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U.S. report finds abuses in program paying extra money to Afghan government workers

An inspector general's report said the United States has paid $6.6 million in salary supplements to workers in the office of Hamid Karzai.
An inspector general's report said the United States has paid $6.6 million in salary supplements to workers in the office of Hamid Karzai. (Shah Marai)

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Remember the recent story that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff was carrying a bag from Iran containing packets of $1 million or more in Euro bills several times a year to buy influence in the presidential palace?

What would you think if it turns out that the United States has not only supplied its own millions in salary supplements to employees in Karzai's office since 2005, but also that those payments will continue through March? Oh, and that some of the money will be going directly to support the office of that same Karzai chief of staff, Omar Dawoodzai?

Just days after Karzai publicly admitted that he was receiving "bags of money" from Iran as well as funds from the United States to cover expenses of his presidential office, a report by the U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) disclosed that since 2005, Washington had supplied $6.6 million in salary supplements to employees in Karzai's office.

Overall, based on data SIGAR gathered in February, its report said U.S. agencies working in Afghanistan "were providing more than $1 million in monthly salary payments to 900 Afghan government employees and technical advisers in 16 ministries and government offices."

The two largest recipients of those U.S. funds at that time were the Afghan Ministry of Education - where 413 people got salary support - and Karzai's office of the president, where 103 got additional pay. Since 2008, 50 members of the 71 employees at the Afghan Government Media Information Center, who handle press affairs for the Karzai government, got salary support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) - and more recently, the U.S. Embassy public affairs section. The remaining 21 are paid by other countries.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which provides most of these funds, paid about $19 million from January 2007 to January 2010.

Remember also that while those 900 Afghan civilian officials were getting U.S. salary supplements, the Pentagon has been paying billions more in salaries for Afghanistan's security forces, including the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

The SIGAR report, dated Oct. 29, also illustrates the haphazard nature by which the United States, the World Bank and other donors distributed about $45 million in salary support to 6,600 Afghan employees and technical advisers over the past years, with clearly mixed results.

The report carries one cautionary note: "Neither the Afghan government nor international donors can account for the total number of government employees and technical advisers or identify how much recipients are paid in large part due to a general lack of transparency over that support."

Salary-support programs were justified as needed "to attract and retain skilled professionals" to run the government, though only in the short term, according to the report, "while civil service and other public administrative reforms take root." In that process, donor agencies did not coordinate their activities, and not surprisingly, a series of negative events took place.

For example, various U.S. agency programs paying Afghan employees, even the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and USAID officials in Washington "lack visibility" over who received what funds, the report noted.

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