Foreign Assistance

Promoting Judicial Reform to Strengthen Democracies Gao ID: NSIAD-93-149 September 1, 1993

The Agency for International Development (AID) has earmarked nearly $170 million for judicial reform projects in Latin America and has spent about $46 million. The most valuable lessons learned from AID's experiences in Latin America are that (1) imposing judicial reform on a country that is not ready for change is generally ineffective and wasteful, (2) addressing technical problems while ignoring political and institutional obstacles to reform is usually unproductive, (3) impact evaluations are important to making sound program management decisions, (4) obtaining support for the program from the entire U.S. team in the recipient country has been important to successful projects, and (5) having adequate staff with experience in judicial reform is essential.

GAO found that: (1) most judicial reform efforts in Latin America have experienced serious problems, but the Agency for International Development (AID) has had success in drawing attention to the need for improved justice systems; (2) the most valuable lessons learned from judicial reform efforts in Latin America include the need to obtain the host country's commitment to the program and address political and systemic obstacles to success, the importance of impact evaluations for sound project management decisions, sufficient embassy support, and the need for experienced staff; (3) AID is applying some of the lessons learned to new programs in Colombia and El Salvador; (4) AID continues to support the Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of the Offender (ILANUD) despite its poor performance and the lessening need for a regional approach to judicial reform; (5) the United States is focusing on short-term goals for judicial reform programs in Central and Eastern Europe; (6) the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) is unsure what impact U.S. assistance will have, since the United States has not assessed the long-term needs of Central and East European countries or developed long-term goals and strategies for meeting those needs; and (7) the agencies managing the project have not established lines of authority and responsibility among themselves, resulting in poor oversight and coordination and in-country and embassy staff being left out of decisionmaking.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.