Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Finances a Mystery at Kabul Conference

Donors gave more than one million dollars in funding and materials, but paper trail for where this went proves elusive.
By Khan Mohammad Danishju

The search began with a missing generator. The machine, worth as much as 20,000 US dollars in Kabul, is said to have been bought with money donated by the United States Agency for International Development for a conference in July 2010.

The Kabul International Conference on July 19-20, 2010, was attended by delegates from more than 70 countries, who gathered in the Afghan capital to discuss a way forward for this battered nation. They discussed security, development and how Afghanistan could be better governed.

Spending on the conference itself has raised questions about transparency. An IWPR reporter spent two months last year trying to trace how around 1.16 million dollars in conference funding and material support – from the United States, Germany, the European Union and the UN Development Programme – was used.

The search proved largely inconclusive. No generator could be found. Nor were the hundreds of chairs, curtains and the large conference table that Germany had provided. And no record was uncovered of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stationary that the EU reportedly paid for.

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry has asserted that no international funding was used for the conference, though donors maintain that money and equipment left their hands.

On March 8, 2011, the foreign ministry wrote to the finance ministry about the conference’s finances.

“As you are aware, the Kabul international conference was successfully held... at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. No national or international resources [were used to] financially assist this conference,” the letter said.

The ministry added that it borrowed rooms for foreign conference guests at the Intercontinental, Kabul Serena and Safi Landmark hotels, and noted that they were now keen to be reimbursed.

“The hotel administrations are continually asking for payment of their bills, a sum of 5,450,181 afghanis [112,887 dollars]. We have forwarded the matter to you and will be grateful for your consideration to reimburse [them],” the ministry said.

The claim that there was no international financial support appears to contradict the position of western donors.

In June 2011, a US embassy source told IWPR that USAID contributed approximately 500,000 dollars to fund the conference. This was to cover equipment needs, including the generator.

“Funds were also used to support other direct costs associated with conducting the conference,” the official wrote in an email.

The US embassy’s public affairs section did not directly fund the Afghan government to run the conference.

According to a document obtained by IWPR, the German government donated 400,000 euro, or 530,549 dollars, for the conference, A large share of this was set aside to purchase materials, including a conference table, 220 chairs and curtains.

The German government was responsible for packaging and shipping these items and then assembling them in Kabul, according to Christian Doktor, the economic, development and civil-military cooperation counsellor at the German embassy.

IWPR was unable to locate the table and chairs, or find any record of what happened to them after the conference.

The UN Development Programme, UNDP, contributed 45,000 dollars to the conference. According to Mohammad Amin Khaliqi, director of policy oversight and evaluation at the finance ministry, this was spent on stationary.

Afghan officials were unclear about the breakdown of funding for the conference.

Hafiz Wududi, director of the foreign ministry’s media department, said paperwork for conference expenses might not exist anywhere in the ministry.

“Our department is unaware of details on the conference,” he said.

Mohammad Zahir Faqirzada, a former foreign ministry spokesman, said the ministry had no documents on the conference’s budget.

“You should speak to the finance ministry which is responsible for this, and ask it about the government’s expenditure,” he said.

At the finance ministry, Shafiq Ahmed Qarizada, acting deputy head of policy, said the government spent nothing on running the conference.

Asked who was responsible for the spending he replied, “I don’t know anything about this issue,” before referring further questions to Khaliqi.

Khaliqi said he believed Germany and the US were the conference’s only donors, and he was unaware that UNDP had been involved.

The current foreign ministry spokesman, Janan Musazai, said he knew nothing about the conference.

Several hotels told IWPR they were still waiting to be reimbursed for putting up conference delegates.

The Kabul Serena Hotel said the foreign ministry had not paid its bill after one year. Naimatullah Habib, sales manager at the Kabul Serena, said that if he publicly disclosed the amount that the ministry owed, it might sever relations with the hotel.

Documents provided by Mustafa, accounts manager at the Safi Landmark Hotel, show that the foreign ministry owed the hotel 3,107 dollars as of September 5, 2011.

Hotel Intercontinental officials said there was no record of any conference guests staying there, so the foreign ministry owed it nothing.

Khan Mohammad Danishju is an IWPR-trained reporter in Afghanistan.

This report was produced in November 2011 as part of the Afghan Investigative Journalism Fund project, and originally published on the Afghan Centre for Investigative Journalism website which IWPR has set up locally.