October 18, 2019
A potential scandal involving a foundation Afghan President Ashraf Ghani established in the United States could affect voter sentiment during the likely presidential run-off. However, many questions remain open to determine whether the allegations amount to true corruption or run-of-the-mill conflict of interests.
On Sunday, October 13, Tolo News reported that The Institute for State Effectiveness, an American research organization that Ghani co-founded in Washington decades ago, has reaped significant profits in recent years including via Afghan government contracts.
What makes things look even worse for Ghani is that his current finance chief, Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi, received a healthy salary from the group while he was acting as a presidential adviser a few years ago.
The revelation comes as the Afghan election commission is counting votes from the initial round of the election that was held on September 28. The results were supposed to be announced on October 17, but that deadline is likely to be pushed back.
According to Afghan election law, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the first round, the top two candidates must square off in a second round, and most experts believe this will pit Ghani against CEO Abdullah Abdullah.
Meanwhile, the Ghani and Abdullah campaigns have been exchanging fraud accusations while each has claimed victory despite the fact the votes have not even been tallied.
With respect to Ghani’s U.S.-based institute, it is unclear what laws were broken although some experts have said the Afghan constitution forbids government officials from receiving a salary from a foreign power.
In addition, some are raising doubts that Ghani’s institute followed the proper bidding process in securing Afghan government contracts.
Ghani critics are already accusing the administration of obstructing any probe into the allegations – and a probe might be warranted. Just a cursory glance of The Institute for State Effectiveness reveals a few trails of smoke – albeit no fire, yet.
For instance, in one of the case studies on its website the institute boasts that it “designed and built the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) budget process.” This looks bad for Ghani because, overall, the Afghan government has been excoriated by U.S. inspectors for both corrupt and incompetent budget management. Not to mention the ARTF handled billions in funding that allegedly was poorly tracked.
The World Bank-administered ARTF, established in 2002, is one of the largest sources of funding to Afghan government non-security related operations. Donors have paid more than $10 billion into the ARTF to provide direct assistance to the government, according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
In a 2018 audit, SIGAR said ARTF needed to expand monitoring of “Afghan government employees’ salaries” and blasted the institution for lack of transparency, poor fiduciary controls and no mechanisms for tracking performance.
For example, according to SIGAR, the World Bank could not determine whether six projects worth $2.25 billion had met objectives.
“All of these limitations put ARTF funds… at risk of being spent improperly,” the report, published in April of last year, said.
It is not clear when Ghani’s institute performed said work but it is troubling that they claim to have “designed and built” the budget process. It could be seen in a more favorable light if they boasted that they came in late in the game and fixed a defective budget process that was built by someone else.
The SIGAR audit is quite ironic considering the fact that at the center of the current controversy is what appears to be a ghost salary to an Afghan official.
This shady grey area has plagued the American presidential election as well where there are signs of gross political nepotism and possible fraud although the allegations may turn out to also fit into a category I like to call “things that ought to be illegal but currently are not.”
By U.S.-Afghan standards the Ghani institute allegations look like small potatoes – just consider that elements of the American establishment helped the Karzai family funnel hundreds of millions of dollars offshore. Yet, however minor the problem might actually be, it has come at the worst time possible for Ghani.
Which is why the timing is suspicious. Not to mention the source of the leaks and the motives of the leakers remain a mystery. It still needs to be determined if these are legitimate whistleblowers or political operatives.
If I were a detective one of the chief suspects on my list would be the Trump administration, which has the motive to derail Ghani’s campaign and the election process overall. In fact, the United States has repeatedly tried to undermine both within the past year.
Consider that the U.S. is borderline obsessed with rebooting talks with the Taliban so Trump can deliver on a campaign promise. And, believe me, the Trump administration will not allow the Afghan people’s hope for self-determination get in the way.