KABUL (Pajhwok): At least 17 employees of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP), including former acting minister Nargis Nehan, have been referred to the Attorney General Office (AGO) for investigations on graft charges.
The former acting minister and 16 other employees of the ministry have been referred to AGO in connection with corruption in the Ghorian salt mine contract, which was canceled two and half years ago.
MoMP had signed a five-year contract with a private company named “Namak Nasir Omaid” on January 2, 2018 for extracting sedimentary salt from the mine in the Ghorian district of western Herat province. The salt was to be obtained from running water.
According to Nehan, who was acting minister at the time, 25,000 tonnes of salt was to be extracted annually from the mine, and the contracting firm would have to pay 1,065 afghanis in royalty per tonne –meaning an annual income of 65 million afghanis for the ministry.
She had then claimed the company would pay the ministry an additional amount of 120,000 afghanis annually in land rent.
Contract cancellation after 15 months
Document show the contract was terminated in April 2018. The ministry said a joint team from the MoMP Audit Section and the Herat Mines and Petroleum Department visited the mine on March 20, 2018 in compliance with the president’s verbal directions regarding the cancellation of the contract.
The ministry has sought guidance from the president on the termination of the contract, taking into view “the delegation’s visit to the site and some other considerations.” The president has already approved the cancellation of the contract.
Abdul Qadir Mutafi, spokesman for the MoMP at that time, had told journalists about the cancellation of the contract: “Based on a specific evaluation, it has been determined there are other precious metals and minerals in the area and they can be a source of huge profits for us.
“Therefore, the Herat salt contract was scrapped. Under the mining law, we can work with the company, which has made investments in the project, to make up for the firm’s losses.”
Probing graft after two and half years
In a letter on August 12 this year, MoMP said about the contract for extraction of salt from this mine that it had shared its report with the Presidential Palace.
Subsequently, the president ordered a probe by judicial organs against ministry officials, employees and members of the committee involved in the bidding process, including a request from the Namak Nasir Omaid.
An appendix of the letter shows instead of deciding the fate of the bidding process or submitting it to the High Economic Council, officials of the ministry sought cooperation from the National Procurement Authority. As a result, the bidding process remained in limbo for eight months.
The appendix alleges the contract was awarded to the Nasir Omaid Company in disregard of an evaluation report based on the firm’s request. The company had got 13 marks less than another firm called Afghan Mofid.
In addition to this letter, a list of former and current officials involved in the bidding process has been sent to the Attorney General Office (AGO) for comprehensive investigations.
Those referred to the AGO include Nehan, Noor-ul-Haq Farid, ex-chief of staff to the ministry, Ghazal Habibyar Safi, deputy director admin/finance, Ghulam Hazrat Amiri, technical advisor to the ministry, Mohammad Akram Ghayasi, technical advisor to the deputy minister, Abdul Hamid Raziq, ex-legal advisor to the MoMP directorate, Syed Amin Hashimi, ex-technical advisor, Mir Abdul Salaam, ex- chief of the ministry cadaster, Mohammad Hamayoon, a representative of the cadaster, Mohammad Noor Noori, another worker of the cadaster, Ajmal Alimi, an employee of the investment promotion department, Ahmad Hussaini Rahimi, an official of the inspection department, Khalil-ur-Rehman Rahmani, a worker of technical and inspection department, Mina Abdul Rahimzai and Zahir Zafari, workers of the legal services department, Eng. Aqil, a provincial coordination department official, and Dr. Khadija Jawadi, a worker at the deputy minister’s office.
An authoritative source in the ministry, meanwhile, confirmed to Pajhwok the former acting minister of mines and petroleum, along with 16 others employees of the ministry, had been referred to AGO on charges of power abuse and corruption in accordance with the presidential decree.
Nehan on contract cancellation
Nehan said the contract had been announced before her appointment as acting minister of mines and several Afghan firms had applied for the contract.
She added: “A number of Wolesi Jirga members from Herat had warned if the contract signing was delayed, rains could wash away the sedimentary salt. Ultimately, the value of the contract would decline.
“Later, the ministry shared the issue with the High Economic Council, which approved the contract and then the bidding process was set in motion. So the contract was signed with a local company.”
According to Nehan, after the Ministry of Mines announced the contract on its website, the US Geological Survey (USGS) technically cooperated with it. Later, USGS informed the government of a possible presence of lithium in the area.
President Ghani then verbally instructed the Ministry of Mines to cancel the Ghorian salt contract with Namak Nasir Omaid as soon as possible.
Nehan also provided a copy of the email from the USGS about the possible presence of lithium in the area. The email says the geological condition of the area indicates the possibility of the presence of lithium there.
To discover minerals in the first stage, sthe mail adds, it is necessary to determine the depth of salt and the presence of minerals. In case of finding signs of mineral, in the second stage, drilling is needed to ascertain the presence of lithium in the area.
Nehan recalled the Ministry of Mines had cancelled the contract in the wake of President Ghani’s order and to protect the national interests. No corruption was committed in the process, she maintained.
The former acting minister also referred to an ongoing study by the US Geological Survey in the area.
On her referral to AGO, she said investigations into a project canceled two years ago meant nothing but an attempt to protect the personal interests of a handful of individuals.
All information shared with AGO is incorrect, according to the ex-minister, who asserted: “I am ready to answer queries from AGO and the people of Afghanistan in this regard.”
Daily Etlaat had reported on July 16 that illegal mining at the Ghorian salt site continued in violation of a presidential decree.
Sources told the newspaper tens of millions of afghanis from illegal mining went into the pockets of Taliban insurgents, illegal gunmen and powerful individuals every year.