America Paid Out the Nose for Crappy Afghan Industrial Sites
Contractors failed to follow the rules … again
by MATTHEW GAULT
It’s the little things that really grate. The United States’ reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have been a disaster in a lot of big ways. America blew $20 million to fix a Soviet era prison, squandered almost $8 billion fighting a war against opium it can’t hope to win and dropped half a billion bucks on planes it quickly turned around and scrapped for pennies on the dollar.
But those are big screw-ups that often overshadow the thousands of smaller waste, fraud and abuse cases littering Afghanistan’s landscape. The small problems don’t get as much press because the price tags aren’t as big, but they can be just as infuriating.
One such project is the Bagrami Industrial Park, where an American contractor half-assed its work, took the money and ran.
Now 10 years after its completion, and long after the United States paid the builder, the Bagrami Industrial Park and two similar sites — each a kind of communal workspace for light industry — still don’t have adequate water supply and sewage treatment.
They’re not fun places to work.
Back in 2004, the United States Agency for International Development awarded a $10-million contract to American builder Technologists, Inc. to erect three industrial parks. One in Gorimar in the north, another in Bagrami near Kabul and a third in Shorandam in the south. Costs ran over and USAID ultimately coughed up another $11.1 million to finish the parks.
Like so many other projects in Afghanistan, the industrial spaces were a great idea. The buildings would stimulate Afghanistan’s economy, drive business to the region and provide jobs for thousands of local workers.
But Technologists, Inc. cut corners on all three sites, undermining them so badly that, today, businesses and workers are leaving in droves.
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, inspected all three areas over the last few years and found each wanting in terms of basic necessities. The Gorimar park doesn’t have proper electricity or running water and similar problems plague the buildings in Shorandam.
The Bagrami industrial park does have electricity, but its water and sewage systems are awful. Worse, when SIGAR asked the USAID questions about the project, the agency couldn’t answer them because of poor record keeping.
“As a result of some missing documents, including the record of final payment,” SIGAR wrote in its July 2016 report on the park. “USAID could not tell us when the [Bagrami] park was completed or when the park was transferred to the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency.”
No one was paying much attention. Which is probably how the industrial parks ended up in such shitty condition in the first place.
According to the original contract for the Bagrami park, Technologists would build the site and provide the requisite water infrastructure so workers could, you know, use the bathroom and drink clean water. Instead, Technologists just laid down water pipes and built some fire hydrants.
That’s it. The firm never bothered to dig a reservoir, install water pumps or set up a water treatment facility, which were all stipulated in the contract.
The park’s workers and Afghan officials cut a deal to get water to the park. But according to SIGAR, “the factory’s water wells are located almost two miles from the industrial park. The water is pumped from a hillside tank through the local residential area and then to the industrial park.”
Not exactly convenient — and certainly not up to code.
Worse than the lack of clean water is all the shit. According to the contract, Technologists was to build a “sanitary collection and treatment sewer system to consist of pipes to collect the wastewater from each business site and transport it to a treatment pond and then to a separate holding pond.”
Instead the company just funneled waste from the buildings to a septic tank where it sat, untreated. Technologists ran the plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the agency approved the project. “However, the architect acknowledged that his office did not have a civil engineer available to review the project.”
Worse, “USAID contracting officials could not tell us why [Technologists, Inc.] did not build the required sanitary sewer collection and treatment system, or why a civil engineer was not consulted to review the final drawings or technical specifications.”
To combat the problem, local business leaders built gravity septic tanks to collect the sewage and industrial run off. But that was a temporary solution. “Over time, the ground stopped absorbing the polluted water. As a result, the park’s union officials had to hire a contractor to pump out the septic tanks and remove the polluted water from the park.”
Technologists also shortchanged the Bagrami park’s storm drains and water run-off pathways. Remember, these are industrial parks — and industrial parks produce toxins and pollutants. Normally, contractors construct storm drain systems to capture water run-off and funnel it into tunnels below ground.
“[Technologists’] storm drainage system design did not meet International Building Code minimum requirements to prevent storm water from flowing across property lines once the park had been developed,” SIGAR explained.
Thanks to Technologists’ half-assed work, water run-off from the Bagrami site is filtering down into local neighborhoods and a nearby stream. “There is a potential health risk to the park’s workers and patrons, as well as to the local residents in the surrounding neighborhood,” SIGAR wrote.
USAID told SIGAR it’d do everything it could to get a refund from the contractor, but it can’t … or won’t.
“USAID stated that at the end of the contract, it accepted Bagrami Industrial Park “as-is” with a functional water supply and sewer system,” the inspector explained. “Because it accepted the park, the agency asserts that it can no longer take action against [Technologists] to obtain a refund for the park’s water supply and sewer collection and treatment systems that the contractor was paid for, but never properly constructed.”
Another day, another busted, wasteful half-done reconstruction project in Afghanistan. The park employed more than 2,000 workers from 2011 to 2012.
As of June 2016, that number is down to around 500. You can’t blame people for not wanting to work in a place with open shit pits and toxic water streaming down the road.
Update, 8/10/2016 — Technologists, Inc. reached out to War Is Boring as we published this story and issued this statement.
“TI has reviewed the report, disagrees with the report, has responded to SIGAR on the report and — following review of some additional documentation — may be willing to supply further details.”
This story is developing. War Is Boring will follow up as soon as we know more.