The U.S. government recently doled out $18.5 million to a Qatar-based contractor to renovate and expand Afghanistan’s largest prison, which has been housing detainees from Guantanamo and other detention facilities in crowded conditions. Yet five years and millions of dollars later, the Pol-i-Charki prison remains incomplete, overcrowded and plagued with issues due to shoddy workmanship.
A new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) paints a depressing picture of the facility. It was originally built in 1973 to hold about 5,000 people – but it currently houses at least 7,400 prisoners. SIGAR said it’s so overcrowded that some prisoners are living in the hallways – presenting serious security concerns. The renovations were intended to address these issues.
This is not the first time the U.S. has thrown good money after bad. The government has spent more than $104 billion to rebuild and strengthen Afghanistan without having a strategy in place to protect that money from waste, fraud and abuse.
Al-Watan Construction Company, the lead contractor on the project, was paid $18.5 million of the total $20.2 million contract, even though the company barely finished half the work required, according to SIGAR.
Most of the work that was completed was of poor quality and did not meet government standards, the report said. It noted that the contractor cut corners and didn’t backfill trenches or connect six back-up generators to the prison’s power grid, among other issues.
The auditors also said the contractor failed to follow most of the specified requirements. The company had substituted wood for metal roof trusses without getting approval and covered 30-year-old wood trusses with roofing material rather than replace hem, as the contract had required.
Though the State Department ultimately terminated the contract with Al-Watan Construction Co., the agency plans to continue working on the renovation and estimates it will likely cost another $11 million to complete.
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