I am pleased to submit to Congress, and to the Secretaries of State and Defense, SIGAR’s 46th quarterly report on the status of reconstruction in Afghanistan.
On January 15, 2020, I had the honor of testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs at a hearing on “U.S. Lessons Learned in Afghanistan.” The focus of the hearing was the findings and recommendations outlined in seven reports published by SIGAR’s Lessons Learned Program on topics ranging from corruption to the reintegration of ex-combatants. These included the key lessons from SIGAR’s work as well as six matters for immediate Congressional consideration.
I appreciated the opportunity to share with the members of the committee what SIGAR has learned in 10 years of overseeing Afghanistan reconstruction, as hearings like this one can foster change in the way the U.S. government operates.
Members agreed that while the United States has achieved some of its goals in Afghanistan, we owe it to the thousands of U.S. servicemembers who have lost their lives, to the U.S. military and civilians still serving there, and to the U.S. taxpayer, to do a better job.
According to recently departed U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, John R. Bass, corruption is the issue that most troubles former U.S. ambassadors, military officials, and elected officials in Afghanistan. In Section One of this report, SIGAR proposes some measures drawn from our second assessment of Afghanistan’s anticorruption strategy, released this quarter, to help donors and their Afghan partners tackle the problem.
Two other SIGAR products, both issued in January, also touch on corruption concerns. At the request of the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator James Inhofe, SIGAR also conducted a performance audit which found the Afghan government delays issuing business licenses, as well as using other ploys, to pressure vendors under U.S. government contracts to pay business taxes that the U.S. State Department says are barred under terms of a 2018 U.S.-Afghan agreement. In addition, a SIGAR special projects report on the Afghan Case Management System that tracks civil and criminal cases found that the system’s lack of controls over seized and forfeited assets makes the Afghan justice system vulnerable to corruption.
These were among 19 products issued by SIGAR this quarter. A third performance audit reviewed USAID’s emergency food-assistance efforts. SIGAR also issued one alert letter concerning the current state of the U.S. government’s counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan, and two inspection reports examining the Afghan National Police’s Women’s Compound at the Herat Regional Training Center, and the Kajaki Dam Irrigation Tunnel.
SIGAR completed nine financial audits of U.S.-funded contracts to rebuild Afghanistan. These financial audits covered a range of topics including USAID’s Private Sector-Led Model of Sustainable Social and Economic Development, the Department of the Army’s UH-60A Enhanced Phase Maintenance Inspection Program for helicopters, and USAID’s Initiative for Hydration, Sanitation, and Nutrition. These financial audits identified $4,946,880 in questioned costs as a result of internal-control deficiencies and noncompliance issues.
In addition to the report on the Case Management System, SIGAR’s Office of Special Projects reviewed the cost of spare parts for the National Maintenance Strategy-Ground Vehicle Support contract. The office also issued one inquiry letter regarding the Ministry of Finance’s decision to prohibit investigations or monitoring of its revenue-producing units.
During the reporting period, SIGAR’s criminal investigations resulted in four criminal charges, five convictions, four pretrial diversions, three sentencings, a $45 million global settlement, and over $500,000 in fines. SIGAR initiated nine new cases and closed 22, bringing the total number of ongoing investigations to 145.
SIGAR work to date has identified over $3 billion in savings for the U.S. taxpayer.
My colleagues and I look forward to working with Congress and other stakeholders to continue improving outcomes from U.S.-funded reconstruction programs in Afghanistan.
John F. Sopko