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Afghan Perspectives on Capitol Hill

July, 2010

 

Senate Approves $3.2 Billion in Non-Military Aid to Afghanistan

 

On  July 29th, 2010, the US Senate Appropriations Committee (“the Committee”), which is the group in the US Senate in charge of deciding how money in the US Government Budget should be spent, decided to recommend that the US Government appropriate more than $3.2 billion for non-military aid to Afghanistan, 2.1 billion of which is in Economic Support Funds (ESF).

 

In late June, the US House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs had voted to withhold most of this non-military funding to Afghanistan, saying they would consider funding for Afghanistan after reviewing the actions of the Afghan government to combat corruption.  Progressive Democrats and moderate Republicans had joined together to uphold the delay.

 

However, in the US Senate, a coalition of mainstream Democrats and conservative Republicans came together to override these delays to ensure that funding would flow smoothly and that important ongoing programs to solidify the Afghan Government, its military, and its people would not falter leading up to the July 2011 beginning of the transition to Afghan control of security.

 

The main difference in this year’s round of funding is that the Committee conditions budget support to Afghanistan on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s certification that the Government of Afghanistan is taking credible steps to combat corruption, including arresting and prosecuting individuals alleged to be involved in corrupt practices. To this end, the committee recommended additional funding for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

 

 

Innovative Afghan Government Plan to Battle Corruption

 

One of the Embassy’s tasks is to communicate with US lawmakers, to explain the Afghan Government’s positions, and to clear up any prevailing misconceptions about the Afghan government, in this case continued accusations of corruption.

 

For instance, there is much talk on Capitol Hill and in the media of corruption but not of the steps already taken by the Afghan Government to identify and solve it. Every Ministry of the Government of Afghanistan and President Hamid Karzai has taken action through sanctioning the High Office of Oversight (HOO) to investigate allegation of illegal business activity.

 

Furthermore, to combat corruption, the Government of Afghanistan has created:

 

1. the Major-Crimes Task Force, a multi-ministry initiative responsible for investigating corruption, kidnapping and organized crime cases and preparing them for prosecution;

2. an Anti-Corruption Unit of prosecutors within the Attorney General’s Office; and

 

3. an Anti-Corruption Tribunal of specially vetted judges to oversee high profile cases.

 

The tribunal has already received 79 cases from the Anti-Corruption Unit and current conviction rates stand over 90 percent.

 

“Cash is King”: Towards Transparency of Cash Transactions in a Cash-Based Society

 

Congress was also interested in investigating billions of dollars in cash that have left Afghanistan through the Kabul International Airport, however, the Ministry of Finance had already begun an investigation, and since they had already instituted a recording procedure for cash shipments at the airport and at border crossings, the origin and destination for much of the funds was clear. Nevertheless, a joint US-Afghan investigation will now be undertaken to clarify the disposition of nearly $4 billion in cash transactions in question.

 

Large cash transactions and movements of cash are not surprising in a cash-based society and since, especially in the early years of work in Afghanistan, there were no banks and contractors and laborers had to be paid in cash, which was flown in, sometimes billions of dollars at a time, by the US government each month in order to pay contractors. The Government of Afghanistan only directly handles about 5% of the total US assistance to Afghanistan, so over the past three years, the Afghan Government had direct access to $1 billion of the $19.6 billion of US dollars allocated. Therefore it is clear that most, if not all, of the cash purported to be transported out of Afghanistan is private in origin. Moreover, the attitude of “Cash is King” is perpetuated by factors outside of Afghan control. The banking sector in Afghanistan is not utilized by any donor country, and only two of the 17 banks operating in the country have been certified by international standards. The Afghan Government and the US Congress are working together to explore ways to ensure that Afghans become more comfortable with the International banking system.

 

The US and Afghan governments continue to work together to identify and root out both systemic and individual corrupt practices to ensure that these funds, so generously given in a time of economic hardship for the entire world,  are utilized in the most efficient manner possible.

 

The next step with this non-military aid for Afghanistan is that President Obama must agree to and sign the bill, making it law. The money will become available in October, 2010, which begins the US Government’s “Fiscal Year” of 2011.

 

  

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