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The $64,000-Plus Question For Afghanistan

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal (file photo)
Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal (file photo)
Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal spoke about the effectiveness of current aid and workable solutions for the country's economic development at a forum hosted by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies on April 22. Defending the current financial management system, Zakhilwal said there were no instances in which the Afghan government had abused funds.

"You will not find a single example where the donor's money has been mismanaged by us," he said.

The Afghan government is often portrayed as being plagued with corruption, but Zakhilwal said there are other, positive aspects of reform that go unnoticed.

"In the past year I have fired, removed, and replaced more than 150 officers in Kabul and the provinces who were suspected of stealing money," he said, "We have zero tolerance for corruption."

Zakhilwal means to challenge anyone to find any trace of corruption within his ministry and cites the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, and USAID as confirming that the Afghan financial management system is "one of the best in the region."

According to Zakhilwal, only 20 percent of all international donations have been dispersed through the government. The aid that has bypassed the government has not been spent on the country's priorities, Zakhilwal charged, and has instead been abused by "service delivery institutions, revenue collection, police and the judicial system."

"Most of the aid has been wasted or created institutions that have undermined the Afghan government and U.S. initiatives," he said. "The government is an easy culprit...but we should not be [held] responsible for how 80 percent of the money has been spent."

To remedy the problem, Zakhilwal stressed that donors "should not be shy about conditionalizing aid to promote reform."

An international conference is scheduled for Kabul on July 20 amid a critical period for economic development, infrastructure building, rule of law, and human rights. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, since 2001, the U.S. government has appropriated over $38 billion to stabilize and strengthen the Afghan economic, social, political, and security environments.

In July, Afghanistan will once again find itself with the world's undivided attention. Although unsure of who will respond, those who are interested in how U.S. foreign assistance aid has been spent should ask the question: Where did the money go?

-- Elizabeth Ganshert

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