Afghanistan watchdog finds himself under scrutiny
Last Updated: Thursday, November 18, 2010, 21:16
Washington: The US watchdog charged with combating corruption in the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild Afghanistan is defending his reputation today as congressional critics press President Barack Obama to fire him for incompetence and mismanagement.

Arnold Fields, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, is scheduled to testify before the Senate contracting oversight subcommittee in the wake of withering reviews from several senators.

Only the president can dismiss an inspector general.

The White House yesterday appeared reluctant to pick a side. Spokesman Tommy Vietor said Fields and his staff "have performed under very difficult circumstances to set up operations in Afghanistan." But Vietor also said the White House supports the hearing so Fields and the subcommittee can "discuss how to best provide oversight on Afghanistan reconstruction."

Chief among the senators' complaints is that Fields has failed to aggressively investigate allegations of fraud and waste involving the nearly USD 56 billion the US has committed to improving schools, roads, electricity and medical facilities in Afghanistan. Instead, the senators say Fields has produced a series of mostly bland audits that haven't curbed the corruption undermining the US mission and alienating Afghans from their own government.

Matthew McLauchlin, a former US government official who supported legislation that created the oversight office in 2008, said the inspector general's office was intended to be an organisation that fined people or put them in jail.

"They were to be focused on investigations and prosecutions," said McLauchlin, who served as the chief financial officer to the US ambassador and commanding general in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2008. "But it's become an organisation that does audits making recommendations on how things can be improved."

Fields, a retired Marine Corps major general appointed by former President George W. Bush, has argued that delays in getting more than USD 20 million to establish the organisation set back plans to quickly hire experienced investigators and auditors.

Despite the slow start, the office - known as SIGAR - has issued 34 audit reports over the last 18 months examining reconstruction projects worth more than USD 4.4 billion, according to a report Fields sent to Congress last month.

Fraud and corruption investigations SIGAR has conducted with other US and Afghan agencies have resulted in USD 6.6 million in fines, repayments and recovered money.


First Published: Thursday, November 18, 2010, 21:16

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