Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) wasted $60 million on a high-voltage power system in Afghanistan that “is not permanently connected to a power source, has not been fully tested, and may not be safe to operate,” according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
In a report made public Thursday, SIGAR said it inspected USACE’s North East Power System (NEPS) in Afghanistan, which was designed to deliver electricity to “underserved population centers” in a reliable and cost-effective way. The USACE granted an Afghan company a $116 million contract to aid in the construction’s second and third phases. Phase three cost the U.S. $59.7 million.
SIGAR found that USACE’s “mismanagement of the contract” forced U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for a project “that is not operational because land-acquisition and right-of-way issues have not been resolved, and there was no contract provision to permanently connect the system to a power source.”
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“USACE’s mismanagement has resulted in the U.S. government spending approximately $60 million on a system that is not operational, may be structurally unsound, and presents safety risks to nearby Afghans,” SIGAR John F. Sopko wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other officials.
Some of the problems arose with the NEPS construction because the Afghan government failed to acquire the land necessary for the project from private landowners, which came to approximately 68 percent of the land set aside for the project. The Afghan company awarded the contract, Zwakman Nabizai Construction Co. (ZNCC), wasn’t supposed to begin construction until the land had been acquired legally.
“However, to date, the Afghan government has not acquired any privately held land along the construction route, and as a result, USACE has disabled the system to prevent it from being used,” Sopko wrote. “By the time the system is operational, the warranties will likely have expired, and any deficiencies found during testing and system activation will require the Afghan or U.S. governments to incur additional costs to correct.”
To make matters even worse, Afghan residents still lived on the land set aside for construction, which created extreme safety hazards. Thus, NEPS also could not be fully tested or put into use until Afghan people who lived along the transmission line route left the site.
The SIGAR report noted that “it is unclear why USACE allowed ZNCC to proceed with construction of NEPS III before the Afghan government had resolved land disputes with local residents or acquired privately held land.”
“However, USACE decided to proceed with construction of NEPS III before those steps were completed, reflecting, in our view, a disregard for sound acquisition planning and management,” the SIGAR report read. “Had USACE followed its project management plan, it could have reduced the costs associated with this project by suspending or terminating it at an early stage.”
“Although NEPS III has been built, over two years after its initially planned completion, it is still not operational,” the report continued. “To date, $60 million in U.S. taxpayer funds has been spent on a system that, to date, has provided no tangible benefit to the Afghan people.”
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