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Other officials said the USAID goes to lengths to work with Afghan officials in an attempt to help them develop the capability to effectively manage their ministries on their own, rather than simply throw money at the situation. As a result, one official said, the process takes significant time and care.

Ghost employees

Officials writing the documents pulled few punches. The one conducted on the Ministry of Mines, for instance, described a landscape ripe for corruption. Operational problems, USAID auditors wrote, have created a “critical” risk of “kickbacks and bribery.”

Similarly strong language was used in a “Conclusion & Results” section of an October 2012 assessment of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, commonly referred to as “MAIL.”

“MAIL’s financial management/accounting system is not adequate to properly manage and account for donors’ funds,” auditors wrote. “MAIL does not have the financial management capacity to manage proposed activities.”

USAID auditors also pointed to damaging personnel problems within the Ministry of Public Health, whose “payroll database is vulnerable to unauthorized access and modification.”

The ministry “runs the risk of paying ghost employees and making improper payments to employees,” the assessment states.

A “lack of transparency” within the ministry’s procurement and purchasing system “creates an opportune environment for fraud, waste and abuse,” USAID auditors wrote, adding that ministry was in violation of existing Afghan government procurement laws, operating with “no effective control over public expenditures.”

Thirteen of 14 risks USAID identified in the assessment were rated as “critical,” including the risks that the ministry’s officials are diverting “government resources for unintended purposes” and manipulating accounting information to “hide illegal actions.”

While a January 2013 assessment of the Ministry of Education painted a relatively optimistic view of the ministry’s future, auditors cited a “high” risk of government resources being diverted to “unintended purposes.”

USAID auditors also found a host of accountability issues associated with the manner in which not just money — but actual cash — flows through the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to the ministry’s employees.

“The Ministry permits salary advances in the form of cash to staff, however, there are no internal controls to monitor and track the cash advances and [a] separate ledger to record the cash advances is not maintained,” auditors wrote in a January 2013 assessment.