Watchdog: Follow the Money

$3 million for an Afghan school building that was never finished

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Years after construction started on a U.S.-funded teacher training facility in Afghanistan, the building sits unfinished, putting teachers at risk after two contractors abandoned the facility they were paid more than $3 million to build.

The facility is the latest in what has become a trend of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failing to hold contractors accountable for shoddy work that puts people in danger, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

"More than 4 years after construction began, the Sheberghan teacher training facility remains incomplete. Its history is one of broken promises and undelivered results," SIGAR said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build three teacher training facilities in Afghanistan in 2009. USACE hired Iraqi firm Mercury for $2.9 million, with a target completion date of December 2010. After extending the deadline and upping the contract to $3.4 million, Mercury abandoned the work in late 2011 with one of the buildings still unfinished.

During construction, USACE sent 62 letters to Mercy detailing serious electrical, sewer and water problems with the facility at Sheberghan in Jawzjan province, which was the focus of the SIGAR report.

By November 2011, Mercury had walked away with $3.1 million, released from all liabilities for the dangerous unfinished building.

In addition to leaving work undone, Mercury also failed to pay subcontractors and violated safety rules, hiring minors and working without a foreman present.

USACE hired another contractor, an Afghan firm called Zafarkhaliq Construction Company, to finish the job for $153,000. The job was supposed to take 30 days. But eight months after USACE awarded the contract, 65 percent of the work had been done -- and it still wasn't done right, according to SIGAR.

In December 2012, 11 months after it took the contract, Zafarkhaliq walked away form the still-unfinished building with $130,000, released from liability.

Now, four years after the facilities were supposed to be finished, there is no electricity and no running water. Meanwhile, teachers using the building have tapped into the faulty electrical system, posing a serious risk of electrocution.

"SIGAR is deeply troubled that we continue to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failing to hold contractors accountable for work they were paid to perform," Inspector General John Sopko told the Washington Examiner.

"Even worse, the contractors' poor performance is potentially endangering the lives of the teachers using the building. Immediate action must be taken to hold contractors accountable and ensure the teachers' safety."

Because the building isn't finished, USAID can't officially transfer it to the Afghan government, and the facility can't be used. That hasn't stopped the teachers that have waited four years for the building to be done.

With no end in sight, the faculty decided to start using the building anyway. During its inspection, SIGAR noticed the classrooms were lit only by the windows, and bathrooms were locked because there was no running water.

Meanwhile, USAID terminated its partnership with USACE and plans to award a third, and hopefully final, contract to complete the building.

An October 2012 report that found USACE had paid contractors $70 million for buildings at Camp Pamir, the Afghan National Army garrison, that were never finished. That contractor was also released from all liability, despite significant safety concerns.

Go here for the full report.

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