By Khan Mohammad Daneshjo
Kabul – The search began with a missing generator. The machine, which costs as much as $20,000 in Kabul, was bought with money donated by a foreign government to help pay for a massive international conference held in July 2010.
Many proclamations eventually resulted from the two-day talk shop, known as the Kabul International Conference and attended on July 19-20 by delegates from more than 70 countries, whom had gathered in the Afghan capital of Kabul to discuss a way forward for the battered nation.
Among those articles approved by conference attendees was this anti-graft promise: “Hereinafter, [the] government of Afghanistan with its good governance shall strongly combat against corruption and introduce corruption-involved individuals to judicial institutions for investigation.”
But the conference itself appears to have been anything but transparent. More than a year on, a reporter working for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting spent two months trying to track down how, and where some $1.12 million in conference funding – from the United States, Germany and the European Union – was allegedly spent by a confusing tangle of Afghan ministries and their respective departments.
The search was ultimately inconclusive. No generator was ever found. Nor were the hundreds of chairs, curtains and a large conference table purchased with German money. No record was uncovered of the tens of thousands of dollars worth of stationary allegedly bought with EU funds.
What did emerge are denials of responsibility, contradictory statements, finger pointing and a collective shrug of indifference from the host of Afghan government officials involved in some way in the conference’s planning and execution.
The United States and Germany donated $1.12 million for the Kabul International Conference, which was billed as a meeting to develop an Afghan government-led plan for improved development, governance and stability.
In June an official at the US embassy in Kabul, speaking on background, told IWPR, “USAID contributed approximately $500,000 in funding for the Kabul Conference. The funding went for equipment needs, including a generator to provide power for the conference.
“Funds were also used to support other direct costs associated with conducting the conference,” the official said in an e-mail, without offering additional details.
“The Public Affairs Section did not provide any direct funding to the Afghan government for the Kabul Conference. They wrote a grant for $85,000 to support an organization providing logistical and administrative support to UNAMA and the Afghan government.
“They also gave a grant for $520,000 to AIAS for a Kabul exhibition in conjunction with the Kabul Conference,” the official said.
The American Institute of Afghanistan Studies (AIAS) describes itself as a private, non-profit organization run by scholars with the aim of encouraging the systematic study of the culture, society, land, languages, health, peoples and history of Afghanistan, with special emphasis on assisting in the rebuilding of Afghan academic institutions.
But it is unclear how much of the $520,000 was spent on the exhibition or how.
“Due to security concerns, there was a small exhibition in July 2010 on the margins of the Kabul Conference with the larger exhibition held in the fall,” the official said.
When asked later for a more detailed breakdown of how the US money was spent, a second US official said: “Please note that, as a matter of policy, we typically do not give out details about grant recipients and the mechanisms of grant disbursement to the media.”
A document obtained by IWPR shows that the German government donated 400,000 euros (approximately $535,520) to the conference. The document states that the German government had set aside a large share of this amount for purchasing materials and furniture from Germany, including a large table, 220 chairs and curtains.
Christian Doktor, counselor of economy, development and civil-military cooperation at the German embassy, confirmed in an email to IWPR that the German government had responsibility for packaging and shipping of these materials from Germany, and for assembling them in Kabul.
IWPR has tried and failed to see the table and chairs, or any record of whether they were sold after the conference ended, despite interviews with Janan Musa Zai, foreign ministry spokesman; Freshta Omar, head of the administrative deputy secretariat; Ahmed Javaid Mujadidi, deputy director of the ceremonial office; Al Ghias, manager of the service department; and Abdul Hay Haider, administrative deputy of the foreign ministry.
The United Nation Development Program (UNDP) contributed $45,000. According to Dr. Mohammad Amin Khaliqi, director of oversight and evaluation of policy at the Ministry of Finance, this money was used to buy stationary. But IWPR was unable to obtain any documents confirming this whole amount was used for stationary.
But in an interview in May, Hafiz Wododi, director of the media department at the foreign ministry, said there might not be paperwork for conference expenses anywhere in the ministry.
“Our department is unaware of details on the conference,” he said. “Knowing about expenses is far beyond expectation.”
IWPR also met with Mohammad Zahir Faqir Zada, ex-spokesman for the foreign ministry. He said the ministry had no budget documents for the conference. “You should speak to the finance ministry, which is responsible for this, and ask them about the government’s financial expenses,” he said.
Shafiq Ahmed Qarizada, acting deputy of the policy department at the Ministry of Finance, said the government did not spend a single afghani (local currency) on management of the Kabul Conference.
When asked who was responsible for conference spending he replied: “I don’t know anything about this issue. Please go and ask Amin Khaliqi, who is the director of oversight and evaluation of policies for the Ministry of Finance.”
Khaliqi said he wasn’t sure, but he thought that Germany and the United States were the only donors for the conference. When shown documents that UNDP was also a donor, he said he was unaware that the UN agency had been involved.
Janan Musazai, the present spokesman at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he knows nothing about the Kabul conference. Freshta Omar, of the administrative deputy secretariat, said the UN and Germany didn’t donate a dollar to the Kabul conference.
IWPR did see an official letter to the deputy office of the Ministry of Finance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, numbered 2684 and dated March 8, 2011, which stated:
“As you are well informed, the Kabul international conference was successfully held … at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No national or international resources (were used to) financially assist this conference, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for the hospitability of the foreign guests, borrowed rooms in Intercontinental, Kabul Serena and Safi Landmark hotels, and the assistance of the mentioned hotels are appreciated.
“The hotel administrations are asking continuously for the payment of their bills, which is the sum of 5,450,181 afghanis (approximately $112,793). We have forwarded the issue to you and we will be thankful for your consideration to reimburse the order number 1062 issued on 30/08/2011.”
Intercontinental officials, however, told IWPR that there is no record showing that any of the Kabul conference guests stayed in the hotel and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not indebted to the Intercontinental.
When an IWPR reporter went to the Kabul Serena Hotel to investigate any Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ debts, he was told that the ministry had not paid its bill after one year. Naimatullah Habib, sales manager at the Kabul Serena, said that if he disclosed to the media the amount the ministry owed to the hotel, the ministry would discontinue their relations with the Kabul Serena.
Documents given to IWPR by Mustafa, the account manager at the Safi Landmark Hotel, show that as of September 5, 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs owes the hotel 150,000 afghanis.
The Afghan foreign ministry set up a six-member administration group called the Kabul Conference Secretariat to organize and coordinate the sessions. Its members included:
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