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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.

PTI



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

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