US funding may have been misspent on Afghan ‘ghost schools’

SIGAR demands explanation from USAID regarding allegations that humanitarian aid money earmarked for education in Afghanistan embezzled and statistics doctored

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Allegations have surfaced regarding the misuse of US aid for Afghan reconstruction efforts, specifically for education.

Since the Taliban was deposed from Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has spent more than $100 billion on reconstruction efforts, with $769 million going to the Afghan education system.

As a measure of its success, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paraded statistics showing student enrollment had jumped from 900,000 to 8 million between 2002 and 2013. However it turns out that these numbers were based on figures provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education during Hamid Karzai’s administration and cannot be independently verified.

John Sopko, the US special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), described his job as “checking alleged facts, digging out actual facts, and identifying weaknesses, failures, uncertainties, corrupt acts, and delusions,” in a speech delivered at the Weill Cornell Medical College on May 5.

He told the audience that the records kept by the Afghan Ministry of Education “are not independently verified” and that “the ministry counts absent students as ‘enrolled’ for up to three years before dropping them from the rolls.”

Sopko said it was necessary to start with “accurate, verifiable, and pertinent data,” and emphasised “the independence issue.”

On May 27, the ministers of education and higher education serving President Ashraf Ghani told the Afghan House of Representatives that “there are no active schools in insecure parts of the country, and … former officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams,” Sopko wrote in a letter dated June 11 and released on Thursday.

“These allegations suggest that US and other donors may have paid for schools that students do not attend and for the salaries of teachers who do not teach,” Sopko continued in the letter.

The letter was addressed to acting USAID administrator Alfonso E. Lenhardt and gave the agency two weeks to explain what USAID is doing to investigate the reliability of its data and the potential misuse of its funds.

In a response emailed to a Center for Public Integrity journalist, USAID spokesman Sam Ostrander said the agency will provide a detailed reply to Sopko by the June 30 deadline.

A written statement by Larry Sampler, assistant to the USAID administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said “USAID takes seriously any allegations of manipulated or falsified data. We have asked the Ministry of Education for more information regarding the Minister’s statement.”

"It is a fact that there are no schools in some parts of the country, but all the expenses - including teachers' salaries - are being paid, and now we will bring reforms to this waste," Assadullah Hanif Balkhi - the new Education Minister - has reportedly told Afghan lawmakers, according to TOLOnews.

TRTWorld and agencies