Feds fear theft of aid mil­lions

Afghan re­port points to al­leged ed­u­ca­tion min­istry cor­rup­tion

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - SU­SANA MAS

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether aid funds in­tended to help Afghan chil­dren re­turn to school in a post-Tal­iban era were em­bez­zled, fol­low­ing re­cent al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion in­side the coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment.

As one of the main con­trib­u­tors to the Ed­u­ca­tion Qual­ity Im­prove­ment Project (EQUIP), Afghanistan’s largest na­tional ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, Canada has pro­vided $117.2 mil­lion since 2006 to in­crease equal ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for Afghan stu­dents — es­pe­cially girls.

“Canada is cur­rently un­der­tak­ing the nec­es­sary due dili­gence to en­sure that in the event that Canada’s funds have been mis­ap­pro­pri­ated, that such funds are re­cov­ered and that the guilty par­ties are held to ac­count,” said Jes­sica Séguin, a spokes­woman for Global Af­fairs Canada, in an email to the Cit­i­zen.

While Canada doesn’t pro­vide fund­ing di­rectly to the Afghan Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Séguin said, “Cana­dian funds pro­vided to EQUIP are ad­min­is­tered by the World Bank through the Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion Trust Fund.”

The ARTF was es­tab­lished in 2002 as a way to sup­port the Afghanistan gov­ern­ment.

The state­ment comes af­ter Afghan of­fi­cials pub­licly ac­knowl­edged the re­sults of a re­port point­ing to al­leged cor­rup­tion within its min­istry.

“Ear­lier this month, the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion As­sadul­lah Hanif Balkhi said that a re­cent study found that only six mil­lion Afghan chil­dren are in fact at school — con­trary to the 11 mil­lion as pre­vi­ously stated by the for­mer gov­ern­ment,” said a Jan. 9 me­dia re­port by Afghanistan’s TOLOnews.

In other words, only about half the num­ber of chil­dren the pre­vi­ous Afghan gov­ern­ment, led by for­mer pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, re­ported to be in school are ac­tu­ally at­tend­ing classes.

Afghanistan’s am­bas­sador to Canada, Shinkai Karokhail, was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment, but a spokesman said the Na­tional Unity Gov­ern­ment led by Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani was de­ter­mined to get to the bot­tom of it.

“Our gov­ern­ment has taken the al­le­ga­tions se­ri­ously and the is­sue is un­der re­view,” Khalid Khos­raw, a spokesman for the Em­bassy of Afghanistan in Ottawa, said in an email to the Cit­i­zen.

“The find­ings will be public at the end of in­quiry,” Khos­raw said.

Canada’s em­bassy to Afghanistan said it was per­turbed by the al­le­ga­tions, post­ing the fol­low­ing state­ment on Twit­ter the next day:

“We are aware of al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion against the Min. of Ed­u­ca­tion & the EQUIP prog. We are con­cerned and look­ing at po­ten­tial follow-up,” the Cana­dian em­bassy said on Jan. 10.

The post came hours be­fore Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau shuf­fled his cabi­net to ad­just for a new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While al­le­ga­tions of nonex­is­tent or “ghost stu­dents, teach­ers and schools” are not new, a Jan­uary re­port by the U.S. Spe­cial In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion (SIGAR) de­tails a “high­risk list” of ar­eas vul­ner­a­ble to “sig­nif­i­cant waste, fraud and abuse.”

In the re­port, pre­pared for the in­com­ing U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion led by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, SIGAR warns that “cor­rup­tion con­tin­ues to be one of the most se­ri­ous threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan re­con­struc­tion ef­fort.”

SIGAR, which de­scribes it­self as the only U.S. over­sight agency in the coun­try con­duct­ing in­spec­tions, also raised con­cerns about the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion Trust Fund.

“SIGAR has launched a new ARTF per­for­mance au­dit to as­sess the ex­tent to which the World Bank and the Afghan gov­ern­ment mon­i­tor and ac­count for U.S. con­tri­bu­tions to the ARTF, eval­u­ate whether ARTF­funded projects have achieved their stated goals and ob­jec­tives, and uti­lize and en­force any con­di­tion­al­ity on ARTF fund­ing.”

In a sep­a­rate re­port pub­lished in Novem­ber, the first of a se­ries of find­ings from on-site vis­its to schools across Afghanistan, SIGAR found that “there may be prob­lems with stu­dent and teacher ab­sen­teeism that war­rant fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

What this means for Canada’s long-es­tab­lished en­gage­ment in Afghanistan isn’t clear, but in­vest­ing in the re­con­struc­tion of Afghanistan and the ed­u­ca­tion of Afghan chil­dren con­tin­ues to be a Cana­dian pri­or­ity.

“Canada’s long­stand­ing sup­port to ed­u­ca­tion in Afghanistan has con­trib­uted, along with other donors, to more than 8.4 mil­lion Afghan chil­dren be­ing en­rolled in for­mal and com­mu­nity-based schools, 39 per cent of whom are girls,” said Séguin, the spokes­woman for Global Af­fairs Canada.

How­ever, the ini­tial find­ings cited by Afghanistan’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter ap­pear to throw into ques­tion the im­pact of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s work in Afghanistan, in­clud­ing bil­lions in fi­nan­cial aid.

The threat of “wide­spread cor­rup­tion,” as SIGAR de­scribed it, also casts a fur­ther shadow on on­go­ing in­vest­ments in the coun­try.

Canada, the U.S. and other donor coun­tries pledged to fi­nan­cially sup­port Afghanistan un­til 2020.

Trudeau re­newed $150 mil­lion per year in fund­ing for aid projects in Afghanistan, to­talling about $465 mil­lion over three years, aft­ter a meet­ing with Ghani in July. Part of that money is to help the coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces amid es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence and the re­turn of the Tal­iban.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.