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Graft sinks deep roots in Ministry of Refugees

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28 Sep 2013 - 09:50
author avatar
28 Sep 2013 - 09:50

KABUL): An Independent Media Consortium (IMC) investigation reveals serious administrative corruption in the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations (MoRR).

Findings by the IMC also implicate Refugees and Repatriation Minister Dr Jamaher Anwary. The minister got UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, to transfer tens of thousands of dollars to personal accounts of family members and others.

IMC has a copy of a letter from Anwary – number 155, dated 6/6/2012 – requesting UNHCR to pay $97,531 by cheque to Ahmad Shukran Osmani, then director of finance and administration in MoRR. What the money was meant for has not been specified.

UNHCR issued two cheques, both drawn on Standard Chartered Bank, transferring the money to Osmani. Cheque number 170430 was for 50,000 USD and 170403 for the remaining amount.

In a letter number AFG/KBL/FIN/0011 dated June 7, UNCHR asked the Standard Chartered Bank to pay 97,531 USD to Osmani. According to Osmani, acting on instructions from the minister, he paid 50,000 USD to Anwary’s wife and 47,000 USD to a travel company called Happy Days.

“According to the order of Jamaher Anwary, I have paid 50,000 USD to Miss Shazia, one of Anwary’s wives, and have paid 47,000 USD to a tourist company called Happy Days for fake bills made for external trips. I have also got an acknowledgement on paper from Shazia,” Osmani told IMC.

But the minister denied the allegations. He said his relatives have no need for the ministry’s money. He claimed Osmani has paid 50,000 USD to the owner of a guest house – Nisar Ahmad, the head of a company called Omed Pharma – rented by MoRR for visiting expatriates.

“The 50,000 USD was a year’s rent for the guest house. It was under the supervision of Abdul Samad Hami, the deputy minister for finance and administration in MoRR. My relatives don’t need the money. The rest of the money was payment for (air) tickets for travel abroad,” Minister Anwary told IMC.

However, Deputy Minister Hami denied the ministry has rented a guest house. He claimed he knew nothing about it.

Osmani, who has resigned from MoRR, said when UNHCR began investigations into the charges of misappropriation of funds, the minister forced him to sign a receipt attesting he had paid Omed Pharma.

“The minister summoned me to his office and forced me to sign a fake bill under name of Omed Pharma. Since I was only an employee, and the minister’s guards were standing around me, I did not have a choice. I signed the sheet written by Yusuf (the minister’s secretary) confirming that I had paid 50,000 USD to Omed Pharma company,” said Osmani.

Osmani said he resigned because he could no longer tolerate the situation.

The MoRR’s working has been scrutinised by MEC, the independent joint anti-corruption monitoring and evaluating committee. In its fifth report of recommendations and procedures it has warned MoRR that opening dual bank accounts and getting aid directly from UNHCR are against the Public Finance and Expenditure Management Law of Afghanistan.

The MEC observed that since the money has neither been spent from the government budget nor sanctioned by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) “it is not known how and for what purpose it was allocated and how it was spent?”

The UNHCR has commented neither on the charges of embezzlement and administrative corruption in contracts with MoRR nor illegal transfers to personal accounts of individuals as directed by Minister Anwary. But UNHCR has put on hold money transfers to MoRR for the past eight months.

Nader Farhad, spokesperson for UNHCR, said UNHCR auditors have taken serious note of reports published by Hasht-e-Subh daily and other media. “Recently a group of UNHCR auditors has begun a serious review so we have postponed our aids since eight months.”

Hasht-e-Subh, which has been reporting on corruption in MoRR, found that Jamaher Anwary prior to signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UNHCR had requested Azizi Bank to open an account in the name of the ministry for money transferred from the UN agency.

A letter signed by Anwary (a copy of which is with IMC) addressed to Azizi Bank stated, “Only Anwary, the minister, engineer Mohammad Zai Larwani, acting head of assistance in MoRR, and Abdul Bari Rustayee, the head of planning and policy department can draw up to 10,000 USD from bank account.”

Draining funds

Under the MoU all Minister Anwary’s travel bills are to be paid by UNHCR. The directorate of planning and policy of MoRR in its letter number 74 dated 23/11/2012 to UNHCR has written that the minister had travelled to Finland, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Switzerland, Belgium and Iraq the previous year.

UNHCR was also asked to reimburse Osmani, director of finance and administration, who has spent “personal money” on the minister’s travel expenses. The amount has not been specified.

However, Osmani denied having paid for the minister’s travel either domestic or foreign. Neither does he know anything about the above letter sent to UNHCR. “All the documents are fake,” he told IMC.

According to IMC’s calculations, Minister Anwary has got 4 million Afs (70,140 USD) from the MoF besides UNHCR money.

A letter from Planning and Foreign Relations, MoRR, dated 23/10/2012 stated: “As his Excellency minister knows, we have taken an amount of 3.76 million Afs (65,900 USD) through allotment number 4351 for external travels of minister. So we request an amount of 1.5 million Afs (26,300 USD) should be paid to Ahmad Shukran for expenses occurred during trips to Holland and Switzerland.”

Osmani again said the MoRR has made fake documents to embezzle money. “I have not made any payments to now get it back,” he reiterated.

Minister Anwary insisted the claims were genuine; he has documents to prove the expenses were on travel. “We receive the per diem from the government and the rest from UNHCR. This is not embezzlement. All expenses occurred and we have receipts,” he claimed.

Though Anwary said that he has documentary proof he did not give these to IMC.

Money trail

Investigations by IMC revealed UNHCR has sanctioned money for projects for rehabilitation and food for internally displaced people (IDP) but the MoRR has not completed the work.

On Dec 11, 2012, the ministry signed a 2 million Afs (35,120 USD) contract with Yasar Ibrahimi Construction for a well in Barikab town, Kabul. The money was paid by UNHCR. The project should have been completed in a month. However, IMC investigations revealed the well has not been dug.

A MoRR official, who did not want his name published, said Minister Anwary and others close to him have siphoned off the money taken from UNHCR for drinking water and deep well projects in townships.

The source said earlier this month MoRR signed a contract with Subman Logistic Company to deliver food and non-food packages to Baloch refugees in Kandahar valued at 75,000 USD under the UNHCR’s discretionary budget. The assistance has not been sent to Kandahar, the source claimed. IMC has a copy of the contract.

UNHCR spokesperson Farhad also confirmed the packages for the Baloch refugees have not reached. “I think the assistance has not taken place at all,” he said.

However, Minister Anwary said UNHCR promised help but has not delivered. “A part of the Baloch (refugees) were surveyed (by Subman Logistic) but UNHCR did not help,” he insisted.

Anwary attacked UNHCR for reneging on a promise to give MoRR 3 million USD. He said the amount was later reduced to 2 million USD but the new head of UNHCR has decreased it to 700,000 USD this year. “It (the money) helped. So we have to spend it,” he said.

Provincial officials in Kandahar confirm MoRR has not sent emergency food and other material to refugees from Pakistan’s Baluchistan province who have crossed the border.

Jawed Faisal, the spokesperson for the governor of Kandahar, told IMC: “The governor spoke with the president and other authorities in the centre (Kabul) but unfortunately the assistance was not sent to Kandahar.”

Some Members of Parliament (MPs) have accused the MoRR minister of lining his pockets with UNHCR funds taken under “different names”.

Fatima Nazari, MP from Kabul, said there are enough documents implicating the MoRR minister for taking money from UNHCR and IOM under “different names”. The minister has taken it for “personal usage”, she insisted.

She accused Anwary of taking one million USD from the president’s office for emergency use when Iran was threatening to expel refugees. The money was never used, she alleged. Also the minister has been collecting 6 million Afs (105,200 USD) every month for the guest house, she claimed.

MoRR said it signed an agreement last year worth 1 million USD with the non-governmental Andesha Haye Naw (new ideas are born) to assist refugees being forcibly ejected by Iran. But Laila Samini who’s with Andesha denied such a contract was signed with MoRR. “The signature (on the contract) is fake,” she insisted.

Nazari said 40 MPs had decided to summon the minister for refugees and repatriation for questioning, but lawmakers related to the minister had created obstacles.

IMC sought to interview the Office of Administrative Affairs about the embezzlement of an estimated 15 million dollars by senior MoRR officials but its spokesperson Rafea Firdaus would not comment.

Raza Khushk Watandost, MP from Herat, echoed her views. “We tried (to get Anwary to Parliament) but the minister kept himself safe through his friends in Parliament,” he said.

The monitoring and evaluating committee MEC has called for greater transparency on project implementation to stem corruption and abuse of authority.

Integrity Watch Afghanistan said contracts should be decided only on the basis of competition, and not because company owners were related to ministers or high government officials. Jawed Nurani of Integrity Watch called for the setting up of an “impartial institution” to monitor and assess the awarding of the contract. Integrity Watch has decided to independently probe administrative corruption in MoRR.

Double accounting

The investigation has revealed that in 2010 MoRR claimed electricity expenses from both its own budget and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Refugees and Repatriation Minister Anwary had sent a letter to IOM in 2009 saying the money for electricity costs should be paid into his elder son’s (Abdullah) personal bank account in Maiwand Bank.

The letter stated: “For solving the problems in the ministry and payment of electricity bill in year 2010, transfer the money to bank account number 1015201040071 related to Abdullah in Maiwand Bank.”

The Attorney General’s office (AG’s office) has issued a show cause notice. Questionnaire number 337 dated 24/6/2012stated: “The electricity bills are paid by the ordinary budget but the ministry requested the IOM to pay the electricity bills through a letter that doesn’t have a number and date in year 2012. When the electricity bill is paid by the ordinary budget of ministry why have you requested the IOM to pay the electricity bill?” The letter has been signed by Rahmatullah, deputy AG for supervision affairs.

MoRR officials who wanted to remain anonymous said their minister has also transferred a part of the electricity bill payment – 1,700 USD – to his son’s account.

Further the minister has charged both the ministry and IOM for other expenses like transport and non-food travel bills.

In a letter to IOM on Feb 20 this year, Anwary has claimed 5,000 USD as expenses for vehicle fuel, repair and travel to the provinces. Head of IOM Afghanistan Richard Danzigar said it was the first time they were asked to reimburse “this type of expenses”.

The parliamentary commission on migration, refugees and displaced people has sent a letter to the AG’s office to investigate complaints the MoRR is taking money from both UNHCR and IOM. Mohammad Nazir Ahmadzai, head of the commission, did not give details but confirmed the matter was referred to the AG’s office. Asked whether action has been taken, he replied, “You should ask the attorney generals.”

Jobs for sale

IMC has documentary proof that bribes have been paid to secure key posts in MoRR. An open letter from ministry officials to President Hamid Karzai talked of tyranny in MoRR. It stated injustice and anti-nationalism was rampant at the top levels, the justice system was not responding, and the voices of 6 million refugees and half a million IDPs are not heard.

Key posts in the ministry were up for sale. The letter stated, “The price for directorates in centre (Kabul) and provinces is 80,000  USD, the price for the post of managers in provinces and centre is 50,000 USD. Anwary gets a cut of 70 percent of the salary of contracting staff and advisors as commission.”

Hami, the deputy minister in MoRR, said he and some others have informed the president, the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption (HOOAC), MEC, National Security Council, and Parliament about administrative corruption in MoRR. According to Hami, “Mostly the post of directorates of refugees in the provinces is sold to the highest bidder.”

Shams, the head of department of refugees’ settlement of Laghman, alleged the minister has put pressure on him to collect bribes. “The minister sends his colleagues to Laghman for investigation (and) to get bribes as well,” he told IMC.

HOOAC Abdul Razzaq Zalali who is the administrative and financial assistant director, said no complaints against MoRR have come from the ministry contrary to Hami’s claim. “There might be serious problems but MoRR has not made any official complaints,” he said.

Minister Anwary denied posts were up for sale. He accused Hami of trying to defame the ministry in retaliation because he was refused a pay hike. “His request for increment was rejected by the president’s office,” he said.

In turn he accused Hami of attending a conference in Belgium (on April 19, 2013) without clearance from the president’s office. “I referred the issue to AG’s office so that Hami can be prosecuted. So Hami wants to implicate me,” he claimed.

Hami said he travelled as an ordinary citizen, and paid for the trip with his own money. But the minister showed photos of Hami participating in the conference.

Letter number 1345 signed by Sadeq Modaber, head of Office of Administrative Affairs, stated, “It was due that Hami travel to Pakistan for treatment according to decree number 361 dated 17/1/1392 but he participated in a conference contrary to law and decrees of president and legislations of Council of Ministers.”

Land mafia

There are innumerable complaints about corruption in land redistribution by MoRR. A report published by MEC in 1391 revealed corruption in distribution of plots in townships for refugees.

MoRR claimed 54,782 plots were distributed in 62 townships. In addition there were further plans to give 500,000 plots in 100 townships.

The MEC, which evaluated the allotments, said, “Despite the fact that the applicants of residential plot are entitled and deserving Afghans … now they faced with a big challenge in getting a plot from Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation as the probable amount of bribe per plot for residential plots is 3,500 USD …”

At this rate, according to IMC’s calculations, bribes worth 750 million dollars are likely to have been collected by MoRR. MEC, however, refused to comment.

In letter number 3809 dated 15/7/2012 of department number 65 of NDS to department number 82, it is stated, “Abdul Shakir, general director of resettlement of refugees and repatriations department, Kabul, has distributed to some individuals in the absence of the main entitled individuals – he has sold plot number 13 located in Barikab (Khalilullah Khalili township) which was property of Abdul Qudus and has sold land number 192 located in the Barikab area of Kabul (property of Baryalai) to Jaihoon for 300,000 Afs (present exchange value 5,260 USD).”

IMC investigations revealed plots number 13 and 192 located in Khalilullah Khalili have been redistributed to other people.

IMC has evidence that even when individuals may have paid money for plots to Da Afghanistan Bank their lands were allotted to other people. A report of the audit department, MoRR, has confirmed this practice in Kabul and other provinces.

Under a presidential decree, order number 104, MoRR had to set up a commission to handle land complaints from refugees. The ministry received 80,000 applications but action has been taken by MoRR only in a few cases, according to documents with IMC.

Investigations show rampant corruption and bribing in land distribution in provinces like Kabul, Nangarhar, Khost, Laghman, Ghazni, and Baghlan.

The Department of Refugees and Repatriation, Kabul, has sent a letter to MoRR on April 5 this year complaining that “recently” Abdul Samad Hami, deputy minister MoRR, has stopped signing “documents of lands that are due for distribution to some individuals”.

Hami said that though he is the head, for the last eight months no dossier for land distribution has been processed, and some of the “irresponsible individuals” are distributing land illegally.

According to him, “The township of Mamozai (located in Bagrami district in Kabul province) had been planned for 700 plots but MoRR authorities have increased it to 940 plots and every plot has been sold for 10,000 USD on the average.”

Minister of Refugees and Repatriation Anwary dismissed the allegations. He said the presidential decree (104) gave the deputy minister (Hami) “full authority” to prevent illegal land distribution in the case of refugees. “Refugees are the needy and oppressed people,” he said.

 MPs and Integrity Watch have confirmed land has been illegally sold.

 Watandost, MP, said there was enough documentary proof of corruption in MoRR.

Integrity Watch’s Jawed Nurani observed, “Most of the land for refugee townships is sold by powerful individuals and the government should prevent it.”

(*)  Mr. Rustami is an investigative reporter working at the daily newspaper Hasht-e-Subh, which is a member of the Independent Media Consortium (IMC) together with Killid and Nawa radio networks, Saba TV network, Killid and Morsal weeklies, Sapida and Pajhwok Afghan News. The IMC has set up an investigative reporters’ team led by Mr. Abdul Qadir Munsef and supervised by Mr. Ricardo Grassi, IMC’s coordinator. The IMC is investigating cases of corruption and human rights abuses with financial support from Tawanmandi.



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