Aid pledges worth billions not honoured
KABUL (Pajhwok): Not a single road meeting international standards could be built in Afghanistan over the past 12 years and millions of dollars pledged in foreign aid could not be delivered as a result of the 2010 Kabul Bank fiasco, the Wolesi Jirga was told on Wednesday.
Public Works Minister Najibullah Ozhun and Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhiwal were summoned to the lower house to brief lawmakers about incomplete road projects and low quality of those completed.
Lawmakers said roads constructed over the past few years were of low quality due to corruption in awarding their contracts.
They also said the government had promised to construct some key roads but failed to do so.
Ozhun told the house that paucity of funds, some mistakes and non-availability of standard construction firms were some of the reasons why roads meeting international standards could not be constructed over the past 12 years.
“From ministers to lawmakers and mullahs to doctors, everyone owns construction firms. They participate in biddings and offer the lowest costs and thus win contracts, but most of such firms lack technical expertise,” the minister said.
However, he recalled there were only 150 kilometres of paved roads in Afghanistan 12 years ago in comparison to 10,000 kms today.
About the Salang Highway which connects Kabul with northern provinces, the public works minister said a plan had been finalised and talks with donor countries to fetch $1.5 billion were under way in this regard.
He said practical work on some portions of the Gardan Diwal road was in progress and contracts to construct the road’s remaining sections were under bidding process.
The Gardan Diwal road links central Bamyan province with western Herat province through Ghor province.
Ozhun said they had chalked out plans to construct ring roads in Kabul, Nangarhar, Balkh, Herat and Kandahar provinces and efforts were being made to resolve problems in contract for the country-wide ring road.
“A Turkish and a US firm have won contracts for the Afghanistan ring road. The Turkish firm has no experience in road constructions because it is a house-building company. But I don’t know how the American firm was declared the winner,” the minister said.
The minister said each kilometre of the countrywide ring road cost $2.3 million which was high than incurred on a railroad. He said the contract had been awarded prior to his taking office as the public works minister.
Ozhun said construction work on the second part of the Kabul-Nangarhar highway was underway and Pakistan had promised to construct the second Torkham-Jalalabad lane after talks with Pakistani officials.
Islamabad has repeated promised to construct the second Torkham-Jalalabad lane over the past few years but is yet to honour its pledges.
Ozhun acknowledged some road contracts would earlier change hands but this issue had been resolved.
He said heavy and overloaded vehicles also caused damages to most roads and a bid to resolve the issue, a new digital system would be put in place. The system would determine a vehicle’s weight from a distance of 10 kilometres, he said.
The minister said axel scale centres were rife with corruption but the proposed digital system would resolve this issue as well.
For his part, Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal said a majority of the country’s roads had been reconstructed.
About financial problems facing Afghanistan, he said some donor countries did not implement their aid pledges following the Kabul Bank crisis.
Revelations of fraud, bad loans and mismanagement prompted a run on the bank in September, 2010 and the bank was bailed out by the central bank as part of efforts to prevent it from collapsing.
“The Kabul Bank scandal deprived us of billions of dollars in foreign aid. Some donor countries have promised giving $300 in aid for the government’s discretionary budget this year, but it is yet to be delivered,” Zakhiwal said.
He said some donors withheld pledges after Afghanistan refused to sign the bilateral security agreement with the US and others due to elections.
The finance minister said Afghanistan’s trade level had declined by 22 percent compared to the past, but gave no details.
First deputy speaker Sadiq Ahmad Usmani, who presided over today’s session, said the quality of roads in Afghanistan was low and the government should give importance to the road network in order businesses could prosper and people facilitated.
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