The UN Can’t Account for How $200 Million in Afghan Aid Was Spent
Policy + Politics

The UN Can’t Account for How $200 Million in Afghan Aid Was Spent

Mismanagement and lax oversight at the United Nations agency in charge of administering billions of dollars in aid to the Afghan Police force has left tax dollars vulnerable to fraud and abuse for years.

Now, U.S. auditors are once again sounding the alarm on the UN Development Program for not being able to account for more than $200 million from the Afghanistan Law and Order Trust Fund known as LOFTA.

Related: Millions in Tax Dollars End Up in Taliban Hands

The agency has routinely come under fire for its mismanagement of the fund—which has channeled more than $3.1 billion in foreign aid from the United States and other countries—to pay for Afghan police salaries and pensions.

In a new letter released Monday, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko warns Pentagon officials of the growing concerns of fraud and abuse within the program.

Sopko’s letter paints a disturbing picture of hundreds of millions of dollars going out the door—paying for inflated police salaries, potential “ghost employees” and questionable “deductions” to the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

The IG said he had requested the UN agency describe “how it has accounted for up to $200 million in “deductions” that the Afghan Ministry of Interior may have taken from the salaries” of police employees who are paid with the LOFTA funds.

Related: More Upheaval in Oversight of U.S. Spending in Afghanistan

The agency, however, could not answer Sopko’s question.

In another instance, a previous probe identified more than 4,579 improper payroll payments from the fund made between December of 2012 and 2013—totaling approximately $40 million.

Last year, the Defense Department’s Inspector General found that the Afghan Ministry of Interior “could not account for $17.4 million in pension withholdings and $9.9 million in cooperative fund withholdings” according to SIGAR.

In his letter, Sopko faulted the U.N. agency for not providing proper oversight over the multi-billion dollar fund. He added that the program’s administrator, Helen Clark’s response to his warnings were “disturbingly ambiguous” and reinforced his position that her agency “is not taking a proactive approach to oversight of this important reconstruction fund."

Clark’s agency, was forced under the spotlight last year after The Wall Street Journal reported that a U.N. internal investigation confirmed there was fraud in the program.

"The fact that procurement fraud occurred and continued undetected for so long was only possible due to the failure of UNDP management, in particular the country office, to provide the necessary oversight, guidance, support and quality assurance to the LOFTA project and staff," the report said.

Though the agency dismissed some employees and put others on administrative leave, Sopko says the UN still fails to provide oversight over the program.

In a response to SIGAR, Clark argued that LOTFA had been scrutinized for things that it has no obligation to oversee.

Related: Afghanistan: No End in Sight to America’s Longest War 

“LOTFA… has no institutional mandate to conduct auditing and investigation of MoIA (the Ministry of Interior of Afghanistan); she added that “LOTFA does not exercise direct actions of control and oversight [of pension funds] due to the mandate of the LOTFA project itself….”

SIGAR disagreed and said that UNDP has “a duty to oversee the expenditure of LOTFA funds and to ensure that donor money is spent for its intended purposes rather than attempting to shift blame for LOTFA shortcomings.”

The auditors are scheduled to meet with the UN agency next week to further discuss their findings.

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