A $25 million U.S.-funded project to help Guatemala combat global warming is being slammed as another taxpayer-backed boondoggle after a new audit highlighted a series of problems -- including numerous inaccuracies in the group's work and a failure to produce a required long-term plan.
Without the plan, the government audit warned, "the funds ... could be wasted."
The grant for the Climate, Nature and Communities in Guatemala Program was awarded to the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance in February 2013 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a broader effort to fight climate change abroad.
USAID’s Office of Inspector General, which issued the audit last month, said the program was set up to help organizations and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Guatemala improve climate-change strategies and strengthen local NGOs so the country’s environment could be conserved without future U.S. assistance. The report noted that as of February 2015, $10.5 million had been disbursed so far.
The audit acknowledged the program was making “some progress,” but it also alleged a laundry list of violations -- including that the reported results were not accurate.
The watchdog reported that data-testing revealed 22 errors in the accounting of whether the program was on track.
One example given was that the Rainforest Alliance reported 162,356 hectares of land now devoted to timber and nontimber products such as cacao and honey. But a review found the group had counted the same hectares multiple times.
The Rainforest Alliance also reported it had created 30,149 part-time and permanent jobs “generated through new sustainable, productive activities undertaken by program-assisted community-based organizations and SMEs.” However, the audit found 23,936 of those “jobs” may have lasted no more than a day.
The audit also found that a required comprehensive “sustainability plan” on how the program will continue after USAID’s assistance ends was not completed, despite it being required and the project having been underway for two years.
“Without a sustainability plan, the funds used to help the Guatemalan Government and other partners manage the country’s natural resources to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change could be wasted,” the report said.
The report was first flagged by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group which called the project an “egregious waste of taxpayer dollars” and “par for the course with virtually all of the Obama administration’s 'green' ventures, which have largely failed after getting hundreds of millions in federal funds.”
Among other violations, the audit also found that while the Rainforest Alliance was supposed to contribute at least $3.75 million as a form of cost-sharing, the $1.79 million it reported as having contributed by December 2014 included $26,708 of U.S. funds it received under a separate project.
The auditors also found that participants didn’t undergo background checks, breaking a government funding rule that background checks must be performed on anyone seeking to participate in USAID-sponsored training.
A spokeswoman for the Rainforest Alliance told FoxNews.com it was still reviewing the report, and plans to address any issues through continued collaboration with USAID.
USAID Guatemala said it agreed with most of the report’s recommendations, and agreed to take “corrective action” on all of them. Among the actions being taken, the agency said it would work with Rainforest Alliance to review data collection and other factors to improve accuracy -- and to produce a sustainability plan by the end of 2016.
FoxNews.com’s Adam Shaw contributed to this report.