Internal emails, briefing notes and memoranda obtained by The Catholic Register reveal that a government decision to cut funding to Canada's Catholic development agency went against the advice of almost everyone consulted, including its own bureaucracy.
Last spring's massive cut in funding to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) is not recommended anywhere in 235 pages of documents The Register obtained from the Canadian International Development Agency through an Access to Information request.
Instead, in an email outlining CCODP's five-year proposal for $49.2 million in funding, CIDA program officer Doug Henderson tells CIDA's media relations department, "CIDA has analyzed and agreed with the results to be achieved with and the amounts allocated in the budget to each sub-component, and to the entire five-year project. Extensive due diligence has been carried out up front."
In a briefing prepared for CIDA president Margaret Biggs, staff describe CCODP as "Canada's most experienced development organization supported exclusively by Canadians."
Under the heading "Evaluation," CIDA staff tell Biggs: "This is a strong proposal from an experienced partner."
The Aug. 31, 2011 briefing praises CCODP for its outstanding record since 1968.
"Periodic financial audits, program and project evaluations and institutional assessments have consistently shown that D&P was well managed, organizationally and financially, and very capable of achieving results for CIDA.
"Over the past 40 years, there has never been any major incident or problem in their development work with CIDA," reads the briefing document.
The documentation, however, fails to explain why former CIDA Minister Bev Oda decided to slash nearly $35 million from CCODP's proposal. Oda's decision came at the end of a two-year process by the Catholic agency to draft plans and proposals with CIDA staff.
But the reason for the cut remains a mystery, said Canadian Council for International Co-operation spokesperson Chantal Havard, who reviewed the documents. CCIC lobbies for about 100 Canadian non-governmental development agencies.
"It's not a good practice for good development," said Havard. "If you want international assistance to be efficient, provide long-term results and have a good impact, experience has demonstrated over and over again that you need predictability for the aid budget."
Information the government is permitted to exclude under the Access to Information Act includes "advice or recommendations . . . consultations or deliberations . . . plans or positions."
However, even outside the context of a formal recommendation, CIDA's internal communications consistently speak positively about CCODP and its 2011-2016 proposal.
The documents show broad support for CCODP among its partners in the Global South, individual beneficiaries of its projects and development professionals in Canada.
CIDA media relations has said many times that funding was withdrawn from all but a few CCODP projects located in just seven countries because these were the "most likely to produce tangible results."
But CCODP executive director Michael Casey still finds the explanation mystifying. Meetings between CCODP and CIDA gave no explanation, he said.
CIDA media relations refused to answer six separate Catholic Register questions about the final decision on CCODP funding.
"The proposal was evaluated by CIDA following established criteria and the decision was based on the careful evaluation of the merits of each component of the proposal," said a CIDA spokesperson.
"CIDA is focusing its contribution to Development and Peace in countries where programming is most likely to produce tangible results."
It's all water under the bridge now, said Casey. He expresses gratitude for the $14.5 million in CIDA funding CCODP will spend between now and 2016.
"We've adapted, restructured. It puts more emphasis on our support from the Catholic community."
The new competitive bid process for CIDA funding has CCODP and other organizations scratching their heads, said Havard. Announced with fanfare in 2010, CIDA hasn't sent out a new call for proposals since April 2011.
The call-for-proposal system has sown uncertainty for agencies engaged in the long-term process of development, said Havard.