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The Killid Group
Timber trade mired in fraudWritten by Hamid Kohistani
Saturday, 09 July 2011 09:38
Government contracts for the disposal of timber from Nuristan and Kunar provinces shadowed by charges of corruption and fraud.
In January 2006, the government decided to take over huge stockpiles of cut timber in Nuristan and Kunar, and auction it to private companies. An estimated 6/74 million cubic feet of timber was sold.
The beneficiaries have been three companies, owned separately by Najibullah Akhtari, Ehsanullah Babar and Zahid Walid.
Akhtari's company had emerged the winning bidder, according to a contract signed by the Ministry of Finance officials on May 26, 2006. "According to the last bidding round, the Najibullah Akhtari company was known as the winner for 6/74 million cubic feet of timber in Nuristan and Kunar," the document states.
All the remaining timber, apart from one million cubic feet, was given to Walid (51.4 million cubic feet) and Bahar (600,000 cubic feet).
The Akhtari company has alleged the government flouted due process in handing over the timber to its rivals. "Zahid Walid and Ehsanullah Bahar's companies contrary to law were included forcefully in the above mentioned contract by the Ministry of Finance based on personal relations, not based on their request," Haji Najibullah Akhtari who heads the company said in an interview with Killid.
Akhtari chose not to take names of any individuals in the ministry, but described the turn of events as a "great treachery".
Some 40 commercial companies had participated in the bid. The Akhtari company bid 12 million dollars and won the auction.
Senior officials involved
"After the Akhtari company was declared the winner in the presence of a senior government delegation, Anwarul Haq Ahadi, the then minister of finance, included the Ehsanullah Babar and Zahid Walid companies in the list, against the law, (and) this was nepotism," Akhtari said.
Documents available with a Killid investigation team have identified two senior government officials involved in auctioning and assigning timber in Nuristan and Kunar.
They are Mohammed Amin Farhang, then economic minister; and Mohammed Eshaq Alako, then deputy attorney general and current attorney general in the Afghan government.
When contacted by Killid, Farhang said he had "no information" of the timber contract between the Ministry of Finance and Babar and Walid's companies. "If such a contract has been entered to it is contrary to the Procurement Law," he said. The law states that if the winning bidder fails to comply with rules or the bid is not in government interest, the finance ministry can enter into a second contract with a person or company on the bidding list with the sanction of the government delegation.
According to Akhtari, the Walid company was not part of the bidding process. "Zahid Walid company belonging to Haji Hussain Fahimi has not participated in the bidding session," he told Killid.
Repeated attempts by Killid to interview Anwarul Haq Ahadi, then finance minister, were stonewalled by his office. Neither did the Walid and Bahar companies agree to interviews.
Smugglers came in
Allegations of corruption and fraud surround even the process of transportation of timber from Nuristan and Kunar for auction. Abdul Jabbar Sabet who was the then attorney general of Kunar, said seven companies in collusion with related ministries were engaged in the rampant smuggling of beams, but he did not reveal names.
"I attended one of the ministerial meetings at the request of President (Hamid) Karzai which discussed details of the transportation of beams," he said. "I asked the cabinet to annul contracts entered into with private companies but some ministers insisted on honouring the commitment. I told the president in the meeting that at least three ministers were involved in this contract."
The former attorney general was the first to raise the flag on corruption in transportation of beams, blaming the abuse on the winning companies including Akhtari, a charge the company head has hotly denied. "The main guilty groups are government employees including Mustofiat, PGs … not the companies," he said.
By stopping the transportation by private companies, Sabet paved the way for smugglers, causing huge losses to the exchequer, he charged.
The contract with private companies was rescinded on the recommendations of a delegation appointed by Karzai following complaints forwarded by Sabet. Still, timber is being smuggled out clandestinely by private transporters.
The delegation was headed by Mohammad Yasin Osmani who acting as presidential advisor, submitted a report after inspecting the process of transporting squared timber and listening to complaints of local people in Kunar.
The volume of cut timber in Kunar and Nuristan is estimated to be seven million cubic feet every year. Seeking to save its forests from the axe and end the monopoly of a few timber traders, Osmani recommended that under a presidential decree all timber should be taken out of the two provinces within two months of cutting by individuals and companies on the payment of a fixed 300 Afs (US$6.5).
This and other recommendations remain on paper. Trees are continuing to be ruthlessly felled for timber never mind the impact on the environment or the nation's vulnerable economy.