Police payroll under US watchdog scrutiny

March 20, 2014 - 10:26:38 am
WASHINGTON:  A government watchdog is raising fresh concerns that US funds meant to help pay Afghan police salaries may instead be going to “ghost workers,” according to a letter he sent to military commanders in Afghanistan. 

John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said his staff has initiated an audit on the reliability of personnel data for Afghan National Security Forces, including how such data are used to calculate payrolls for Afghan National Police officers.

“I am writing to express my concern that the US may be unwittingly helping to pay the salaries of nonexistent members of the Afghan National Police,” Sopko wrote in the February 19 letter to two US generals and one Canadian general in the Nato mission.

“The possibility of ‘ghost workers’ on the payroll came up several times in the course of my most recent visit to Afghanistan and in recent discussions with European Union (EU) representatives.”

Worries about insufficient accountability have long dogged the “Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan” (LOFTA), established by the United Nations Development Programme in 2002. LOFTA’s website says the fund supports payment of salaries of more than 140,000 Afghan police officers.

Sopko noted that the European Union had withheld 100 million euros in planned contributions from the trust fund “due to concerns about how that money is being used, including the possibility of payments to ghost workers and other instances of financial mismanagement.”

The United States has provided 38 percent of the $3.17bn that the international community has contributed to the trust fund since 2002, Sopko wrote.

In a March 12 reply to Sopko, US Army Major General Kevin Wendel, the head of the Combined Security Transition Command for Afghanistan, said his command was “aggressively pursuing this issue.”

“But has not found evidence that anyone knowingly paid for nonexistent workers,” Wendel wrote.

Wendel acknowledged discrepancies between personnel and payroll records, which he said prompted a need to “reconcile approximately 54,000 erroneous personnel ID numbers” in the fund’s database.

But Colonel Jane Crichton, a spokeswoman for US forces in Afghanistan, said in response to a query that did not mean those were ghost workers. She said more than 99 percent of the 54,000 ID card numbers identified had already been reconciled - “indicating no ‘ghost employees.’”

For its part, the United Nations Development Programme, asked about concerns over ghost workers, said there had been improvements in the “efficiency and accountability” of the payroll system.