GARDEZ (Pajhwok): With more than 1.1 billion afghanis spent in the past 10 years on the construction of the Machalgho Dam in southeastern Paktia province, only seven percent work on the project has been completed so far, Pajhwok Afghan News has learned reliably.
The National Development Support Agency (NDSA) provided more than $1million for the project in Ahmadabad district. In addition, an Afghan-Russian company called Gulf has claimed $4.5 million and the project design company agency $2.29 million due to currency devaluation.
Of the seven percent work done so far, six percent has been carried out by the operational wing of the Presidential Palace at a cost of 81 million afghani in recent months. The Ministry of Energy and Water and initial contractors conducted the remaining one percent of work at a cost of over one billion afghanis.
Officials familiar with the multi-billion afghanis project say 77 security personnel, guarding the dam construction site, have been killed and more than 90 others injured until now.
This investigative report shines a light on different financial aspects of the scheme, such as salaries of the security personnel, logistics and food expenses, charges of heaters, bakery and fuel, the use of vehicle, cost of petrol, generators, vehicles’ damages, loss of weapons and ammunition, bullets and other expenses. Interviews were conducted with a number of officials at different times.
In April 2011, a $35 million design and construction contract for the dam was inked between Gulf and a Russian firm named Inargomono Lesteri. Former energy and water minister Ismail Khan said the project would be completed in three years. But corruption and lack of interest from the contractor has caused years of delay in completing the project.
For a second time, work on the dam was launched in December 2017 by the then chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah. A construction contract was signed between Russian Project Design Company and the then energy minister Ali Ahmad Usmani. Under the contract, the Russian company had to complete the project in three years at a cost of $23 million.
The operational wing of the Presidential Palace was awarded the contract for the dam’s construction in 2019 at a cost of $34 million. Practical work on the project was initiated in March 2020.
The new contractor had been given four years to build the dam. Interestingly, the contractor had then claimed to complete the project in 16 months if there was no major issue.
Eng. Javed Hijrat, provincial head of dam affairs, accused previous companies of completing only one percent of work at a huge cost. He said the present contractor had carried out six percent of work worth 81 million afghanis.
Since the launch of work on the Machalgho Dam, 200 security personnel and 32 officers from the Public Order Police have been tasked with ensuring the dam’s security.
After five years 30 more security personnel were assigned to the project, boosting the number to 262. After the establishment of military base and check-posts in the area, the number of security personnel guarding the site fell to 111. Recently, the number further declined to 36.
Additionly, majority of the security personnel assigned with the security of the dam were ghost guards, who never had a physical presence in the area. During the period, 77 security personnel were killed and 92 others injured in Taliban attacks.
Project expenses so far:
According to available information, a group of security personnel guarding the dam site received a total of 345,618,000 afghanis in salaries, 100,030,140 in food and logistics and 28,576,000 afs for other gear and uniform.
Moreover, 19,386,000afs were paid in the cost of fuel for vehicles and generators, 22 million afs for wood needed in the winter and for bakery. Nearly 1.1 million afs were paid for the construction of military installations and check-posts, around 44 million afs for the purchase of bullets, mortar shells and rockets. Weapons and ammunition snatched by the Taliban accounted for around three million afghanis.
Since the start of work on the dam, 11 Ranger pick-ups and two Humvee vehicles costing about 4.3 million afghanis were destroyed and some partially damaged.
The Taliban also pocketed 10 percent of dam funds in return for allowing construction work. Until now, the Taliban have been paid $335,400.
The Gulf company was paid the first invoice of $800,000 — or 38 million afghanis. The company refused to get the second invoice of around $500,000 because at the time the value of the afghani had declined from 47.6 to 56 per dollar. The firm demanded the funding of the currency value gap.
The company finally received the amount and what it spent on different areas of the dam works out at 1,160,258,940 afghanis.
Col. Zazai Kamran headed the dam’s security unit for five years. In the first four years, he said, security had been satisfactory. But during that period, practical work on the dam was not carried out.
He alleged the contract for and work on the dam was full of corruption. Kamran said after he left the security unit, the situation deteriorated and the Taliban started attacks on the check-posts around the dam.
“The government spent a huge amount on the dam but the company did not complete the project. Ismail Khan once visited the site. The contractor arranged on rent vehicles and machinery to show that work is in progress,” he recalled.
1st Lt. Qudratullah, another commander of the security unit, believed the authorities and the contractors had no will to construct the dam. Practical work did not take place and all activities were stymied by corruption.
“I think there is still time to resume work on the dam. More people should be hired and residents should be compensated for their lands,” he suggested.
Hairan said that besides the capture of large quantities of weapons by the militants, bomb blasts destroyed at least 11 Ranger pick-ups and two Humvee tanks.
Eng. Dilawar Totakhel, in charge of the project from the Ministry of Energy and Water, explained the contract for the dam had been awarded to Gulf, which sub-contracted the Green City company.
It was an illegal step by Gulf, he said, adding a company could only offer 20 percent of work to another firm. However, Gulf sub-contracted 100 percent of work to Green City.
He blamed Gulf for committing fraud and corruption, saying the company showed it had deposited $3.1 million with Maiwand Bank (using fake document) and got $3 million from the Ministry of Energy and Water to start work on the dam.
Totakhel said after a short period of work, the ministry issued the first invoice of nearly $ 800,000 to the firm, when $1 was exchanged for 47.6 afghanis.
But the price of $1 rose to 56afs in the second time and the firm’s director did not take the money to prevent loss.
Meanwhile, a majority of employees of the dam have not been paid their wages.
Totakhel said, “I have emailed to the operating administration and to the company about the current problems facing the dam project.”
“One major problem is the canals, which are of no use because people’s lands have not been taken into consideration. The direction was fine but the section needs to be changed and another problem is hydropower and some other technical issues.”
Eng. Dilawar Totakhel said the mentioned firms designed the dam design by a Pakistani company, which has some shortages and needed a recheck.
For the first time around $33 million have been allocated to the project and during President Ashraf Ghani government, $22 million were approved, but work on the dam had to be stopped due to insecurity in the area.
Totakhel said the Taliban agreed to allow the dam’s affairs after an agreement to give them 10 percent budget of the dam along with some other conditions.
He said two parts of the project were run by the operating office and one part by the Green City Firm, which did not receive the money and thus took away its machines from the site. Some equipment of the firm were seized by workers against their unpaid wages.
According to Totakhel, with more one billion afghanis were spent in the past 10 years on construction of Machalgho Dam but only seven percent work could be completed so far.
Abdul Hakim Ghaljai, the Machalgo dam technical director, also the project manager since two years, said there was a lot of negligence in construction of the dam and corruption by the ministry and companies.
He said the Pakistani dam designing company, PES, designed the dam at a cost of $600,000 in 2010, and it was bound to answer questions when needed.
Izzat Khan, whose machinery was used in the dam project, said the primary firms did not pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to bakeries, machineries and many other workers. He warned of the wages were not paid, people would not allow the same firms to work in the area.
He said, “The firm was a group of thieves because they did not pay money to all workers including my $35,000.”
Civil society terms the dam a shameful project:
Isa Mohammad Sadiq, a civil society activist, called the dam a shameful project of the government because despite death of many workers and spending hundreds millions of afghanis, even primary works could not done on the project.
He said, “Even there is no structure, then how such a huge amount of money was spent? We want the Presidential Palace to introduce individuals to the judicial organs who are involved in corruption in this regard.”
Another activist Ajmal Masoodzai accused the Ministry of Water and Energy of discrimination against residents and areas in the province.
He said the ministry was always given to people from Herat, Farah and Helmand where they launched several such projects, but other provinces were neglected.
Paktia provincial council also confirms corruption in the dam:
Sakhi Jan Wafayar, a member of the provincial council, told Pajhwok that hug corruption had been done in the Machalgho dam project and added that Paktia residents were only given promises since long and deprived of privileges.
He said the Ministry of Water and Energy and the public order protection department were also involved in corruption and now people had lost trust in the dam project.
He said, “Huge corruption was committed in the Machalgho dam project, the Presidential Palace administrative office conducted construction work of the dam in 2019 to create trust among people but now as we see the machinery is taken away from the dam and people are worried about further corruption in next works.”
Paktia water supply office: Work on dams inaugurated many times:
Tahir Shafaq, Paktia Water Supply Department head, told Pajhwok that the Machalgho dam’s works had been inaugurated many times, but never done.
He said the dam construction was inaugurated thrice but only seven percent work could be done so far.
He also confirmed that corruption had taken place in the dam’s affairs and said: “Money of the dam was taken to Dubai by some men and invested there.”
He did not provide details in this regard but said efforts were underway along with the ministry to complete the dam in a right way.
Govt officials: Total corruption in dam’s works:
Acting Governor Abdul Wali Sahi was also not happy with the dam’s works and termed the dam’s affairs as a headache for them.
He said so far the dam works had been done with huge corruption by neglecting the value of causalities workers suffered in the project.
He asked the central government to work hard on the dam as some major projects and dams were completed during the same period, but the Machalgho dam remained in its primary process.
He said, “The contract for the Machalgho dam has become a victim of both politics and intelligence. A large number of officials have committed corruption in this regard.”
Pajhwok tried to contact projects owners Anwar Ali and Noor Wali but a contact could not be established as they were aboard.
Taliban also confirm taking money from dam project:
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also confirmed they received money against construction of Machalgho dam but said it was not 10 percent.
He said other conditions according to their agreement were that security forces and other government officials would not visit the dam and quality materials used in the project.
Situation saw by our reporter:
A Pajhwok reporter visited the dam site twice and noted that four sites were under construction including canals, small concrete blocks and blocks being built before reaching the dam’s bed.
But there was a dispute between local residents and owners of machinery which had been taken away from the area.
Some machineries have been shifted to Gardez and others were stopped by locals, who said they would keep the machines with themselves until they were paid their wages.
But officials at the operations office said they had replaced the machinery and promised to do the job properly and timely.
Currently, construction works on the dam have been going almost good, compared to last year’s but it is not as required.
The investigative report on the dam shows less work has been don against a high amount spent. Nearly 170 security personnel have been killed and wounded while protecting the dam – a process still underway.
It’s worth mentioning that construction works were first launched on the Machalgho dam during President Sardar Mohammad Dauad Khan’s era but due to domestic conflict, its affairs were stopped that time.
After a new contract was signed in 2010 to construct the dam within three years but it affairs remain incomplete.
This report has been produced by Pajhwok and financially supported by UNDP and Denmark.