Millions of dollars in US aid is flowing into Afghanistan even though the ministries receiving the funds are incapable of managing such large sums of money, an official US report said on Thursday.
Despite moves by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to boost safeguards over direct assistance to the Afghan government, “a number of troubling issues remain,” a watchdog found.
The US has committed US$1.6 billion in direct aid to the Afghan government this year to fund 18 programs across 10 ministries.
However, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), “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 US direct-assistance funds,” it said, 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 US money,” it said.
SIGAR added that USAID had sought to hide its findings from the US Congress, which is responsible for setting US budgets.
However, US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki hit back, saying: “There are not billions of US assistance dollars going straight into Afghan government coffers.”
“On the contrary, we have disbursed less than US$300 million through rigorous accountable mechanisms that maintain US government control of funds throughout the process,” she told reporters.
The department issued a statement later that said: “We disagree with the impression left by the SIGAR audit report, and conveyed in some of the surrounding media and social media campaign, that [government] funds are being subjected to unnecessary risk in Afghanistan because of the deficiencies identified in the Afghan ministries.”
“While there is no way to completely eliminate risk, USAID applies stringent oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure that its assistance to the Afghan government is implemented properly,” the statement added.
It said “the audit report makes no finding of waste, fraud, or abuse in the implementation of direct assistance in Afghanistan.”
The watchdog recommended that USAID draw up a risk mitigation plan for each Afghan ministry.
However, Psaki said that trying to “fix every problem in each ministry before we set up programs” was “not prudent use of US government resources.”