funding was dispersed, and projects were continuing. Budgetary support was also happening, the audit happened, and then a new government came in. Obviously, that would have changed the way business got done.
But there was nobody who had a problem with the Pakistani audit?
No. Not to my knowledge.
Someone who is in the United States might be thinking, “Well, we give this money. We should be able to track it closely and know exactly where each dime is going.” Can you give a sense of why this is a challenge?
The government of Pakistan has historically been one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance. It's a large sum of money. But I would daresay that even in the United States or other developed countries, funders ask: “Do we know where every penny is being spent?” It's sometimes difficult to know, and I think we need to put foreign aid in perspective. But with Pakistan, we can account for the project funding because we do monitor that a lot more closely, and we're technically involved.
I cannot speak for USAID now because I no longer work for them, but when I was, we were technically involved in programs, and we were on the ground and trying to get out as much as we could to observe what was happening. We would have monitoring teams come out and review projects and look into how the money was being spent and conduct audits. So I think USAID has the controls in place to be able to see what is going on.
The real challenge for both governments is not just seeing how a program is being implemented, but how it can effect change. What kind of outcomes are we looking for? That is the really important challenge now for funding.
My whole fear is that we are only addressing symptoms, and we're just giving money. In terms of my own research, just looking at how money is being spent and how programs are being implemented, it seems to me that we're just addressing symptoms: training 75,000 teachers but not really changing the system in which teachers have to work. And that doesn't really help to change the social indicators that improve teaching or learning.
Also, Pakistan is considered a critical post, and there are security measures that are in place to protect American staff. So that does prohibit free movement.
Is there a culture of corruption in Pakistan?
I don't think one can deny that there is corruption. I think we've all seen studies and reports, and Pakistan tends to fall into the more corrupt category. That’s the reality of development. We have to be careful of pinning corruption on any one country because we also need to look at what causes it. We in the West have a difficult time understanding corruption, or the root cause of it. I'm not condoning corruption, but there are certain hardships and realities that cause some countries to be more corrupt than others.
Aside from cultural reasons or logistical reasons, why is it difficult to find out where the aid money goes?
Well, Pakistan has inherited a centralist government. And absolute power corrupts absolutely, if you want to use that maxim. So, in a centralist government, if you're developing policies for education, for instance, and it's controlled at the top, then, yes, there's not a lot of accountability to constituents, to voters. It can become a black hole in terms of understanding how money is being spent and where it's going.
I think the people of Pakistan would also be interested in knowing. Is it going to reach the masses? How is it going to reach them? Who is it going to be benefiting?
You’ve spent 20 years working in education in Pakistan. What have you found most challenging in getting the system to change?
One of the things that we enjoy in the United States is a decentralized education system. But, as we know, it took more than 100 years to develop a decentralized education system here. And Pakistan is struggling with that. It inherited a centralized government operated largely by a few people who are in power. There's not a lot of communication between schools and government. There's a difficulty with meeting the needs of people and understanding them because there's not a lot of communication. That's one struggle.
As an example, Pakistan has developed more than 14 education policies since 1947, and a lot of studies have been conducted on what's wrong with education in Pakistan. From household surveys, we know what net enrollment is, we know what the population is. But there is a disconnect between the reality on the ground -- what it means to live in a rural area, for instance -- and the policies being made in a provincial capital or in the national capital.
So what you're saying is that, in this vast country with its centralized government, there is a disconnect between the two.
Yes. There are a number of reasons why development hasn't been as successful as it should have been. One of the reasons why Pakistan never became an Asian tiger was its lack of investment in human resource development. When you look at the amount of GDP or per capita income spent on education, you’ll see that it's a lot smaller than defense spending, for instance. But even within that small amount that is allocated to education, the efficiency and the use of those funds leave a lot to be desired. A lot of development funds are returned or unspent at the end of the year. Why? Inefficiencies. Fear of spending because someone might get in trouble if they spend and it’s not approved. There's a real hierarchy in the government and a fear of retribution if someone goes out of line or speaks out of turn.
You've said that the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan has a certain way of thinking. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently talked about the need for change, saying that sometimes we go into these countries, and we're not listening to people on the ground. Can you give us a sense of how USAID operates?
In Pakistan, I foresaw that I wanted to be there on a continuous basis. I really wanted to interject my experience into development for a longer period of time. The excitement was in being a part of policy development, having a large amount of funding, working with the government, and bringing our countries closer together. Unfortunately, USAID cannot always find people who can stay longer than one year, and so it's difficult to find that continuity. There’s a lot of turnover and transition, and it is not an easy working environment, spending long hours in a small building, trying to manage a large portfolio. The mission only reopened in 2002, so practically overnight, we were developing new programs. In many instances, contractors were brought in to help design, do the writing, do things that we didn’t have the arms and legs to do ourselves. It was very challenging.
Overall, schools in Pakistan are still a mess, despite millions of dollars spent by the U.S. government. You have specialized in this problem. What is the United States doing wrong?
For me, the education sector in Pakistan is in an emergency. Here’s a staggering figure: 79 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 16 are out of school; that's almost 24 million children. And the literacy rate in the adult population is about 50 percent. These are figures quoted by UNESCO and others.
With new funding coming in, there’s a wonderful opportunity to open up dialogue again with Pakistan and try to understand all the issues about good governance, quality, and access.
Not just thinking, ”We need to build a thousand schools or [train] 70,000 teachers.”
I do think it's an investment that needs to be made through leadership in the country itself: leadership to develop a policy that's relevant to the country. We need to look more carefully at how to get this done. And that's always left to contractors or development specialists that come in, but I think both governments need to take stock and understand what has not worked and get beyond just applying money, building more schools, and sending more textbooks. Instead, ask, “How do we make things more efficient and put real muscle behind this?” You can’t ask institutions that are already flawed to do this by themselves.
Pakistan is going to get $1.5 billion from the U.S. over the next five years for education. What do you think is the most effective way to spend it?
It is an historic amount of money. But I think its distribution has to be carefully weighed. We have to understand and look at the past and say, “Well, where did it go before? How did we use it before? Did it effect change? And if we're spending even more money, how can we improve the plight of the poor person in Pakistan?” I would hate to say “stop the funding” because I would hate to see Pakistan not benefit from development support, but money alone does not solve the problem.
Getting the know-how about systems, about policies, about important challenges in health and education and governance are all critical. But just having a huge amount of money come rolling through, with personnel that are sometimes struggling themselves to understand the problem in one year before they leave, and the job transitions to somebody else -- it all creates a real challenge for both the U.S. side and the government of Pakistan, which also has high senior officials constantly transitioning.
Who should get the money? And why?
I think change could come if we put local partners up front. It may be setting ourselves up for some disappointment at first, but I think that when Pakistanis see themselves as really benefiting from the funding, we'll begin to win hearts and minds.
How important is a robust state-sponsored education program?
If we look at access to education, we know that some studies have shown that private schools, in the long run, are cheaper to run or operate than government schools. But if we look at access in rural villages and poor communities, government schools are where the rubber meets the road. So the state system is important in addressing those needs. That's why there has been a mushrooming of private schools in Pakistan. The state system hasn't been meeting the needs of people, so consumers look for other opportunities, and private schools provide that.
From a U.S. and Pakistani security standpoint, why is it imperative that public school education is reformed?
From a security standpoint, in relations between Pakistan and the United States, it's critical to reform the government system because it has the potential to reach the poor, the destitute, those who are out of work and unemployable. It is those out of school -- the dropouts, the unemployable, the impoverished -- who are more susceptible to influences that could put both countries at risk. Their young minds could be trained and distracted easily because of financial reward, food, clothing, housing, which are all essential elements of survival. So reforming the public education system is important to [counter that incentive].