Thursday, March 13, 2014

Afghanistan: Afghan District Head Accused of Fraud

This article originally appeared in the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,
Afghan District Head Accused of Fraud
By Sayed Rahmatullah Alizada - Afghanistan  

Local government chief in Ghazni suspended after claims he sold agricultural supplies to private buyers.

Local politicians and officials have accused a district government chief in Afghanistan’s southern Ghazni province of stealing a shipment of government-supplied seeds intended for distribution among local farmers.

Fazel Rahman Nazarwal, the local government head for the province’s Qarabagh district, denies selling the seeds and pocketing the proceeds. His actions are currently being investigated by a local court.

Ghazni provincial council member Hamida Gulistani told IWPR she had documentary evidence that 90 tons of an improved variety of wheat seeds which the Afghan agriculture ministry sent to Qarabagh some 18 months ago had instead been sold to two merchants by Nazarwal.

“The wheat was delivered to the district governor, in the presence of a delegation from the provincial council and other institutions, to be distributed to farmers, but the governor sold it and put the money in his pocket,” she said. “I have a voice recording of Qarabagh district head Fazel Rahman Nazarwal telling [an official] of the agriculture department that he has done well by selling the wheat and that there is no one to hold him accountable.

“Despite this duplicity and embezzlement, and after selling 90 tons of improved wheat belonging to the ministry of agriculture, Nazarwal spent only one night in jail before was released.”

Hamidullah Nowruz and Safi Akbari, two other members of Ghazni’s provincial council, are also certain the district head sold the wheat.

“It’s as clear as daylight,” said Nowruz. “It’s wrong to waste time. The district governor must be treated in accordance with the law. [Personal] connections must not affect discipline.”

Asked about the charges by IWPR, Nazarwal denied any wrongdoing.

“The improved seeds have been distributed among deserving people,” he said. “Matters at the prosecutor’s office have been resolved. There is no problem now.”

He refused to comment further.

However, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Ghazni province, said he understood that Nazarwal had been suspended until legal proceedings was over.

“Currently, the district governor of Qarabagh has no authority, and any activity he engages in in the district is illegal,” he said.

Abdurrashid Abed, head of the provincial prosecutor’s office, confirmed that Nazarwal had spent 24 hours in jail, but that he was released on the grounds that he was a government employee and needed to be able to prepare a defence case.

“If it is proved that the district governor of Qarabagh sold the wheat to specific individuals and has not deposited the money in the government's treasury, he may be punished,” Abed said. “His case is being worked on currently. It will be sent to court very soon.”

Abed said prosecutors believed the wheat had been sold for 22,000 US dollars.

Sultan Hussein Yar, the head of Ghazni province’s agriculture department, backed up claims that the district official had sold the seeds and kept the money.

“The district governor has sold 90 tons of improved wheat seeds sent by the ministry of agriculture for farmers, which is a great betrayal,” he said. “We prepare these seeds very painstakingly, to improve and increase farmers’ crops. These seeds would produce a good yield. They were more resistant to pests.”

According to him, each 50 kilogramme sack of wheat should have been sold for 15 dollars, with the revenues passed on to the department. Instead, he alleged, Nazarwal sold them to private buyers for a higher price.

“We have sent letters to Qarabagh district several times in this regard, but we have not received an answer from them. We are urging officials to treat this matter seriously,” Hussein Yar added.

Afghanistan has long ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the United States and other members of the international community have warned that they will only continue delivering aid if Kabul acts decisively to tackle the problem.

Although government agencies have been created to fight fraud, they have had little success. Many of those suspected of corruption are either in power themselves or have influential family ties, meaning they enjoy considerable immunity.

“Individuals in the leadership are corrupt,” said political analyst Jawed Kohistani. “They prepare the ground for people who can help them achieve their goals. Since district heads and other government officials are not appointed for their merits and talents, the rule of law does not exist and relationships are valued above discipline. Individuals appointed because of their connections are involved in corruption.”

According to Kohistani, corruption has become part of the culture of Afghanistan, and he warned this would persist unless the law was upheld and corrupt individuals prosecuted.

Farmers in Qarabagh district, meanwhile, said they had not received the seeds promised to them and they faced a poor harvest as a result.

Mohammad Sarwar, 32, a resident of Zardalu, said that many farmers had been unable to grow wheat because they were waiting to get the improved seeds.

“All the farmers thought that the improved seeds had not yet arrived from Kabul. But then we were told the district governor had sold them. Most of our wheat fields remained uncultivated,” he said.Sayed 

Rahmatullah Alizada is an IWPR-trained reporter in Ghazni province.