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Contractor blames mismanagement for U.S.-funded Afghan prison’s issues

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The foreign contractor who built an $11.3 million U.S.-funded prison facility in Afghanistan suggested the structural weaknesses found there recently were caused by mismanagement of the facility, not poor construction.

A report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says the complex, which still houses inmates and is 60 percent over maximum capacity, is in need of major renovation and has severe structural damage and blocked sewers.

Though the report blames poor building practices, building contractor Omran Holding Group contends the issues come from mismanagement of the facility.

Gerry Castelli, vice president of OHG, said prisoners and guards, frustrated with blocked sewers, jammed iron rods into drains and plumbing to remove blockages. This then broke piping in the system and flooded the foundations, making some buildings unstable.

"Water seeped under the construction of buildings for months," Mr. Castelli said. "The whole system overflowed. We saw sewage inches from the tops of 6-foot manholes."

Mr. Castelli added that SIGAR never contacted him while conducting its investigation.

U.S. officials were alerted to potential issues at the facility in April. The report says the State Department bureau overseeing OHG's work did not conform to the suggested building practices, creating danger for both prisoners and workers.

OHG had similar concerns about the building methods the State Department suggested, sending the bureau 58 questions as the building process began. Some of the responses were concerning.

"We told them, 'we will follow your directions, but we still believe this is in conflict with the American Concrete Institute's code,'" Mr. Castelli said.

The SIGAR report also suggests the possibility that OHG, a prime contractor with the government since at least 2008, may have diverted funds or used cheaper building methods than agreed upon, which Mr. Castelli denies.

"We welcome any investigation," he said.

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