The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has evidence that taxpayers are being butchered—metaphorically speaking. Add a slaughterhouse to the long and growing list of incomplete, bungled, or wasteful projects in the nearly 14-year, $100-billion Afghanistan rebuilding effort.
In August 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) awarded a $12-million contract to Afghan company AREEB-REC Joint Venture to construct a slaughterhouse and supporting facilities in Kabul province. The U.S. military command deemed the slaughterhouse a high-priority project essential to meeting the dietary needs of the Afghan National Army (ANA).
But in October 2013, USACE terminated the project. On further reflection, the military decided that an existing slaughterhouse in Kabul could support the ANA. In fact, the decision paper recommending termination, quoted in the SIGAR report, implied that the new slaughterhouse should not have been built in the first place:
The new construction would…include refrigerated storage so the meat could be saved and transported frozen. The Afghans do not typically refrigerate meat, instead preferring fresh meat. Further to this they have demonstrated an inability to successfully maintain refrigerating equipment in the long term. When the slaughterhouse was first put out for bid it called for modern equipment that would not be considered Halel [permitted under Islamic dietary guidelines] and would not be used….If the new slaughterhouse is built it is anticipated that the state of the equipment and the cleanliness would quickly degrade below Western standards and will be viewed by taxpayers as a “waste” of funds, especially since the ANA have managed to continue to feed their soldiers adequately over the last 3 years. Currently there is no indication that the Afghans have a requirement for this facility.
By that point, USACE had paid the contractor $1.25 million on a project that was only 10 percent complete. USACE later paid the contractor an additional $295,000. When SIGAR visited the construction site in April 2014, it found “a largely open field” with “a partially completed security perimeter wall and wall foundation, one column to support a guard tower, and a water well.” (See SIGAR’s inspection pictures.) The well had not been properly capped, leaving the ground water supply exposed to potential saboteurs.
During the nine months of construction, AREEB-REC Joint Venture had numerous performance problems, according to SIGAR. The company undertook construction that had not been approved, did not comply with quality control requirements, failed to provide project submittals in a timely fashion, and provided submittals that were incomplete or did not conform to contract requirements. USACE even suspended all work on the contract at one point because of AREEB-REC Joint Venture’s unsatisfactory performance.
Despite the performance problems and completing only a small fraction of the work, AREEB-REC Joint Venture is seeking an additional $4.2 million. USACE told SIGAR that it opted for termination for convenience, instead of termination for default, because not all of the site problems were the fault of the contractor. Termination for convenience gives the contractor the right to request a settlement that would compensate it for work performed, preparations for future work, plus a reasonable allowance for profit. As a result, taxpayers could be on the hook for nearly $5.8 million for an abandoned, unfinished, and ultimately unnecessary slaughterhouse in eastern Afghanistan.
We’ll know the final bill by December. That’s when USACE expects to wrap up settlement negotiations. Given USACE’s track record of kid-glove treatment of contractors involved in botched Afghanistan construction jobs—think unused solid waste incinerators, a hazard-filled teacher training facility, and a structurally unsound ANA garrison—we won’t be surprised if the contractor gets most of what it wants.