Watchdog: Afghan ministries incapable of managing US aid

Audit comes amid high tensions between the countries after Afghan's president refused to sign security pact deal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai talks during the first Afghan Women's Council gathering, organized with the support of USAID, in Kabul on Oct. 29, 2008.
Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

Millions of dollars in U.S. aid is flowing into Afghanistan even though the ministries receiving the funds are incapable of managing such large sums of money, a U.S. report said Thursday.

Despite moves by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to boost safeguards over direct assistance to the Afghan government, "a number of troubling issues remain," a watchdog group created by Congress found.

The audit comes amid a standoff between Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai over a security pact to safeguard any U.S. troops remaining in the country after international combat forces are withdrawn at the end of this year.

But Karzai is refusing to sign the deal, saying he doesn't trust the U.S. and they don't trust him. The U.S. says the move jeopardizes proper planning for a withdrawal.

Karzai has tried to distance himself from the pact, as it contains concessions such as immunity for U.S. troops and allowing American soldiers to enter Afghan homes for security reasons.

The audit by the watchdog, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), may well exacerbate the situation as Karzai has long accused Washington of trying to undermine his authority.

The U.S. has committed some $1.6 billion in direct aid to the Afghan government this year to fund some 18 programs across 10 ministries.

But according to SIGAR, which oversees Afghan reconstruction, "USAID contractors assessed 16 Afghan ministries and found they are unable to manage and account for funds."

"USAID's own risk reviews of seven Afghan ministries concluded each ministry is unable to manage U.S. direct assistance funds," it added, pointing to a high level of corruption among Afghan officials.

Despite its findings, USAID "waived its own requirements" for direct assistance and has "not required the Afghan ministries to fix most of the risks identified prior to receiving U.S. money."

The watchdog also maintained that USAID had sought to hide its findings from Congress, which is responsible for setting U.S. budgets.

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki hit back, saying that "we have disbursed less than $300 million through rigorous accountable mechanisms that maintain U.S. government control of funds throughout the process," she told reporters.

"All of our programs are managed by U.S. officials, whether they use Afghan government systems or not."

SIGAR recommended that USAID should draw up a risk mitigation plan for each Afghan ministry.

But Psaki said that trying to "fix every problem in each ministry before we set up programs" was "not prudent use of U.S. government resources."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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