Watchdog: Company botched Afghan police stations

AP News
Posted: Oct 26, 2010 8:37 PM
Watchdog: Company botched Afghan police stations

An Afghan-owned company bungled the construction of police stations there so badly that the buildings are at risk of collapse, undermining U.S.-led efforts to beef up the country's security forces, a government watchdog says.

In a report to be released Wednesday, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction found the company, Basirat Construction Firm, cut corners with low-quality concrete, substandard roofing, uninsulated windows, and plastic plumbing.

The six police stations were built in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the country's violent south, where the international coalition and Afghan security forces are trying to wrest control of the region from the Taliban.

The report also faults the Army Corps of Engineers for failing to properly oversee the work, while still paying Basirat close to $5 million _ more than 90 percent of the contract value.

Basirat is liable for fixing an estimated $1 million worth of problems at the stations, the report says. But the company has little incentive to make the repairs, according to the report, because it's already collected most of the money.

In August, the State Department accused Basirat and another Afghan-owned company, Al Watan Construction, of fraud on a separate contract to renovate the country's largest prison. Both companies have been suspended from receiving new government contracts while the fraud charges are investigated, according to internal State Department documents.

The inspector general's report underscores the challenges the Obama administration faces in meeting two major goals of the Afghan reconstruction effort: training, equipping, and housing up to 134,000 Afghan national police by September 2011; and hiring Afghan-owned companies to rebuild the country's infrastructure.

While Afghan firms are eager for the lucrative reconstruction contracts, they can be overwhelmed by the tight schedules and tough standards.

At a hearing held last December by the Commission on Wartime Contracting, assistant Pentagon inspector general Kenneth Moorefield said few Afghan companies have the experience "to effectively undertake and complete projects at the required standards."

In comments reprinted in the report, the Corps of Engineers says security challenges in the construction zones makes oversight of the police station construction very difficult. But the Corps of Engineers agreed that "construction at each site did not meet all contract requirements" and said Basirat is committed to making the needed repairs.

Obaidur Rahman, Basisrat's owner, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The Corps of Engineers awarded the police station contract to Basirat in May 2007 and construction was to be completed by January 2009 _ a date that had to be extended by more than a year.

Even as Basirat was being chided by the Corps for what the inspector general's report describes as "deficient work and chronic schedule delays," the State Department elected to hire Basirat and Al Watan in July 2009 to renovate the vast Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of Kabul.

Two months ago, Corey Rindner, the State Department's top procurement official, informed Basirat and Al Watan they were being suspended for violating U.S. procurement rules.

According to Rindner, Rahman improperly provided confidential bid proposal information about State Department contracts to Nadeem Naqibullah, an Al Watan executive. Rahman also paid $30,000 to the contracting officer who had been overseeing the Pul-i-Charkhi prison renovation, Rindner wrote in Aug. 26 letters from Rindner to Rahman and Naqibullah.

These "actions demonstrate a lack of business integrity or honesty that seriously affects your present responsibility to hold or perform government contracts," Rindner wrote.



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