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The Killid Group
Tracing corruption in the national armyWritten by Ahmad Shoaib Tanha
Saturday, 21 May 2011 12:55
Corruption, embezzlement and abuse of authority are allegedly prevalent among the top echelons of the Afghan National Army (ANA) but Generals blame their subordinate soldiers for most of the problems.
Army corruption cases rarely leak outside and even the reported cases disappear in the stringent bureaucratic procedures. Over six months ago, Lieutenant General Ahmad Zia Yaftali, director of ANA's medical department, was officially accused of embezzling over US$24 million worth of ANA medical and pharmaceutical supplies. Apart from sacking the General, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has failed to conduct meaningful and transparent investigations into his alleged corruption case which Mr. Yaftali vehemently repudiates.
A Killid investigative report and interviews with several ANA officials, experts, soldiers and contractors reveals that corruption is endemic in our military apparatuses and it can be divided into four categories:
A) Corruption in contracts (logistics, foods, fuel, constructions, etc.)
B) Corruption in the sale and renting of MoD properties
C) Corruption in military procurements
D) Corruption as abuse of authority, nepotism and ethnic and linguistic discriminations
"The quality of everything we eat, wear and use is getting worse year after year," said Abdul Jamil, an ANA soldier. Modeled under the U.S. military system the ANA receives most of its required services and supplies through private contractors which include Afghan and foreign companies. In written, the contracts clearly stipulate that contractors must provide high quality supplies and services. In practice, however, this is often not the case.
"The contracting processes are extremely corrupt as contracting officers make illicit arrangements with contractors on the quality, quantity and other characteristics of the required supplies and services," said Ghulam Hasaan Majroh, a retired army officer.
An existing army logistics contractor agreed to share with Killid some of his personal perspectives on the condition of anonymity. "We pay certain percentages of an awarded contract to senior officials, for example if a contract is worth $200,000 we pay 10-15 percent to the awarding official," the contractor said adding that some contracts were over $1million.
As the quality and quantity of services and supplies plummet so do the morale, confidence and commitment of the soldiers who risk their lives in the defence of the government.
"It's so disappointing to see corruption is flourishing in an environment of impunity and recklessness," said one soldier who requested not to be named.
Illegal sale of properties
The MoD owns tens of thousands of hectares of lands across the country. Some land plots are located in the highly expensive business and residential areas such as the posh Shirpor precinct in central Kabul. The Shirpor plots were hastily and largely illegally plundered by and distributed to ministers, commanders and other senior government officials in 2003-2004, according to human rights groups' investigations through which they have collected testimonies and documentation.
The former commander of ANA's 207 Cantonment in the western Herat Province has been accused by local people of selling MoD land plots and taking millions of dollars away. The commander, Jalandar Shah Behnam, now serves as head of MoD's emergency department. "During my tenure in Herat, no land was illegally distributed or sold but the practice existed before my appointment," said Gen. Behnam.
Training and equipping the ANA cost donors billions of dollars every year. The ANA/MoD largely acts as a recipient of the U.S./NATO aid and military equipments which include armoured vehicles, light weapons, tanks, munitions and other military supplies.
Ironically, Hamid Wardak son of Defence Minister Rahim Wardak is a major MoD contractor. Killid could not contact the young Wardak and ask about his contract details because he does not live in Afghanistan. However, the older Wardak told a parliamentary session in 2010 that his son was a U.S. citizen and was receiving contracts from U.S. agencies without his involvement.
Interestingly, MoD's spokesperson, Zahir Azimi, said he did not know financial details of the armoured vehicles which senior MoD officials are using. "I also don't know about the quality of the military equipments which we receive from the U.S.," he said. In the absence of facts which could suggest otherwise, we have no option but to accept that our defence minister knows nothing about his son's contracts with the MoD, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and that MoD's spokesperson has no awareness about the quality of weapons and their procurement details.
Abuse of authority
In addition to their salaries, ANA generals are entitled to a so-called "food-table expenses" which are paid under a presidential decree. Depending on his/her military rank, a general can take 10,000-80,000 Afghanis every month to spend at his/her discretion. Indeed the generals operate under very murky financial accountability procedures but that is not the only problem. Several soldiers and low-ranking army officers interviewed for this report complained about what they called "rampant nepotism" and ethnic, linguistic and factional discriminations exercised by some high-ranking MoD officials.
The Generals, however, retort the blames and accuse their subordinates of corruption and abuse of authority.
"Corruption does not exist in the senior levels of the MoD but it does exist in the lower ranks, among the soldiers," said General Shahzada, commander of the 207 Zafar Cantonment in the western Herat Province.
"We have arrested and punished many soldiers who were corrupted and abused their duties," said Gen. Zalmai Weesa, commander of the 207 Shaheen Cantonment in the northern Balkh Province.