Afghans fear renewed waste after launch of new $224m aid package

Afghan health workers in protective gears wait to check people in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 July 2020

Afghans fear renewed waste after launch of new $224m aid package

  • Presidential spokesman says anti-virus initiative a result of partnership with WB

KABUL: With the launch of a new $224 million aid package to tackle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Afghans told Arab News on Sunday that they feared corruption, and demanded stricter monitoring of resources. 

It follows President Ashraf Ghani launching the initiative on Saturday, to provide basic food and essentials to 4 million families, by covering 90 percent of the population in the war-torn country.

“It is going to be implemented by thousands of local members of Misaq Sharwandi (Citizenship Charter) council … all civil society entities are responsible for monitoring. It is a citizens-based approach,” Ghani’s chief spokesman, Seddiq Sediqqi, told Arab News on Sunday, adding that the new project was a “partnership” between the Afghan government and the World Bank.

Afghan citizens, however, are not convinced.

“I am a war widow and breadwinner for my family of four, and deserved to have been on the list of beneficiaries in the last round, but got nothing,” Jamila, a 46-year-old Kabul resident, told Arab News, referring to a government bread distribution program for families affected by weeks of lockdown to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“There should be a monitoring system to make sure that this time, too, the aid is not misused and looted,” she said.

It is a sentiment shared by lawmakers who said that the government — under fire at home and abroad for not doing enough to tackle corruption — had not consulted or informed them about the new program. Some politicians are skeptical that the aid may be embezzled.

“The aid hardly reaches the needy and deserving people,” Hamida Wardak, an MP from Maidan-Wardak province, told Arab News.

“I think the resources will be wasted again. There should be tight monitoring of the process, and we in the parliament will have to be part of the monitoring,” she added.

Atta Mohammad Dehqanpur, a legislator from Ghor province, agreed, and said that the parliament was mostly weak, with “no power” to check government spending.

He feared that the new resources would be misused “by some in the government,” while many in his impoverished province would “not benefit” from it.

Others on social media spoke about their mistrust of the government and its ability to deliver the new aid package.

“As a citizen, I have no belief in the transparency of this process,” Hasiba Efat, a former provincial council member from Parwan province, tweeted on Sunday.

“This could be a plan for corruption within the government from those who could not squander resources in previous programs,” she added.

Another lawmaker said instead of spending $224 million on the new aid package, Kabul needed to rebuild roads, upgrade urban areas and construct a hydroelectric dam, which would ensure long-term benefits for the public and provide jobs for thousands of people.

In recent months, international institutions and donors had pledged to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for Afghanistan to combat the COVID-19 crisis. In contrast, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had said it would offer Kabul $229 million as a free loan.

Since March, however, there have been complaints of mismanagement and embezzlement by government officials in Kabul and elsewhere, with an Afghan daily reporting that $11 million alone was misused from the bread distribution program.

Other accusations include the disappearance of ventilators, delayed payment of doctors’ salaries, a shortage of protective gear for medical staff, and a lack of oxygen, sanitizers and surgical masks at hospitals dealing with the pandemic.

Amid complaints of corruption involving COVID-19, Ghani said his “government will act against those who have misused the resources in fighting coronavirus.”

But locals say they have not seen any significant progress, even as Ghani reiterated on Saturday that his government would “prevent corruption” in the new program.

Torek Farhadi, a former government and IMF adviser, told Arab news that Kabul was using World Bank package “first and foremost for its propaganda and popularity,” adding: “Afghanistan has become addicted to international aid. The trouble is, international aid does not reach the needy — it ends up in private real estate projects and financing armored cars for the powerful.”

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

Updated 08 August 2020

Philippines to charter flight to bring home citizens from Lebanon

  • Remains of four who died in Tuesday’s massive blast in Beirut also to be repatriated

MANILA: The Philippines will soon be sending a chartered flight to Lebanon to bring back Filipinos impacted by a massive explosion at the port of Beirut as early as next week, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Saturday.

“The DFA is paying P15,000,000 ($305,643) from its funds for a chartered Qatar Air flight to repatriate from Beirut. The Philippine Embassy in Beirut is negotiating it and disbursing the amount. Aug. 16 is [the date set for] arrival,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said, adding that the flight will also bring home the remains of four Filipinos who died in Tuesday’s blast.

Around 400 Filipinos from Lebanon are expected to return following the catastrophic explosion, which decimated the Lebanese capital.

On Friday, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Sarah Lou Arriola said that President Rodrigo Duterte was responding to the “clamor of Filipinos in Lebanon” and that the “chartered flight is the most concrete, immediate and timely assistance” that the DFA could provide given the current situation there.

Reports state that the deadly explosion was caused by a cargo of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at a warehouse in the port of Beirut for years. 

The odorless chemical is commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer but is also used to make powerful bombs.

“With ground operations clearing more area and embassy personnel receiving additional reports, the department is taking in new inputs with regard to the status of the Filipino community in the country,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Data released by the DFA placed the number of Filipinos impacted at 48, with 42 wounded, four dead, and two missing.

“By day’s end yesterday, the number of injured oversees Filipino workers stands at 42, an increase of 11 from the previous report,” Arriola said.

Two of the wounded remained in critical condition and were being monitored at the Rizk Hospital.

“We were also alerted that another Filipino was reported missing, increasing the number to two. The number of Filipino fatalities, meanwhile, remains at four,” she added.

The DFA said that, earlier, it had expected the number of affected Filipinos to increase considering the magnitude of the Beirut destruction.

Even before the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the DFA had begun its repatriation activities from Lebanon to limit the worsening condition of Filipinos in the country due to economic woes. It has repatriated at least 1,508 Filipinos from Lebanon since December 2019.