Sopko to Afghanistan: Not prepared for aid influx

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. Photo by: Center for Strategic & International Studies / CC BY-NC-SA

The Afghan government is ill prepared to handle the aid money that is expected to be funneled through its coffers in the coming years, the U.S. inspector general for Afghanistan will warn Congress today. 

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, is expected to tell lawmakers at a Feb. 13 hearing that the Afghan government cannot manage direct assistance from the U.S. government now, and things will get worse if the Obama administration follows through with its plan to add $10 billion this year.

“The Afghan government does not appear to have the capacity to manage the amount of funding envisioned in the international community’s pledges of direct assistance,” Sopko said in a prepared statement released ahead of his testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security,Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Department of Defense give out direct aid through bilateral agreements and multilateral trust funds that in turn go to Afghanistan’s national budget. About $35.5 billion of the $88.8 billion the United States invested in Afghan over the past 10 years was through direct assistance.

“Within two years, it will be largely up to the Afghan government to sustain the reconstruction effort,” Sopko plans to tell U.S. lawmakers. “The importance of giving the Afghan government the responsibility to allocate, manage, and track funds should not be underestimated.”

Sopko also plans to cricitize USAID’s handling of its bilateral agreements with the Afghan government. 

“As we know from the Government Accountability Office, USAID has not always complied with the financial and other controls it has included in its bilateral direct assistance agreements with the Afghan government,” Sopko will say, according to his prepared remarks.

SIGAR recently initiated a review of USAID-funded projects with Afghan ministries, he said. One case the office is looking at is $236 million that went directly to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.

“SIGAR’s audit will look at whether the direct assistance to the MoPH is being used for intended purposes and is achieving expected outcomes,” SIGAR told Congress in its quarterly report last month.

Last year, at a conference in Tokyo, donors pledged about $16 billion to help Afghanistan fight corruption. The government’s history of corruption and mismanagement continues to complicate efforts by its international partners to monitoring direct assistance, according to Sopko.

“Despite stated commitments from the Afghan government to address this problem, we continue to see reluctance on the part of Afghan officials to take serious action,” Sopko is expected to say, citing “widespread corruption” at the Dawood National Military Hospital in Kabul, where patients cannot seek medical assistance without bribing staff, according to the auditor.

Monitoring direct assistance is never easy, Sopko will tell lawmakers — and it’ll get even harder in Afghanistan if the United States increases budget support.

“Funds provided through direct assistance are typically subject to less U.S. and international donor community oversight,” Sopko said. “Provisions for effective, independent oversight must be built into any direct assistance program to the Afghan government to ensure effective program implementation and to protect the American taxpayer.”

With the withdrawal of troops by end of 2014, SIGAR’s job of minitoring U.S. aid to Afghanistan will get even tougher, Sopko plans to tell Congress.

“The coalition forces have already pulled out of a number of locations in Afghanistan, leaving some of those places too dangerous for SIGAR or other agencies to visit,” Sopko will say, according to his prepared remarks.

Just recently, a SIGAR team was unable to inspect 38 buildings worth $72 million because the location “was beyond the security bubble.”

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About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.