By Aminulla Rahbar
Jalalabad – Four years ago, 525 families were looking forward to receiving solar panels through a government aid program. But evidence obtained by Institute of War & Peace Reporting suggest that more than 75 percent of that aid went into private pockets.
In the first six months of 2007, a program initiated and implemented by the National Solidarity Program (NSP) of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development distributed solar panels to 525 families living in the two villages of Mastali and Zakhil, located in Kama district of Nangarhar province.
According to the project proposal, the cost of the solar panels would be 4,400,000 afghanis (about $93,600). Government officials who signed documents for the project included:
The project was developed from two proposals drawn up by Mastali and Zakhil village officials and sent to National Solidarity Program officials. The National Solidarity Program works with 2,100 local councils representing 32,000 villages, and has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars for various welfare and construction projects at the village and district level through these councils.
The Mastali council chose to apply for the solar panel project over several other projects offered by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development. These included: dam construction, digging irrigation canals or deep-water wells, building a religious school, offering sewing courses, improving financial transaction system for villagers and midwife training for women.
The 525 families listed in the program are mostly unaware of where the money went. According to the contract signed in January 2007 between the National Solidarity Program and local councils in Mastali and Zakhil, each family was to receive a complete solar panel set, which in addition to the panel includes a battery, two bulbs and a voltage regulator.
The contents of the proposals and complaints of villagers suggest two types of corruption.
First, the local council leaderships in both Mastali and Zakhil villages collected 800 afghanis (about$16.55) as an advance from each family even though the solar panels were to be handed out for free. Mastali council members collected 228,000 afghanis from 285 families and Zakhil council members collected 192,000 afghanis from 240 families, for a total of 420,000 afghanis.
Council members didn’t give any receipt to the families. Villagers say council members told them that if they didn’t pay 800 afghanis, they wouldn’t receive the panels.
When an IWPR reporter asked Mastali village council head Zarab-gul why he had collected 800 afghanis from each household, he denied any personal participation in the matter. But he didn’t deny money had been collected from villagers.
Second, the proposals had estimated the cost of each panel at $200, but the reporter’s examination and study of photos of installed solar panels in the two villages revealed that the distributed panels were different from the ones required in the proposals. A check of price quotations for solar panels in 2007 showed the actual cost of the installed panels, which had lower energy capacity than was listed in the proposals, was far less than $200.
Four types of solar panels were distributed. A list of 248 panels compiled by the reporter broke down as follows:
Based on these figures, the total price actually paid for 525 panels might be as low as $12,400. The budgeted amount for purchasing panels at $200 each would be $105,000.
When Mastali village council head Zarab-gul was asked if he had any explanation for this difference in prices, he said the solar panels distributed have shown good results and people are happy with them.
“This is a lie that we have stolen from the fund for panels,” he said. “Some people just accuse us without any grounds. Their allegations are out of enmity.”
Mohammad Yasin, deputy head of the local council in Zakhil village, agrees the distributed panels were not purchased according to the requirements of the contract, and were low price and low quality. He said he found this out too late.
“We were not professional people, and couldn’t understand any suspicious thing had happened,” Mohammad Yasin said. “That’s how NSP people swindled us.”
According to Mohammad Yasin, 2 million afghanis were supposed to be paid in cash directly to Zakhil village officials. “The 2 million afghanis were taken by NSP officers themselves, and we never knew how many solar panels they purchased and how much of the money was stolen,” he said.
Mohammad Yasin accused Nangarhar rural development workers Hedayatulla Haydari, Yunus Sapi, Mohmmad Shuja and Mohammad Rahman Rahman of all taking a share of the funds. The four workers accused by Mohammad Yasin no longer work for NSP and could not be found for comment.
It also appears that the Mastali and Zakhil council leaders replaced a number of households on the original beneficiary list with an equal number of new recipients.
During a 15-day visit in September to survey homes in Zakhil village, the IWPR reporter found 37 families on the original list were not given any solar panels. According to the proposal, 240 households should have been given panels, and council leaders reported to NSP that 240 were distributed.
Mohammad Yasin says he doesn’t know why 37 families said they did not receive any panels. “It’s a lie,” he said. “We distributed panels to 240 families.”
Nur Mohmmad, a 32-year-old Zakhil farmer, said he was a witness to how unfairly the panels were doled out and how NSP officers got away with it. “I remember those who were given the panels were different from those whose names were on the list,” he said.
He says after the distribution was completed, many households still have no solar power in their homes.
Parviz, a 32-year-old Mastali laborer, said his family and many others didn’t benefit from the distribution program. He said he could see that connections with council leaders were a must for people to get solar panels.
“Those with connections got solar panels, and others didn’t,” Parviz said. He claimed that people who didn’t belong to the village and others who just came back after 20 years in Peshawar, Pakistan, received solar panels.
Local authorities in Kama district do not deny the graft in the procurement process for solar panels, but say local councils are independent entities, and that the district government can’t take responsibility for their actions.
Malik Abdul-Wahab, general head of all local councils in Kama district, told IWPR that they have 72 councils in the district. He said he knows not all council leaders are honest people, and that a number of them are involved in graft with private companies, which results in squandering of public funds and poor products being given to the villagers.
“Any council head that steals money should be tried,” he said. “Even if I do it, I should be accountable.”
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