Afghans complain that corruption is woven into reconstruction efforts. Even monitors hired to ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not ripped off can become part of the problem.
The primary U.S. contractor for schools and clinics, Louis Berger Group Inc., subcontracted work on 28 buildings to the Reconstruction Development Association in Kabul. Berger hired CHF International, a global nonprofit relief agency based in Silver Spring, to visit construction sites and regularly file progress reports.
In late 2003, after a CHF monitor asked for money in exchange for positive reports, an association engineer rigged a camera behind a potted plant at his office. On the resulting video, obtained by The Washington Post, an engineer named Faisel shuffles into a room along with three unidentified men from the monitoring program. As they ease into rattan chairs, one adjusts his flowing blue tunic and fingers a string of prayer beads. A voice intones: "We will agree, God willing."
Faisel: Engineer Ghullam Mohammad is asking for $50,000?
Voice 2: Yes.
Faisel: Please ask yourself, does this kind of project earn $50,000 for us to pay you $50,000?
Voice 2: ... We don't want the money from you but from the project.
Faisel: ... You want some sweets ["shirnee," Afghan slang for a bribe], we will give you sweets. If you say that you want some of it that we earn, that's also okay. Please don't be cruel. . . . Another point ... if we give you 50,000, how are we going to do the work?
Voice 2: As you like, sir. You can work as you wish.
Faisel: How is my wish? If I say to make the foundation 20 centimeters instead of 150 centimeters, would you allow me?
Voice 2: Yes, we have done the same thing in the same area.
Voice 3: We have already agreed to this point.
Voice 2: We did this two times yesterday.
Faisel: Still, swear to Allah, it is too much money you're asking for. I don't have that much money, believe me.
Voice 3: No, it's not that much money.
Faisel: Please be fair this time. They have promised more projects to me. I will take care of you then.
Voice 3: We ask this amount because that is your first project. If you get more projects and we are in charge, we will help you.... Based on our report, you might get more projects. We will be witness that [a competing company] doesn't get any more projects. Only [a second company that paid the monitors] and you will receive positive reports from us.
Faisel: Tell me the truth, how much has [the second company] paid?
Voice 3: The same amount as you. [The monitor shakes Faisel's hand to affirm that he is telling the truth.]
Faisel: $50,000? For how many projects?
Voice 3: For four projects.
Faisel: I will tell you one thing -- I give you 7,000 each for five projects. That's it and don't talk about it anymore. For five projects, I will give you $7,000 each for a total of 35,000.
Voice 3: ... Make this 40,000.
Faisel: For all five projects?
Voice 3: No, no. For four projects.
Voice 2: The value of this project is 15,000, but the honorable engineer brought the price down to 10,000. Give us 10,000 per project, Allah is Great, end of discussion.
Faisel: They will transfer money tomorrow to our account. The day after tomorrow you will get your money.
Association head Zaid Haidary screened the video for CHF, which fired the monitors. CHF officials said they appreciated Haidary's efforts.
But Haidary has received no more business and is bitter that CHF later won a $14 million agreement to build schools and clinics.
"I got hurt," Haidary said in an interview in Washington. "I made enemies because everybody looked bad. Louis Berger Group looked bad, USAID looked bad.
"After all that, we were punished because we didn't pay the bribe."