A top Democratic Senator has alleged that the Trump administration's expenditure of more than $ 200 million to donate ventilators during COVID-19 pandemic is allegedly favouring countries personally selected by the US President.
Among the countries that have been provided the life-saving machines are Russia, India, and South Africa, said Senator Robert Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Given the scale and nature of the current (COVID-19) crisis, it is imperative that we ensure the effective use of US aid dollars," he wrote in a letter to Donald Trump, citing the administration's suspect decision to waive congressional notification requirements for sending the ventilators during the pandemic.
"Providing ventilators to countries that need them is critical, but, as with any assistance, must be done in a productive and transparent manner. To that end, the National Security Council (NSC), in cooperation with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), must ensure greater transparency and accountability around the provision of ventilators," he said.
Menendez alleged that without a fulsome explanation for USAID's procurement and provision of ventilators to a select group of countries, Trump's orders to ship more than 7,500 ventilators abroad, to just 40 countries, exemplifies the potential transactional politicisation of US foreign assistance and risks further tarnishing USAID's reputation as an apolitical aid agency.
Reiterating his concerns in a separate letter to USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa, Menendez called for further transparency regarding the respective roles of USAID and the NSC in the distribution decision-making process and the US government's efforts to ensure that COVID patients abroad have equitable access to life-saving ventilators.
To date, USAID has submitted two Congressional Notifications (CN) outlining the Administration's plans to spend approximately USD 202 million in Global Health Program, Emergency Reserve Funds and Economic Support Funds, provided by the CARES Act, to purchase 7,582 ventilators to distribute to up to 40 countries, Menendez to Acting Administratior Barsa.
"While the notifications provide some details, I am concerned that the NSC's influence on these decisions both circumvents longstanding USAID procurement and accountability policies and interjects political agendas into how USAID allocates it Global Health and Emergency Reserve Fund resources," he said.