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10/02/2013

Afghan police fuel costs latest expense to come under glare of reconstruction watchdog

If there was a competition for most depressing Twitter feed, @SIGARHQ would be a contender.

The account belongs to John Sopko, a former prosecutor who is now the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

That job was created in 2008 by Congress using the template of a similar job related to Iraqi reconstruction. The inspector general’s findings, released every few months, are a sobering tale of how the billions of dollars that has poured into the crippled country has been funneled off through corruption, influence peddling and self-dealing.

Today’s story of waylaid funds, courtesy of Sopko, focuses on the Afghan National Police Fuel program.

“Poor oversight and documentation resulted in the use of higher-priced vendors and questionable costs, including $1 million in additional costs over the two-month period as a result of using higher-priced vendors,” Sopko writes in his report adding that the mulitnational Combined Security Transition Command (CSTC) has bought fuel for the ANP for six years, yet still does not have reliable information about the number of ANP vehicles and generators.

Similarly, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior has not handed over fuel consumption data.

In Helmand province, police have received more fuel than they could store on 24 days over a 28-month period.

Even though CSTC officials believed direct funding of ANP fuel would be a “high-risk” for waste, fraud, and abuse, CSTC still approved $243 million for direct funding for 2014, even though there was no plan to mitigate this risk.

Sopko’s findings have been an embarrasment to both the Afghan and international governments, and a wealth of information for journalists and critics alike.

The New York Times two years ago reported on the ballooning cost of the Gardez-Khost Highway in Afghanistan, one of the world’s most expensive and beleaguered road projects.

The 64-mile highway, which The Times reported was yet to be completed, had cost about $121 million so far, with the final price tag expected to reach $176 million — or about $2.8 million a mile. Security alone had cost $43.5 million.

Earlier this year, Sopko sent out a so-called “alert warning” about “serious deficiencies” in a $47 million U.S. government project to improve the justice system in Afghanistan. Another letter spotlighted how $34 million was spent on a new headquarters for the U.S. Marines in southern Afghanistan. The headquarters would never be used.

There was the $47 million spent stabilizing a contested area that was hardly improved.

Not many dull days for a government watchdog studying corruption in battered Afghanistan.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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