Meat supplies scam costs Afghan police budget millions

KABUL (Reuters) - A scandal involving inflated contracts for police meat rations underlines the abuse Afghan authorities are struggling to stop in logistics centers, where corrupt officials and contractors have skimmed fortunes from the government and foreign donors.

Earlier this year, investigators identified discrepancies in order forms that showed contractors were both claiming for inflated quantities of meat and billing at hugely inflated prices in a multi-million dollar scam.

The meat contract scandal, which saw 23 officials arrested along with the contractor, is only one example of abuse at logistics centers which the U.S. Congressional watchdog SIGAR identified in a recent report as a major risk to the U.S.-backed reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

It said logistics centers were “focal points of corruption” where “ammunition, uniforms, and other commodities are easily pilfered and sold”.

According to documents seen by Reuters, total overbilling on meat supplies for the year to March 2019 came to some $7.5 million due to “systematic and organized corruption” and a failure of internal controls.

In one case, in Nangarhar province, the company contracted to supply 57,413 kg of mutton for the month of October but by the time the contract was submitted to the finance ministry in Kabul for payment, the quantity had been inflated to 92,648 kg.

In another case, in Nuristan province, 23,000 kg of meat priced at 260 afghani ($3.28) per kilo was billed, but by the time the invoice reached the finance ministry it had jumped to 92,000 kg charged at 390 afghani.

The fraudulent overbilling took place at a time when many frontline police units were complaining of not receiving adequate food supplies.

Backed by President Ashraf Ghani, with a mandate to stamp out abuse, new police chief Khoshal Sadat has promised to take on corrupt officials and contractors but no-one is expecting the change to happen overnight.

However pleased officials may be to have uncovered the meat scandal, they know that many more continue.

“Although this is an important step in identifying and cutting corruption in the ministry, this is just a grain of sand,” said a senior interior ministry official.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Alex Richardson