Monday, April 20, 2009

U.N.D.P. fails to deliver

Agencies ignore U.S. requests to account for millions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan

Sat, Apr 18, 2009 (2:07 a.m.)

In 2003 the U.S. Agency for International Development commissioned the United Nations to build a series of infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. USAID gave the U.N. a $25 million grant for the three-year life of the project.

In a report obtained by USA Today, the USAID inspector general’s office said the U.N. misspent millions of dollars and delivered shoddy work, including a bridge at risk of collapsing. The report lays out a series of damning charges, including:

• One witness said “about $10 million of USAID grant money went to projects in other countries, to include Sudan, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Dubai.”

• A top U.N. official in Afghanistan allegedly used U.S. money to pay for a $200,000 renovation of his guesthouse and for an armored vehicle and bodyguards.

• U.N. officials dismissed the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for a $300,000 gravel runway. They instead built, for nearly $800,000, an uneven dirt runway that can’t be used when wet.

USAID inspectors didn’t get all the answers they wanted. They said they were stonewalled in their investigation — in many instances U.N. officials refused to talk to inspectors and ignored requests for documents. Federal prosecutors who worked with USAID dropped criminal and civil cases because U.N. officials have immunity.

U.S. officials have hired a collection agency to get back $7.6 million, and the inspector general recommended the agency sever ties with the U.N. agencies involved, the Office of Project Services and the Development Program.

James Bever, deputy administrator of USAID, told USA Today that the agency will scale back, but not sever, ties because there “are certain cases where working with the U.N. is the only option.”

There should be other options. The U.N. shouldn’t be allowed to get away with squandering millions of taxpayer dollars, failing to do its job and ignoring investigators’ questions. Until there is a full accounting and restitution, USAID shouldn’t give these U.N. agencies another dime for Afghanistan.

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