Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Aid agencies back probe into NGOs

MONEY Too much cash and too little supervision has allowed some non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan to build schools and clinics, and make a profit

AFP , KABUL

Twelve-year-old Afghan Gholam Rasol, left, and his younger brother carry water containers they sell to passers-by in the streets of Kabul yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

International aid agencies in Afghanistan have welcomed a government audit of the humanitarian aid sector aimed at weeding out corruption and the misuse of international aid money.

The government launched a probe last week of humanitarian organizations working in the country in a move long sought by the frustrated aid community.

With new four-wheel-drive vehicles and comfortable offices and residences, the humanitarian community is seen as living in incomprehensible luxury by ordinary Afghans who believe reconstruction is proceeding too slowly.

The investigation was announced the day after the resignation of planning minister Ramazan Bachardoust, who was heavily criticized over his proposal to dissolve more than 2,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Jawed Ludin told a news conference on Tuesday that "hundreds, probably thousands" of aid groups were misusing aid money due to the absence of a legal framework to oversee their activities. "The money granted to NGOs is sacred and is for the pursuance of the well-being of the Afghan people. This money has to be spent transparently and where it is supposed to be spent," he said.

Humanitarian groups gave a broad welcome to the investigation.

"There are good and bad NGOs," said Anja De Beer, executive coordinator for aid umbrella group ACBAR (Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief).

Without strict controls, some "fake" national and foreign aid agencies have built schools and clinics and lined their own pockets at the same time, says Anne Lancelot from the aid group Madera.

There have also been instances of drug runners disguising themselves as aid convoys to transport narcotics around the country.

"That's the reason why ACBAR has long asked for registration," says Paul Barker, director of Care in Afghanistan, adding that the government inquiry was "healthy."

"There is a lot of suspicion about the activities of NGOs and the reputation of all of them has been touched," he said.

Aid groups say that in the past, the government has registered all humanitarian groups which have applied to work in the country without checking their credentials.

"Some have registered and have never received money and never worked," De Beer said. "Then you have the NGOs which are accused of being private businesses. Some of these were forced in the past to register as NGOs, they got their registration ... not with the intention to cheat," she said.

"Then there are organizations registered as NGOs who are not and get money," she said.

Bachardoust had for months accused groups of using aid money to pay for overheads instead of channelling it to war-weary people and said others were masquerading as charities to avoid taxes.

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