Feds fear theft of aid millions
Afghan report points to alleged education ministry corruption
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.