Lacking Hundreds of thousands Put an American-Funded Afghan School Below Scrutiny


KABUL, Afghanistan — One of many many investigators of the American College in Afghanistan summed issues up this fashion: If the US authorities had paid to ship each Afghan graduate to varsity in the US, it might have spent much less cash than it did on financing a troubled, English-language college for them within the Afghan capital.

The college graduated 1,281 Afghan diploma college students over the previous decade, at a value of $126,000 every to American taxpayers, or a complete of $162 million.

Now the continued existence of the college is probably in danger after investigators mentioned they have been unable to find out what occurred to $63 million of that cash, in accordance with officers of the US Company for Worldwide Growth and the Particular Inspector Basic for Afghan Reconstruction.

The outcome was an official effort final yr by investigators at each businesses to have the college disqualified from receiving any additional authorities funding, a course of generally known as suspension or debarment. A compromise was reached that quickly prevented that step. However the college, commonly known as A.U.A.F., stays the topic of a felony investigation in addition to a forensic audit to seek out out what occurred to all that cash.

The college is likely one of the most high-profile growth tasks that the American authorities has undertaken in Afghanistan. Reached for remark, officers at U.S.A.I.D. praised its tutorial achievements.

“The college’s main goal is to offer an American-style schooling to the youth of Afghanistan, and it has been very profitable at doing so,” mentioned Tom Babington, an company spokesman. “The coed physique is made up of spectacular, motivated people, and its graduates at the moment are more and more influential in all areas of contemporary Afghan life — in each the private and non-private sectors.”

Mr. Babington acknowledged that the monetary and administration issues uncovered by investigators have been severe ones, however he mentioned that continued funding by the US authorities, which underwrites many of the college’s funds, was nonetheless underneath dialogue.

“U.S.A.I.D. is in negotiations with A.U.A.F. for a attainable extension by June 2020,” he mentioned.

The company’s contract to fund the college expires on Friday, however there may be interim funding till the top of June, Mr. Babington mentioned.

On March 29, the college’s board chairman, David Sedney, signed an administrative settlement demanded by the US authorities. In it, the college pledges to undertake substantial reforms in budgeting, administration and oversight as a situation of future authorities funding, however admits to no felony wrongdoing. The Instances obtained a duplicate of the settlement.

The settlement, in accordance with the usA.I.D. inspector basic, Ann Calvaresi Barr, “imposes strong mechanisms to observe and confirm steps that A.U.A.F. should take to proceed to be entrusted with taxpayer .”

The college has had a turbulent historical past, with quite a few administration adjustments, and, in August 2016, an assault by the Taliban that killed no less than seven college students and 6 guards. Just a few weeks earlier than that assault, two professors on the college, an Australian and an American, have been kidnapped by the Taliban’s Haqqani community; each stay in captivity.

Then final November, the college’s board chairman, an American entrepreneur named Abul Huda Farouki, abruptly resigned, shortly earlier than his indictment on felony fees related together with his firm’s contract to provide meals and logistics help to the American navy in Afghanistan.

The particular inspector for Afghanistan, in addition to the inspector basic’s workplace of U.S.A.I.D., mentioned they opened a joint felony investigation into the college a number of years in the past after they have been approached by a whistle-blower. However they mentioned they discovered the college’s data in such disarray that they weren’t in a position to make a felony case in opposition to anybody. As a substitute, final yr, the investigators advisable suspension or debarment of the college from receiving future authorities funding.

U.S.A.I.D. as a substitute selected the executive settlement, which investigators for each businesses mentioned they agreed to reluctantly.

Mr. Sedney, a former Protection Division official and former president of the college who took over as board chairman after Mr. Farouki’s departure, performed down the investigators’ considerations.

“Within the vary of administrative agreements, ours is the mildest one. It’s a regulatory continuing. We weren’t suspended, no discovering of fraud, no monetary wrongdoing or requirement to pay again any cash,” he mentioned.

He additionally objected to officers’ characterization that the college had “misplaced greater than $63 million since 2012,” because the particular inspector for Afghanistan mentioned in its newest report back to Congress.

“A.U.A.F. has not ‘misplaced’ any cash,” Mr. Sedney mentioned. “A.U.A.F. is a nonprofit group that has spent all the cash it has acquired from the U.S. authorities.”

Mr. Sedney additionally mentioned authorities inspectors had failed to go to the college campus or interview key officers, together with himself. He mentioned the record-keeping issues have been the results of the Taliban assault on the college, which compelled it to maneuver abruptly to a brand new, extremely fortified campus.

“We welcome Sigar or some other group or particular person to contact the college for a full, correct description of what A.U.A.F. has produced by its accountable use of all funds it has acquired,” he mentioned, referring to the particular inspector basic for Afghanistan.

The particular inspector basic, John Sopko, mentioned that investigators from his workplace and U.S.A.I.D. had examined 28 earlier investigations and audits of the college. After they sought additional info from the college about cash that was unaccounted for, he mentioned, they encountered resistance — even to a subpoena from his workplace, in a single case.

“In seven years of investigating authorities contractors and grant recipients in Afghanistan, this is likely one of the worst-run packages I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Sopko mentioned.

When his company mentioned the college had misplaced $63 million, he mentioned, it meant that record-keeping was so poor it was inconceivable to find out what had occurred to that cash, greater than a 3rd of the usA.I.D. and Protection Division grants to the college because it was based in 2006.

“Suspension or debarment actions are severe. Within the grant and assist world, that’s thought of to be the dying penalty,” Mr. Sopko mentioned. “We actually need this college to outlive, but when it continues with this administration fashion that all the things is O.Okay. and there’s nothing to fret about, it would fail.”

U.S.A.I.D. officers additionally mentioned they anticipated to see substantial progress.

“The findings weren’t minor,” Mr. Babington mentioned. “Nevertheless, A.U.A.F. has since instituted reforms that point out it’s on a constructive trajectory to turn into a accountable steward of U.S. authorities funds, ought to these reforms be efficiently examined and institutionalized.”

Ms. Barr, the usA.I.D. inspector basic, mentioned her workplace “will stay vigilant on this matter. Time will inform if A.U.A.F.’s responses successfully handle the intense nature of our considerations.”

Mr. Sopko additionally mentioned his company was persevering with its felony investigation and an audit of how the college spent authorities funding.

U.S.A.I.D. officers acknowledge that spending on the college has been excessive.

“Any time you’re beginning up a brand new establishment, the prices shall be increased,” Mr. Babington mentioned. “Afghans finding out at establishments in Afghanistan are additionally extra more likely to preserve their native connections, search for native employment alternatives, and in the end contribute to the Afghan financial system and society. That is still our intent.”

Mr. Sedney mentioned the investigations of the college didn’t deal with its achievements. “The college’s tutorial program is in the perfect form it’s been in its historical past,” he mentioned. “The extent of scholar achievement is increased than ever earlier than.”

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