By Army Pfc. Andrya Hill
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 23, 2009 - Village elders here, in conjunction with the Paktia Provincial Reconstruction Team, held a bidders' conference at the governor's compound in Gardez this month to give local contractors a chance to compete for construction projects in the area. In the past, the PRT has selected contractors from a pool of bidders based on pricing and reliability. But Afghan elders expressed their concern that several contractors have not met expectations on various projects, which has initiated a change, Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Moy, PRT commander, said.
"Through this process, we are getting two things done at once," he said. "We are completing the project, which is how people see it is getting better, because they see that the government is capable of getting things done here. We are also enabling the Afghanistan government to build its necessary organization infrastructure, coordination and capacity to do these projects.
"It takes a lot of planning, discussion and meetings for the government to put one of these projects together," he added.
The PRT is revamping the selection process by assisting the government in gathering contractors to convene with the elders and submit their bids. The director of economy and provincial governor will put together a committee of elders, who will now be responsible for the selection of the contractors, as well as sharing in the oversight of their work, said Air Force Maj. Kimberly Riggs, the PRT engineer officer.
"The whole effort is to put the project in the Afghans' hands," she explained. "We are going to let them actually control what is going on, allow them to take ownership of the project, and some responsibility, so that they have more say."
PRT officials mediated the conference and assisted the elders in their consideration of the contractors' concerns, after which they reached an agreement to inspect the sites frequently, Moy said.
While mixed feelings were evident, Riggs said, the majority of those in attendance responded positively to the changes.
"Some of them are very excited and very glad to be involved in the process," she said. "We have had a few that don't want to take responsibility and would rather us just choose it, but for the most part, they do like to be involved."
The conference also illustrated the effort that the PRT has been applying to these contracts over the past several years.
"One of them said today that in the past they always thought the PRT would just blindly choose the contractor," Riggs said. "But now they see that we actually look at the proposals, and that we are making an effort to include them."
In addition to enabling the government and elders to coordinate the projects, the new bidders system is providing another route for Afghanistan independence.
"Through this process, they are developing all kinds of new skills and capabilities," Moy said, "which ultimately -- when they bear more of the responsibility and task organization -- allows us to step back."
(Army Pfc. Andrya Hill serves with the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)