Afghan president Ashraf Ghani on Sunday defended the performance and integrity of the National Procurement Authority (NPA) days after the US State Department announced that Washington was withdrawing about $100 million earmarked for an Afghan energy project, and would withhold another $60 million in planned assistance, because of corruption.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo specifically cited the NPA, and its “lack of transparency.”
And while Pompeo affirmed US commitment to the energy infrastructure project, his statement made it clear that future funding would not be channeled through the Afghan government.
The awarding or withholding of government contracts is the issue.
Contracts must go through the NPA for approval, and Ghani, among others, has the authority to review and then either approve or deny---these contracts. There are weekly meetings to evaluate each contract, and Ghani claims that “in their 190 meetings over contracts, over 17 billion Afs have been saved.”
However, the Minister of Economy Mustafa Mastoor claimed on Saturday that the withholding of contracts is part of a system whereby ministries cannot spend their budgets, so at the end of the year the remaining funds get allocated to an emergency fund, whose use has little or no accountability.
Ghani contends that the opposite is true: he is withholding funds from certain government departments--preventing the disbursement of funds, and carefully scrutinizing contracts-- to prevent corrupt officials farther down the line from getting access. Hence his claim that he has “saved 17 billion Afs.”
But a number of officials in Afghanistan’s parliament have declared that the NPA is “the heart of corruption” in the government. A couple reasons:
First, some say there is no mechanism for appeal:
“Neither the legal institutions nor the parliament, nor anyone else can appeal the decision of the NPA,” said Azim Mohseni, head of parliament’s budget commission.
Second, critics claim that not only is Ghani’s NPA just holding up contracts, but they are unfairly granting contracts as well. Mohseni says that Ghani has “monopolized all the contracts.” According to the parliament’s budget commission, nearly 60 percent of the overall budget of the country goes to the three security institutions of the country. However, the majority of the contracts for foodstuffs and other supplies for the security institutions are monopolized by a few people.
But Ghani contends that his approach prevents the wrong people—corrupt people--from getting funds. “It is just because the contractors and their Afghan partners prefer their personal interests to national interests,” said Ghani, recently referring to people involved in a road construction project.
But this controversy will develop as more evidence comes to light. “Unfortunately, recently, there is some evidence that indicates that the NPA has changed into the heart of corruption, and it is headed by Mr. Ashraf Ghani,” said Abdul Zahir Tamim, a member of the Afghan parliament.