U.S. needs more oversight of Afghan funds: auditors

WASHINGTON Fri Apr 30, 2010 3:11pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration needs better controls to prevent waste and fraud as it asks Congress for an additional $20 billion to speed up rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, auditors said on Friday.

The budget request, which covers the 2011 fiscal year and 2010 supplemental funding, is a 38 percent increase over the nearly $51.5 billion that Congress has already allocated for Afghanistan's reconstruction since 2002.

"United States' agencies need to pay more attention to oversight and they need to pay more attention to increasing the capacities of the Afghan agencies to provide oversight," John Brummet, acting deputy special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told Reuters.

In a bid to boost Afghanistan's own capacity, the Obama administration plans to funnel much of the new money directly through the Afghan government, which has been repeatedly accused of corruption and mismanagement of donor funds.

Two recent U.S. inspections of Afghanistan's anti-corruption office as well as the key agency responsible for auditing public finances, found both lacked the independence and qualified staff to do the job, said a quarterly report filed by the special inspector general's office to Congress on Friday.

"Without proper and intense oversight, our contributions to rebuild Afghanistan can easily be exposed to waste, fraud and abuse," said Arnold Fields, the chief inspector.

Recent audits by his office reflect similar problems found during the Bush administration when it spent tens of billions of dollars rebuilding Iraq and oversight was seen as sub-par.

"I think there have been some of the same mistakes. One of the differences in Afghanistan, compared to Iraq, is that the capacity of the Afghan government is weak and needs to be strengthened," Brummet said.

SECURITY FOCUS

Included in Obama's 2011 budget request is $11.6 billion to train, equip and mentor Afghanistan's security forces as well as $3.3 billion for government and development programs.

Overall, nearly 70 percent of reconstruction budget requests are to bolster Afghan security forces, whose competence is key for U.S. forces to begin leaving as planned from July 2011.

The goal is for Afghan security forces to reach a target of 300,000 personnel in 2011. But U.S. auditors complained of a lack of a master plan to build facilities to house this expanding military.

Audits released separately on Friday criticized two new garrisons being funded by U.S. taxpayers, finding "significant" problems and a lack of quality assurance for the buildings.

In inspections of a garrison in the northern province of Kunduz being managed by U.S. company DynCorp, auditors found serious deficiencies in the work, including severe settling of soil that was causing walls to crack and lean.

In addition, the first phase of the project was more than 20 months behind schedule and the second phase more delayed.

The quarterly report said 19 criminal cases had been conducted of U.S. taxpayer funds used in Afghanistan, resulting in the recovery of $2 million so far. Some 42 cases were under investigation, the report said.

In another case, a U.S. Navy employee working in a contract office in Kabul admitted taking $10,000 in bribes to influence the award of U.S. fuel and construction contracts. The Navy had taken disciplinary action, the report said, without giving details.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)

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