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Aid Flows Despite Corruption Concerns in Afghanistan

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When investigations find that foreign ministries cannot be trusted to safeguard American aid funds, that aid is directed elsewhere, right? Not so, according to a recent report on United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds in Afghanistan.

In a report released today, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) tells the ugly truth about USAID dollars in the war-torn country. The report details a high risk of corruption and misuse of funds across the sixteen Afghan ministries receiving direct assistance from the U.S. federal government through USAID. Despite numerous troubles uncovered in audits of these ministries, aid dollars continue to flow.

In a New York Times piece on the report’s findings, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, called the ongoing direct assistance “the biggest gamble with taxpayer money that USAID has ever made.”

From the report:

USAID determined it could not rely on the ministries it assessed to manage donor funds without a host of mitigation measures in place and that, under normal circumstances, the results of the assessments would lead USAID not to engage in direct assistance with the ministries. However, USAID proceeded to sign direct assistance agreements with seven ministries, only requiring them to implement less than eight percent of identified risk mitigation measures prior to receiving funds. While we are aware that USAID has additional external measures intended to mitigate the risks associated with providing direct assistance funds to these ministries, these measures do not directly address all of the very serious problems within the ministries and could well be exploited or circumvented, given the high risk of corruption revealed through USAID’s assessments.

The findings were so negative that USAID fought to have some of the most condemning evidence left out of the report. In written comments, the development agency requested specifically that SIGAR withhold ministry assessments and internal risk reviews, citing the “Sensitive But Unclassified” (SBU) label (See Appendix XVI of the report). Despite this, the report includes the documents in question, as all “unclassified” documents can be released publicly regardless of the SBU label, according to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual.

This is not the first time the Administration has tried to mute SIGAR’s often-embarrassing reports.

Special Inspector General Sopko, however, will not back down easily. The report criticizes USAID for not fully informing Congress of the risks found in ministry assessments—a significant omission. In a letter prefacing the report, he reminds USAID and State Department officials that Congress, in the interest of American taxpayers, “stated very clearly that funds may be made available for direct assistance ‘only if…each implementing agency or ministry to receive assistance has been assessed and is considered to have the systems required to manage such assistance and any identified vulnerabilities or weaknesses of such agency or ministry have been addressed.’”

The Project On Government Oversight shares SIGAR’s concerns. Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director, says, “USAID’s attempt to hide behind pseudo-classification in order to conceal embarrassing facts underscores the value of the IG’s vigorous oversight. The Congress and the public have the right to know whether our development funds are being properly safeguarded or not in order to inform public policy decision-making.”

As billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on Afghan reconstruction, SIGAR’s reports stand out as a testament to the American taxpayers’ right to know what their dollars are being used—or wasted—on.

By: Christine Anderson
Public Policy Fellow, POGO

Christine Anderson At the time of publication Christine Anderson was a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Inspector General Oversight, Iraq & Afghanistan Reconstruction Contracts, Waste

Authors: Christine Anderson

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