The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. agencies handling reconstruction work in Afghanistan lack direction and communication, problems that risk wasting U.S. tax dollars, says the special inspector general overseeing tens of billions of dollars worth of projects.
Inspector General Arnold Fields says that coordination between the Americans and the Afghans is poor, leading to a disjointed effort and slowing progress on critically needed improvements to the country's transportation, agriculture and energy production.
"The more we move around and the more we conduct our audit work, the evidence is compounding that there is a lack of oversight and follow through," says Fields, who returned July 19 from his fifth trip to Afghanistan since he was appointed last year.
He also said that "there isn't always a direct connection between what the Afghans feel that they need and what the reconstruction effort is delivering." Since 2002, the U.S. has committed $32 billion to Afghanistan's reconstruction. With President Barack Obama ordering more civilian and military personnel there to quell a growing insurgency, that figure is expected to rise to nearly $50 billion by 2010, according to a quarterly report released Wednesday by Fields' office.
The projects vary significantly in size and cost. On his most recent trip, Fields says he visited Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan to see a $118 million road construction project. He and his staff also stopped in Ghor, a remote province in central Afghanistan where a $240,000 high school dormitory was recently completed.
Fields plans to keep an eye on the road work and may perform an inspection to make sure it is done properly and that the Afghans are trained and equipped to maintain the highway once it's completed.
At thedormitory, investigators saw exposed wiring, broken locks on doors, lack of storage space and overcrowded rooms. Fields says it looked as though the dorm had been built 25 years ago.
A new inspection report from Fields' office details problems with an electric power station in Khost, a town on Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
At a cost of nearly $1.6 million, the power generation plant in Khost was transformed from a dilapidated building into a modern facility with three newly installed generators. In September 2008, the plant was turned over to Khost's ministry of energy and water.
But inspectors found the plant has deteriorated because the Afghans have been unable to sustain it. They also found serious safety hazards, including exposed high voltage cables and open electrical boxes.
As more money flows into Afghanistan, Fields' quarterly report says there is no single computer system that provides complete, up-to-date information on reconstruction projects.
Military commands, the Army Corps of Engineers, the State Department and other agencies each have established information systems for tracking financial data and accounting.
But auditors found these systems "varied significantly" and didn't allow information to be exchanged easily. That "increases the risk that U.S. resources may be wasted either through duplication of effort or because projects are in conflict with each other," the report said.
Civilian officials and military authorities most often exchange information through periodic meetings and impromptu reports and presentations, the report said.
Fields says it doesn't appear the difficult lessons from the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq have been applied to Afghanistan. That's in part because his office wasn't created until 2008, nearly seven years after the U.S.-led coalition invaded to oust the Taliban and attack al-Qaida camps.
"You need to start oversight early rather than later," he said. "Many of the issues that we're now pointing out would likely have been pointed out before, and we would have been able to turn the corner."
On the Net:
Special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction: http://www.sigar.mil/