Thursday 6 January 2011

US companies run from Afghan creditors

Rather late in the day the US military has suspended contracting privileges to two companies in Afghanistan over allegations they failed to pay their Afghan subcontractors. According to a statement from Coalition forces, several Afghan companies have brought allegations of nonpayment against Bennett-Fouch Associates and K5 Global, both of which are owned by a 45-year-old American woman named Sarah Lee. "The failure of firms to pay their local national workforce or local national subcontractors adversely affects counterinsurgency strategy," the coalition said in the statement.
Bennett-Fouch appears to have lied when it told local Afghan contractors last spring that it could not pay them because it had not been paid by the US government."In reality", the Coalition statement said, "the U.S. government had paid Bennett-Fouch for the work on the construction projects." In April last year the company had closed its local offices and bank accounts in Afghanistan and had left the country owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.
According to one report, US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was told about Sarah Lee's companies at an event in Kabul in June and promised in public to solve the problem. Nothing further happened until the announcement this week. What has now happened is that the US Army will investigate the claims from creditors and not award any further work to the two companies until it has reviewed the evidence. This could take up to 18 months.
Lee's companies seem to be involved in basic construction work in Afghanistan, such as building sewers, although in Iraq they were also involved in building a radio station and selling airtime for advertising to the US Army, as well as supplying generators and other items of equipment.
However, since reneging on payments in Afghanistan last spring, 45 year-old Sarah Lee appears to have gone to ground. The Coalition statement says "The US government attempted to contact Bennett-Fouch without success to address these allegations in connection with construction contracts at military bases in Afghanistan." Remarkable that the US government could not find the woman behind this alleged scam. Has it issued an arrest warrant? Checked her home address?

The Coalition statement acknowledges the obvious fact that treating Afghan creditors so shabbily will only strengthen the insurgency and confirm the worst attitudes of Afghans towards foreigners. Perhaps the US Army investigators will understand that fact and deliver some justice to the Afghans who are owed money by Lee's companies.
If anyone has a picture of Ms Lee or can help with any contact details, I would be delighted to offer them to a wider audience.

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