A fact-finding team for the Afghan parliament has alleged that a construction project at the country’s embassy in Washington was rife with corruption.
The parliamentary probe was launched after an exposé in the Afghan media in July reported that the total cost for a 70-meter wall around the Afghan Embassy in northwestern Washington ended up at $1.8 million -- multifold times the market rates for such a construction project. However, Roya Rahmani, the Afghan ambassador in Washington, denies any wrongdoing.
Lawmaker Javid Safi, the head of the fact-finding team in Kabul, accused officials at the Afghan Embassy of misappropriation of funds while rebuilding the wall.
“The [Afghan] law has been violated in the reconstruction of the wall,” Safi told Radio Free Afghanistan, while accusing diplomatic officials of not following Afghan procurement laws. “This wall was built at a high cost while the embassy rejected the initial offer, which had a much lower cost.”
Safi, who presented his findings to the parliament this week, accused Rahmani of awarding the contract to the highest bidder. “The contract was awarded by the ambassador to a company over the telephone,” he said. “We talked to other companies and surveyed the market; it should have cost less.”
He says that when inspecting the red-brick wall, which ranges in height from 2 to 3 meters, he found that no special materials had been used. He estimates the project should have cost no more than $300,000, while the construction contract cost nearly $1.6 million. Pajhwok, the Afghan news agency that first broke the story, reported that with additional related contracts for surveys and technical advice the project totaled more than $1.8 million.
Radio Free Afghanistan reached out to the Afghan Embassy in Washington, but no one would comment, including Rahmani, who has repeatedly denied allegations of corruption. While the ambassador and her mission have not commented on the findings of the fact-finding team, Rahmani wrote an op-ed in July in which she rejected Pajhwok’s exposé and pledged to be accountable for the project. “I will account for every dollar,” she wrote.
The Afghan Embassy also issued a detailed statement in July denying the accusations and responding to questions raised by the Pajhwok report.
“The Embassy has requested a complete audit of the project and will provide more information as available,” the statement said. “The entire process was handled in coordination with the Ministry of Finance, in compliance with Afghan laws, and in accordance with American procurement laws.”
The statement explained that the Afghan diplomatic mission had been forced to rebuild the wall after it collapsed due to heavy rainfall and routine wear over a 91-year period.
“It caused extensive damage to embassy grounds and damaged the structure and foundation of a neighboring building,” the statement said. “In addition to the near total collapse of one of four embassy border walls, the integrity of two additional walls [was] compromised and needed to be restored during the course of repairs.”
In Kabul, however, many are not convinced. Ezatullah Adib, a member of Transparency International Afghanistan, an antigraft watchdog, says the Afghan judiciary should investigate the allegations.
“This issue must be seriously investigated, and no one should be excused,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The attorney general must inform the people about this case step by step,” he added. “When this case goes to court, the courts must also do the same.”
Over the past decade, Western allies have consistently urged Afghan officials to make the fight against pervasive corruption a top national priority. For its part, the Afghan government has emphasized that anticorruption measures continue in earnest.
“Each and every dollar donated and assisted to Afghanistan is precious and must be accounted for,” Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh tweeted in July. “Neither Afghan government, nor facilitating partners, NGOs or contractors should be exempt or immune from accountability.”
Transparency International ranked Afghanistan 176th out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perception Index last year. In a report last released week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. watchdog, said Washington has lost $19 billion in Afghanistan since 2002.
The oversight organization noted that the U.S. Congress has appropriated nearly $134 billion for Afghan reconstruction projects over the past 19 years. “Of that amount, SIGAR reviewed approximately $63 billion and concluded that a total of approximately $19 billion, or 30 percent of the amount reviewed, was lost to waste, fraud, and abuse,” the report noted.