An Afghan school considered unsafe and unusable for students five years after foreign contractors began to build it will continue to absorb U.S. taxpayer funds, according to a government audit.
Although the facility was deemed unsafe after one Iraqi and two Afghan contractors worked on it during separate times over a period of nearly five years, frustrated Afghan students and faculty continued to use the facility for some time, the audit by U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko found.
The Mazar-e-Sharif school located in the northern Afghanistan region of Balkh is one of 16 schools built under a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) plan.
“Nearly 5 years after construction began, the Balkh facility for USAID’s Faculty of Higher Education project is still not complete and remains unusable,” states the audit.
In the audit, Sopko notes that multiple repairs are still needed, and the school will not be transferred to Afghan authorities until mid-2014 at the earliest.
“Frustrated by the delays, Afghan authorities occupied the facility without authorization in March 2013, but USAID has since taken steps to secure the facility and ensure it is not occupied until it is officially transferred to the Afghan government,” states Sopko.
USAID is trying to find another contractor to correct the lingering problems.
“SIGAR has identified additional repairs – encasing sewer lines in concrete, adjusting non-code compliant exterior steps, installing required cast iron covers and permanent ladder steps for the septic tank, and installing the required access road to the front of the building – that we believe should be addressed in USAID’s pending procurement action,” highlights the audit. “Further, critical structural calculations could not be located during our audit for the roof and septic tank systems – a significant oversight given the potential catastrophic consequences of a roof collapse or a collapse of the septic tank system.”
USAID disagreed that the roof and septic tank structures may be unsafe.
In 2008, USAID provided an estimated $17.1 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to construct 16 educational facilities across Afghanistan, including the school in Balkh, in an effort to “prepare students to become teachers at the secondary education level in a variety of disciplines,” according to the inspector general.
The Army engineers first awarded a $2.9 million contract to an Iraqi contractor to build the Mazar-e-Sharif school and two other higher education facilities.
The Iraqi company, however, did not fulfill its responsibilities, resulting in the Army engineers’ issuing 62 performance and deficiency notices to the company.
USACE then hired an Afghan contractor to finish the work. The value of the contract for repairs at the Balkh facility alone was $98,000. That contractor had trouble making repairs due to security problems. The Army engineers terminated the contract again.
Then, another Afghan firm was awarded an estimated $632,000 contract to finish up the repairs at the three facilities. However, it was fired due to project delays. USACE was able to recoup some of the unused funds.
Other remaining repairs at the Balkh school, which is still not completely constructed, include “a leaking roof, defective electrical wiring, and an improperly sloped terrace roof.”
The audit was conducted from March through November 2013.