Wednesday 12 December 2012

Thievery unchecked as equipment lies unused

Everyone is aware that huge amounts of dollars are leaving Afghanistan every year, usually in the luggage of corrupt politicians and officials on their way to the Gulf. According to one estimate, an estimated $4.5 billion was taken out of the country in 2011 alone.
Once the problem was recognised, a working party at the US Embassy in Kabul came up with a 'bulk cash flow action plan' to monitor the money passing through Kabul's airport. Its 33 proposals including training and investigative efforts, installation of cash-counting machinery and various other moves.
In August this year the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) decided to review these measures, conducting a site visit to the airport and interviewing officials in Kabul. The results are not very encouraging, as set out in Anti-Corruption Measures: Persistent Problems Exist in Monitoring Bulk Cash flows at Kabul International Airport, published by SIGAR yesterday.

Unused currency counting machines at Kabul Airport
They found, for example that the two bulk currency counters, designed to record serial numbers, create databases and process up to 900 bills per minute - and then to transmit this data via the internet to the Financial Transactions and Records Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA) at the Central Bank - were not being used for their intended purpose. VIPs were being allowed to bypass these controls, the machines were located in an inaccessible cupboard and staff did not feel comfortable using them. "Although DHS officials told us that Afghan customs officials have been provided on-the-job training on the use of the bulk currency counters, we did not observe any use of the machines. However, we were able to check that each machine was plugged into an electrical outlet and appeared to be in working order."
Neither machine was connected to the internet or a computer server and a new Very Very Important Persons (VVIP) lounge was being built at the airport where there was no main customs screening or use of a bulk currency counter. Officials told the SIGAR inspectors that they feared the repercussions of making the system work. "As of October 2012, according to DHS officials, efforts to connect the bulk currency counters to the internet or a computer server were “at a standstill.”
So just to recap, corrupt Afghan officials and politicians are stealing billions of dollars every year and exporting their ill-gotten gains through the main airport in Kabul, without let or hindrance. Systems set up specifically to deal with the problem lie unused and unconnected in some cupboard in an inaccessible part of the airport. Welcome to Afghanistan.

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