KABUL (Pajhwok): A source says that some people are striving to hide corruption in the National Procurement Authority (NPA) by hindering the release of an MEC report or changing its content.
However, NPA vehemently rejects the allegations as baseless and insists it has been trying to keep its affairs as much transparent as possible.
On March 15, 2019, some media reports claimed the Ministry of Finance (MoF) was set to be divided into three different sections (revenue and customs, treasury and financial administration).
A source, wishing anonymity, confided to Pajhwok Afghan News NPC chief Mohammad Elham Omar Hotaki had recommended Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) head Maiwand Rouhani as director of one of the three sections.
Rouhani was tipped as customs and revenue director in an attempt to prevent the release of the MEC report or prepare it in line with the choice of NPA.
On April 1, Pajhwok found the copy of a document, which shows Rouhani’s appointment as the director general of the customs department by the president in line with NPA head Hotaki’s suggestion.
The letter reads: “Maiwand Rohani, CEO of MEC, who has extensive experience in different fields, will be very effective. He is being suggested as director-general of customs. He will be reporting to the president through the Administrative Affairs Office.”
The source revealed: “Both Hotaki and Rouhani have been classmates. The evaluation of NPA by MEC was done on the desire of Hotaki to conceal rampant malfeasance and corruption in the Authority.”
He disclosed the report should have been released six months ago, but it had not yet seen the light of day.
Ex-finance minister Humayoon Qayyumi could say nothing about Hotaki’s suggestion because he was very close to the president. But when Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal became acting finance minister, the plan to trifurcate the ministry was shelved.
According to another Pajhwok report, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal during his introduction ceremony as acting finance minister said: “I thank his Excellency the President for agreeing not to divide the ministry. Like before, all departments of the MoF will be under the umbrella of the ministry and will be authorized for reporting to and coordination with the Presidential Palace and the Parliament.”
The source said: “It is still unknown why the MEC report is delayed and who has prevented it, currently, Hotaki and Rohani are also silent after Arghandiwal’s decision.”
Rohani said on his appointment as director general of customs that “Hotaki was my classmate, but I was unaware of his suggestion and it will not affect publication or non-publication of the MEC report and the committee is certainly releasing its evaluation and research report on NPA, even if I don’t want it to be published, our donors will release it.”
He said the president had issued dozens of appointment decrees, such as his appointment, which were either not implemented or withdrawn by the president.
On the other hand, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, spokesman for MoF, said that the director general of customs was busy in his affairs and the ministry had received no such letter of appointment of Maiwand Rohani to this post.
However, Omar Elham Hotaki, head of NPA, said that he had suggested Maiwand Rohani to the president as director general of customs, but when the president revoked the finance ministry’s division order, his suggestion was also cancelled.
He informed the appointment of Rohani had no impact on the MEC’s assessment and the evaluation had been completed.
He added that MEC had sent two reports, one on MoF and other NPA, to the President’s Office and hoped to be published soon.
However, Javed Safi, member of finance and budget commission of the Wolesi Jirga, claimed that Elham Omar Hotaki had disallowed the release of MEC report on NPA.
He accused some people, without providing evidence, saying: “Omar Hotaki and his team in the administration do not want this report to be published a circle around the president is involved in hundred corruption cases.”
“We are given no time on the agenda to publish the report”
MEC director Maiwand Rohani acknowledged to Pajhwok that the certain report had been prepared five months ago, but it should be shared once with the anti-corruption department and the High Council for the Rule of Law before its release according to the 1396 solar year enactment and presidential decree.
He said besides the report on NPA, the MEC report on the MoF was also complete and both faced the same fate.
The council reserved no right to bring changes in the report or put pressure on them, he said, advising a look to the presidential decree. He said they were given no time on the council’s agenda to publish the report. “If time is no given, we will publish the report,” he remarked.
Rouhani said, not providing them time on the agenda meant the government did not want their report on NPA to be released.
According to Rouhani, the MEC had repeatedly asked the president’s office, the Administrative Affairs Office and Rule of Law Council to put the report on the council’s agenda soon, but the calls went unanswered.
Pajhwok also received nine letters in which MEC had shared it’s reservations over delay in reports from different offices working under the authority of Presidential Palace and asked the Office of Administrative Affairs, the National Procurement Authority and the Presidential Palace to allow the release of these reports.
A letter No. 5079 dispatched by MEC to the High Council of Rule of Law and Fight against Corruption on May 10, 2020 says: “According to the deadline set by donor to these assessments and an agreement with the relevant agencies, these reports should have been published by the end of March this year, but “unfortunately” they have not been published for unknown reasons.”
The letter added: “Further delays in the reporting have raised serious questions about the independence of the MAC’s work from donors and the international community.”
Government new strategy undermines MEC’s independence
MEC was incepted in compliance to presidential decree No. 115 on September 18, 2016. Article first of the decree says: “The Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (IJMEC) has been working independently and with a limited structure since its inception.”
After the decree a working strategy had been formed for MEC and article eight of this strategy says: “The Committee is responsible and accountable to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the international community for its actions in safeguarding its independence and may use ideas and suggestions from other stakeholders that are useful in carrying out its work.”
But a close source to the president said that presidential verbal instructions and two resolutions from the High Council of Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption had eliminated the independence of MEC and this was why these reports had not been published so far.
The High Council of Rule of Law and anti-Corruption 6nd resolution’s article 21 says: “In the future every report of the MEC should be shared the High Council of Rule of Law and anti-Corruption.”
Article fourth of 11th resolution in 2017 says: “MEC should share its report with the High Council of Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption before it is published.”
MEC Report Welcomed
The National Procurement Commission (NPC) in a statement on June 13 welcomed the release of MEC report.
Reacting to MEC report the NPC said that it welcomed the release of reports that amid at bringing reforms and was committed to implement the recommendations.
It said that MEC report as not centric to the NPC and it focused on over all procurement sectors, adding that no institution could prevent the report from publication.
“The news report also highlighted the issue of the Elham Umar Hotaki, the then head of the Administrative Affairs, Who was referred in one of the government posts as the MEC secretary. It should be clarified that the Director of the Secretariat of the MAC Committee is a member of the Reform Coalition considering the needs of the reform process as a worthy candidate which was considered a necessity at that time, as a nominee. Yes, but the issue has nothing to do with the publication of the report of the MEC Committee. As the report was completed at the end of the year, the proposed issue was considered in April of the year.”
MEC Report Exposes Institutionalized Corruption
Pajhwok has received a copy of a 104-page report prepared by the Independent Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) in July-November 2019 in collaboration with the Afghan National Procurement Committee (NPC) and other major stakeholders in the sector on field and desk based research methods.
This report is the first comprehensive analysis of Afghanistan’s NPC vulnerability assessment on ministerial level that exposed institutionalized corruption.
The report focused on three issues (transparency and documentation, contractor classification and complaints addressing) and the evaluation team researchers find the following points
- Improper documentation and record keeping system and loss of documents
- Using classified documents as the only tool to punish contractors and bidders
- Focus on companies rather than individuals when setting responsibilities to prevent corruption
- Lack of information on punishing corrupt officials that eroded public confidence
- Exclusion of one independent representative from the classified committee meetings
- Claims against Public Procurement Authority (PPA) regarding links with the classified committee over conflict of interest
The report says: “Companies that are neither active in Afghanistan nor registered but still participate in bidding process and win the contract are at high risk of corruption given the fact that obtaining license is easy in Afghanistan now comparing to the documentation of bidding.”
Zeerak, head of a company regarding the issue, told Pajhwok that they won a contract worth $100 million in the bidding process but NPA demanded a 10 percent share of the contract. “When I raised the issue to relevant organs, I was detained and threatened,” he said.
The report about employment in NPA says that many workers, around 349, were brought to NPA from different government organs such as Afghanistan Construction and Development Services.
“Most of these workers were employed after passing a written test and a panel interview, but it does not seem the NPA announced the jobs publicly for an open competition,” the report continues.
However, MEC in its recommendation said, “It is recommended the NPA leadership should review the background of all its workers to find out how many of them have relations with senior members of the organization, or implement a balanced employment strategy which should be based on effective methods so it would observe justice and improve quality.”
Lack of internal audit in NPA
MEC report in a part says, “There is no any audit section in NPA, other organs do the job in NPA, one of the respondents on this issue said: NPA is working under the leadership of the Office of the President and we have a section of oversight and transparency, we oversee and share reports with them, we are funded by the World Bank, we are also audited by the WB annually, we are audited by the Office of Administrative Affairs.”
The report adds that another person about the audit in NPA said that no audit was conducted in this organization.
MEC also recommended that NPA leadership should conduct internal audit and it should be audited by the Office of the President’s internal audit department.
No requirements reviewed for procurement planning
The report says, “Lack of a review for procurement planning causes corruption vulnerabilities. For example, procurement and offering more materials compared to the requirements and advisory services in contrast to descriptions in the contract paves way for corruption. Lack of coordination between workers in Kabul and provinces about procurement planning is another matter of concern because if a plan is developed in the capital, the role of provincial offices is ignored. It should not be a complicated process and a simple question sheet should deal with it.”
There is no specific board to settle disputes in procurement area
The report in a part says, “There is no specific department to deal with disputes raising in public procurement area and whenever a bidder points to a violation in the documentation for bidding process, the only source to respond to this issue is courts which is a long process and does not produce a convenient result in most cases.
Most judges and court officials in Afghanistan have no professional experience in dealing with complicated procurement issues, the report said, calling for creation of a committee or office of procurement professionals to respond to issues related to procurement affairs.
However, a source in the NPA, who wished to go unnamed, talking about this report said that the report placed positive comments about NPA on the top so readers skipped reading the rest.
The person also said there was no audit section in NPA to track corruption. The source said that MEC should closely watch the public goods section because he believed the area was rife with corruption.
MEC report about the public goods, said, “The purchased goods do no completely match the description in the contract.”
“People who had more information about the office of public goods spoke about it, one of them said that NPA in 2016 conducted an assessment and found 11 types of goods which are shared by all 72 procurement units, they purchase these goods in the list of small purchases and use a single method, their annual expenditure stands at around 11 billion Afghanis, findings show local companies get less benefit from these goods, that was the reason NPA created office of public goods so it develop a single policy for these goods,” the report said.
The person with knowledge about NPA said that MEC should have explained the public goods office more and provided more information about corruption in this area.
MEC report has been prepared about technical issues and people, companies and contractors are not interviewed who could explain their problems they faced, the source said.
“Every senior official NPA tries to award important contracts to their own groups,” the source concluded.