KABUL - Billions of dollars of aid to Afghanistan have not been spent effectively and the Afghan government and international agencies must be held to account or more will be wasted, an independent watchdog said on Monday.
Afghanistan is to ask donors in Paris this week to fund a $50-billion five-year development plan, testing international commitment to the country which is still among the world's poorest and suffers daily violence more than six years after U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government.
Of the $25 billion in aid to Afghanistan from 2001 until now, only some $15 billion has been spent, aid agencies say.
But for every $100 spent, sometimes only $20 actually reaches Afghan recipients, said the Kabul-based internationally funded Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA).
Between 15 to 30 percent of aid money is spent on security for aid agencies, the IWA report said, and 85 percent of products, services and human resources used by agencies are imported and provide few jobs for Afghan workers.
As much as 20 percent of international aid to Afghanistan is spent on so-called technical assistance; jargon for highly paid foreign staff. Some $1.6 billion was spent on technical assistance between 2002 and 2006, the report said.
Some staff working for the USAID, the U.S. government's development agency, earn as much as $22,000 a month in Afghanistan, IWA said, or 367 times more than an Afghan teacher.
Some 70 percent of international assistance is not channeled through the government so the Afghan state has no control how it is spent and the money does little to enhance its standing with the people or develop its ability to govern.
Even though most of the money coming into Afghanistan does not come through the state, the Afghan government still relies on aid for some 90 percent of its budget.
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Afghanistan's dependence on aid has created a state that lacks the need to be accountable to its people. But the international community has put far too little effort into helping Kabul manage its considerable mineral resources, raise its own revenues and kick its reliance on aid, IWA said.
"Aid is not only medical assistance or building schools it is also helping the state to become self-sufficient. This is not enough on the agenda of donors," said Lorenzo Delesgues, co-author of the IWA report.
While the Afghan government is to call in Paris for more aid to channeled through its coffers, high levels of official corruption are one reason that has put many donors off.
Afghanistan is ranked 172 out of 180 in Transparency International's corruption perception index.
International donors expect Afghan President Hamid Karzai to make a strong commitment in Paris to fight corruption in return for pledges of funding for the Afghan development strategy.
But much of the corruption in Afghanistan is due to the way assistance is administered through a series of sub-contractors which increases the scope for graft, IWA said.
"Sometimes it's better to channel aid through an Afghan government that has a higher risk of corruption than aid that has a high risk of inefficiency," said Delesgues.
"It's better to channel it through the government because even if it is being taken it will stay in the country."
Editing by David Fox
© 2008 Reuters