Cash fails to reach Afghan drug farmers

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A flagship Afghan government fund has failed to distribute millions of dollars in aid to opium farmers despite the country’s surging drugs problem.

The Counternarcotics Trust Fund (CNTF) has spent less than 5 per cent of the $42m received from donor governments over the past 18 months.

All donor governments have now halted contributions to the fund. A western diplomat familiar with the scheme said donors could not give the fund any more money “until they show us they can spend it”.

”It has been a complete failure. There is not enough efficiency or capability within the Afghan government to hand out the funds.”

The British government was the largest donor to the fund, which also received money from Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Japan, New Zealand and others. The US government did not contribute.

The fund, which Afghan officials hoped would eventually administer $900m, was conceived as part of a broader effort to channel more aid money directly through the fledgeling government and thus build up the skills of inexperienced officials. Its failure has thrown a spotlight on infighting between different ministries associated with the fight against drugs.

Habibullah Qaderi, counter-narcotics minister, defended the scheme’s slow progress as teething problems associated with the first year. “We want government capacity to be improved to improve Afghan ownership. It will be cheaper in the long run,” he said.

The ministry had already pledged $22m for 24 projects ranging from beekeeping to carpet-weaving, he said, and was set to begin spending. “Any trust fund will have problems . . . It just takes time to solve them.”

One reason the disbursement of funds has been slow is that the aid money was administered by the Ministry of Counternarcotics, which did not have the skills or the staff to roll out aid projects, western officials say.

Diplomats and aid workers said Afghan counter-narcotics officials did not want to cede control of the money to rivals in the Ministries of Agriculture or the Ministry for Reconstruction and Rural Development.

“The Ministry of Counternarcotics needed teeth, and this money represented their only source of power,” said one westerner familiar with the scheme.

International aid workers said another roadblock had been the Ministry of Counternarcotics’ failure to explain why proposals for projects had been rejected.

“We tried hard to meet all their specifications but the goalposts kept changing,” said an international development worker, who asked not to be identified.

Aid agencies spent months working with officials at other ministries, only to be told they could not implement projects for which they had written the proposals.

Mr Qaderi said counter-narcotics officials had done their best to explain why proposals had failed to meet criteria.

A British counter-narcotics official said: “The UK has made a significant donation to the CNTF, but the disbursement process needs to be improved. We and all the other donors are undertaking a vigorous review. We want the CNTF to work properly and help rural development and fight drugs.”

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