US watchdog tempers Afghan election optimism with corruption woes

    A man prepares election paraphernalia at a poll station during the 2009 Afghan presidential elections. The 2014 presidential election was the first time in the country’s history that power will be democratically transferred. Photo by: U.S. Embassy Kabul Afghanistan / CC BY-ND

    The U.S. government’s Afghanistan watchdog issued on Wednesday another stark reminder to Congress: the recent election is a step in the right direction, but almost $18 billion U.S. taxpayer dollars remain to be disbursed in a country plagued by corruption and facing a significantly diminished international presence.

    In its 23rd quarterly report submitted this week to Congress, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted how that even during a “rare moment of optimism” for Afghanistan, corruption still poses a critical threat to the U.S.-led reconstruction effort — and to the country’s ability to generate its own revenue and create a stable economy.

    Up to $17.9 billion in U.S. appropriated funding remains to be disbursed — of which $6.7 billion has been obligated — for U.S. reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Congress has appropriated almost $103.2 billion for this effort since 2002, making it the most expensive U.S. initiative ever to rebuild another nation.

    Furthermore, many fear direct oversight of how that remaining money gets spent will become increasingly difficult as U.S. and international forces reduce their presence in Afghanistan this year.

    SIGAR also announced it will soon issue another report that will “outline the options for oversight post-2014.” While Inspector General John Sopko has repeatedly said his office is not empowered to “pontificate on policy,” the watchdog has played a larger role in assembling experts though symposia and other forums to develop and disseminate “best practices” for monitoring and implementation in Afghanistan.

    In line with those recommendations, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s “monitoring support program” will hire partners to implement services in support of the agency’s “multi-tiered monitoring strategy.” That involves collecting monitoring data through a variety of techniques, including the use of third-party monitors, geospatial data and satellite imagery. USAID has extended the closing date for that procurement opportunity until May 12.

    The U.S. and Afghan governments have yet to finalize a bilateral security agreement, which would set the terms of the remaining U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 2014. The two leading candidates for the country’s presidency — who will square off in a runoff vote in June — have both announced they intend to sign the BSA.

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    See more:

    Afghanistan risks 'blacklisting' over financial corruption — SIGAR
    Afghanistan post-2014: Humanitarian relief or long-term development?
    How USAID 'pushed back' to quell Afghanistan oversight fears
    SIGAR chief to US contractors: Share information (before it’s too late)
    SIGAR looks into 10 years of US aid to Afghanistan
    US watchdog asks NGOs for tips to improve Afghan aid

    About the author

    • Michael Igoe

      Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.

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