- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Development Program acknowledged Tuesday that contractor abuses occurred during its oversight of $25.6 million in American-funded rebuilding projects in Afghanistan, as charged in a U.S. government report.

The criticism by the U.S. Agency for International Development came last June but wasn’t disclosed publicly until USA Today reported on it Tuesday.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UNDP, the United Nations’ main anti-poverty program, said the agency expected to repay no more than $1.5 million provided by USAID for rebuilding Afghan infrastructure.

All of the U.S.-funded “Quick Impact Projects” taken on by UNDP were subcontracted to the scandal-plagued U.N. Office for Project Services. The office, known as UNOPS, in turn hired local contractors to do the work in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban.

Dujarric said the idea was to urgently repair roads, bridges, wells and clinics while creating jobs for Afghans in remote and often “insecure” areas.

“The vast majority of these projects were completed successfully,” he said. “UNDP is as angry as anyone about the reported misbehavior of UNOPS or any other U.N. employee in Afghanistan, during the period 2003 to 2006, and we fully support U.N. action against any individuals involved.”

He said USAID and the State Department provided UNDP with nearly $336 million over the past seven years with “no major disputes or difficulties.”

Last year’s report by the USAID inspector general listed numerous shortcomings in UNDP’s handling of the $25.6 million in Afghan projects, including the agency drawing $7 million from its USAID letter of credit and then refusing to provide an explanation.

“Projects worked by UNOPS were not completed as claimed and others have defects and warranty issues that UNDP refuses to address,” said the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

“There were numerous design errors, neglected repairs and uninstalled equipment and materials _ all of which was billed as complete,” it said. “Some incomplete work includes life-threatening oversights on a bridge and several buildings. Building parts are missing from some sites.”

Among its examples:

_Qalat Airstrip, budgeted at $300,000 but cost $749,000 and was still “unpaved, and little more than a dirt strip; the USAID design had been ignored.” The U.S. military decided the airstrip was unsuitable, requiring equipment to be flown to Kandahar and driven overland 125 miles to Qalat.

_Tarnak River Bridge, costing $250,000, had to be rebuilt by other contractors but still is unsafe because it “is poorly sited and was designed too small.” The bridge is as an important link between the Baghran Valley and nearby commerce centers.

_Headquarters for Da Afghan Bank, Afghanistan’s central bank, was built for $375,000 but left without electricity and plumbing. Due to poor drainage “stacks of local currency have been ruined from the water” in a basement vault.

U.S. investigators said questions remained because the United Nations generally refused to cooperate with an outside audit. An anonymous caller sparked the investigation on Aug. 1, 2007, by contacting USAID’s regional inspector general’s office in Manila, Philippines.

Dujarric said UNDP and USAID would jointly go through project vouchers to agree on what should be repaid to the United States.

“Any money that remains in dispute at the end of this process will be refunded by UNDP to USAID,” he said. “Our expectation is that this will not amount to more than $1.5 million.”

UNOPS said last month it would repay the U.S. and other donors for a former U.N. official’s alleged misappropriation of least $480,000 from a fund for rebuilding Afghanistan between 2002 and 2006.

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