"Contractors in Afghanistan are making big money for bad work."
That is the conclusion reached in a new report from CorpWatch written by an
Afghan-American journalist who returned to her native country to examine the
progress of reconstruction.
"The [George W] Bush administration touts the reconstruction effort in
Afghanistan as a success story," the report said, but claimed that reconstruction
has been "bungled" by "many of the same politically connected
corporations which are doing similar work in Iraq", receiving "massive
open-ended contracts" without competitive bidding or with limited competition.
"These companies are pocketing millions, and leaving behind a people increasingly
frustrated and angry with the results," the report said. Foreign contractors
"make as much as US$1,000 a day, while the Afghans they employ make $5
per day," the report charged.
Examples cited in the report by author Fariba Nawa included a highway that
began crumbling before it was finished; a school with a collapsed roof; a clinic
with faulty plumbing; a farmers' cooperative that farmers can't use; Afghan
police and military that, after training, are incapable of providing the most
Nawa said such examples abounded in the country. She wrote, "Near Kabul
city in the village of Qalai Qazi, Afghanistan, stands a new, bright-yellow
health clinic built by American contractor The Louis Berger Group. The clinic
was meant to function as a sterling example of American engineering, and to
serve as a model for 81 clinics Berger was hired to build - in addition to roads,
dams, schools and other infrastructure - in exchange for the $665 million in
American aid money the company has so far received in federal contracts.
"The problem is, this 'model' clinic was falling apart: the ceiling had
rotted away in patches; the plumbing, when it worked, leaked and shuddered;
the chimney, made of flimsy metal, threatened to set the roof on fire; the sinks
had no running water; and the place smelled of sewage," the report said.
The US-led reconstruction effort has directed substantial resources toward
eradicating illicit poppy growing. It awarded a contract worth $120 million
over four years to train opium growers in the cultivation of alternative crops.
One part of the program "instructed farmers in Parwan to grow more vegetables,
and promised to find buyers for them both within the country and beyond. The
farmers, who normally planted beans and lentils, grew green vegetables as encouraged.
But instead of profiting, they lost money. Vegetables flooded the market and
drove the price down," the report said.
In another part of the same program, the report said, it was determined that
Afghan farmers, who make up about 80% of the working population, needed canals
and irrigation systems and the means to get their product to domestic markets
more efficiently, to minimize crop loss and to re-establish their access to
the international market.
The contractor's solution was to build irrigation canals. But the report pointed
out that poppies need very little water or fertilizer to thrive. The result,
the report said, was that opium-poppy growers used the water in the canals to
grow even more poppies.
The report said the US hired a number of public relations companies to put
a positive face on the reconstruction effort. One of them was the Washington-based
Rendon Group, which the report said had "close ties to the Bush administration".
The Pentagon has awarded Rendon more than $56 million in contracts since September
11, 2001, "as part of a coordinated effort to disseminate positive press
about America and its military in the developing world".
The contracts called for "tracking foreign reporters" and "pushing
(and sometimes paying) news outlets worldwide to run articles and segments favorable
to United States interests".
The report said Rendon was also granted a contract in 2004 to train staff at
President Hamid Karzai's office in the art of public relations, and "later
received another hefty grant of $3.9 million from the Pentagon to develop a
counter-narcotics campaign with the Afghan Interior Ministry - despite objections
from Karzai and the State Department".
The report charged that the contracting system used by international donors
was broken. It said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) "gives
contracts to American companies (and the World Bank and IMF [International Monetary
Fund] give contracts to companies from their donor countries) who take huge
chunks off the top and hire layers and layers of subcontractors who take their
cuts, leaving only enough for sub-par construction".
"Quality assurance is minimal; contractors know well they can swoop in,
put a new coat of paint on a rickety building, and submit their bill, with rarely
a question asked. The result is collapsing hospitals, clinics and schools, rutted
and dangerous new highways, a 'modernized' agricultural system that has actually
left some farmers worse off than before, and emboldened militias and warlords
who are more able to unleash violence on the people of Afghanistan."
Afghans, the report said, "are losing their faith in the development experts
whose job is to reconstruct and rebuild their country ... What the people see
is a handful of foreign companies setting priorities for reconstruction that
make the companies wealthy, yet are sometimes absurdly contrary to what is necessary."
Meanwhile, the report said, "The security situation in Afghanistan continues
to deteriorate, directly threatening ongoing reconstruction. Some of the fighting
is simply the result of deep frustration and distrust among Afghans who no longer
believe the international community is looking out for their best interests."
The "deliberate use of warlords and militias in reconstruction efforts
has only lent them more credibility and power, further undermining the elected
government and fueling a Taliban-led insurgency that continues to gain power".
The basic infrastructure in the country, the report concluded, "is
in shambles; the drug trade is booming. This result should be seen as a major
setback to the 'war on terror'. To Afghans, who after decades of war, believed
they would finally catch a break, it's a heartbreak."
Professor Beau Grosscup of California State University at Chico agreed.
He said, "This report confirms that Afghanistan has been 'Enron-ized' by
the Bush administration.
"As with the demise of Enron, the future of Afghanistan is one
in which the 'get rich quick' class at the top will escape with their bounty,
while the poor who were encouraged to invest heavily in 'reconstruction' and
promised prosperity will be left to live in the rubble."