On December 16, 2009, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. Government audit agency, released its latest report on mismanagement by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It focused on the U.S. Government’s failure to support Afghanistan’s High Office of Oversight (HOO). The HOO was established in July 2008, by President Hamid Karzai to oversee anti-corruption efforts within Afghanistan. The main SIGAR audit findings were as follows:
“The HOO suffers from a lack of independence, a weak legal framework, and a lack of commitment from donors — particularly from the U.S. Government. It remains operationally under-resourced and lacking in the necessary skills to make a measurable impact in fighting corruption in the near term . . .”
SIGAR reported that the U.S. Government provided just over $1 million since July 2008, for the HOO, yet none of that money was ever paid to the HOO. As a result, the HOO’s organizational chart lists 500 positions, yet, after 18 months, it currently only has 100 employees. The lack of staff and resources is crippling to its efforts.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul’s response to the SIGAR report was drafted by U.S. Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne and USAID Mission Director Rebecca Black. They wrote:
“The Embassy was concerned that the very new institution could be overwhelmed by too much assistance provided too quickly.”
Ambassador Wayne and Ms. Black expect the public to believe that they were underfunding and ignoring the HOO as part of a plan to assist it? U.S. Embassy statements should be filled with facts and the truth and should inspire trust. Sadly, such is not the case with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, as the Kabul Press has repeatedly documented.
The next question is: “Where did the $1 million in Afghan aid go to?” According to SIGAR, the U.S. Embassy paid just over $1 million to The Asia Foundation to assist the HOO, instead of directly funding the HOO.
A disturbing part of this saga is that (absent the SIGAR audit) this payment to The Asia Foundation would never have come to light. At this time, there is no way for the public to track this $1 million. The Asia Foundation’s official Internet website does not mention it nor does it mention any contract to work with HOO. The USAID website, the State Department’s website and the website of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul are all silent regarding this $1 million. The payment of these funds fits a pattern which the Kabul Press reported in its December 8, 2009, article. The pattern is that millions of dollars in Afghan aid are being paid in virtual secrecy to a group of privileged consultants. There is no public bidding, no known scopes of work, no progress reports and not even a press release with the announcement. Secrecy breeds corruption.
The discovery of this $1 million payment prompted this reporter to investigate The Asia Foundation. Despite its name, the company is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area. The Asia Foundation’s President is a former U.S. Congressman named Douglas Bereuter; its Afghanistan Country Representative is Richard L. Smith, who worked for USAID for 16 years; the Chairman of its Board is Michael H. Armacost, a former State Department official; and on its Board of Trustees is Ellen Laipson, who was recently appointed by U.S. President Barak Obama to his Intelligence Advisory Board. An employee of Ms. Laipson’s (Victoria K. Holt) was sworn in on August 17, 2009, as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. There is an incestuous relationship between the U.S. State Department and its consultants. They support, protect and promote each other, often at the expense of countries such as Afghanistan.
This private club of privileged contractors, whose officials cycle back and forth between the agency, breeds stagnation. There are no fresh ideas, no novel approaches, no questioning of fundamental practices and philosophies. As a result, al-Qaeda and the Taliban innovate and act, while the State Department flounders and reacts.
This award of Afghan aid funds to The Asia Foundation is yet another example of America’s “phantom aid” to Afghanistan. It is aid that appears to be going to the Afghan people, but instead winds up in the pockets of American companies, run by people with close ties to the U.S. Government. While this may make good political sense to some in the State Department, it damages the war effort and America’s standing overseas. The U. S. Government cannot lecture Afghans about corruption when it is a purveyor of such itself. It cannot advocate the rule of law when it disregards such by awarding contracts to political allies; and it cannot criticize Afghan anti-corruption efforts when it refuses to support the HOO.