Policy: Environment & Energy

US Afghan aid buys solar panels for farmers without electricity

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Watchdog Blog,Michal Conger,Secretary of Defense,Afghanistan,Foreign Aid,USAID,Energy and Environment,Electricity

Solar panels for farmers without electricity and missing $17,600 tractors are among the many examples of waste by the U.S. Agency for International Development in a $70 million project designed to create agricultural jobs in Afghanistan.

Instead of reducing regional instability, increasing agricultural jobs or helping stabilize the agricultural economy during the transition to Afghan leadership, the USAID project prompted complaints of waste, fraud, mismanagement and ineffective oversight, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

The $70 million project was awarded to International Relief and Development, Inc., a nonprofit that does development work globally. IRD's plan, modeled on a failed project it previously managed called AVIPA-Plus, included solar panels for shop owners, tractors for orchard owners and irrigation pumps for farmers, among several other components.

But because of USAID's poor management, IRD wasted money on expensive and unneeded equipment, the SIGAR said.

Although the original work plan allowed for two-wheeled tractors that cost $4,600, IRD bought 95 four-wheeled tractors for $17,600 each, even though the four-wheeled tractors are too large for the orchards where many of them were supposed to be used.

At least one-third of the tractors distributed in Kandahar Province, worth more than $560,000, were inexplicably "lost," much like the tractors distributed by AVIPA-Plus, according to the IG. All 69 of the tractors linked to that program are now missing.

IRD also distributed 300 sets of solar panels, which cost $2,300 each, to shop keepers selling agricultural products over the objections of local officials. But most of the shopkeepers were not equipped for electricity, and the solar panels were more likely to be sold or stolen than used for business, according to the report.

An irrigation pump distribution project, begun under AVIPA-Plus and continued under the new project, "revealed instances of gross mismanagement," the SIGAR wrote.

IRD spent more than $23 million to purchase, store and distribute 16,000 irrigation pumps in Helmand Province in districts that already had water resources and existing irrigation systems. About three-quarters of the pumps sat in storage for a year for an additional cost of $6 million.

One of the USAID employees who helped get IRD's work plan approved was himself an IRD employee until one month before the award was granted.

This employee was involved with the approval process even though he had signed a recusal letter precluding him from working with IRD for 12 months.

The waste and mismanagement of the IRD program are not the only problems USAID has had with successfully implementing its many multimillion-dollar projects overseas, according to a lengthening list of recent USAID inspector general reports.

In Pakistan, for instance, an $89.4 million USAID-funded project has failed so miserably at creating agricultural jobs that it could be defunded before the end of the summer.

The organization running the project gave goat farmers only female goats, which the IG drily noted doesn't allow the farmers to breed more goats. It also failed to help pickle farmers get their goods sold in markets or stores, and the farmers ended up selling their produce to friends and family.

Another project failed to improve wastewater services in Lebanon, one of its primary goals, according to an IG report released June 23. The small amount of work it had done had "limited effect," the USAID IG said, and USAID found out after implementing its project that wastewater is not a priority for the Lebanese government.

Even projects without such obvious errors share similar pitfalls, according to many recent reports. Projects are frequently late because of lack of plans, poor oversight and difficulty hiring people. Projects in Bangladesh, Mexico and Bolivia and Iraq are behind schedule for these reasons, according to IG reports released in June alone.

Read the USAID Afghanistan letter here.

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