By Traci Scott
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 19, 2009 - The inspector general who tracks Afghanistan reconstruction has sent out a call for help in stamping out fraud, mismanagement and waste of U.S. appropriated reconstruction funds. Arnold Fields, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said that without help from people involved in the process, millions of taxpayer dollars could be wasted.
"Weak oversight means we are open to wasting valuable taxpayer dollars, as has reportedly happened in Iraq." Fields said. "We need the help of those on the front lines of U.S. funded reconstruction projects, including U.S. government employees, military servicemembers, contractors and the general public. If they see something they believe is suspicious or illegal, we are asking them to tell us so we can look into it."
Fields made the comments as part of an awareness campaign to inform military members and civilians serving in Afghanistan about how they can report suspicious or illegal reconstruction activity.
"Transparency and accountability are key to ensure that taxpayer funds are being spent as they were intended, and projects are being built for the benefit of the Afghan people," Fields said.
The Hotline Awareness Campaign is an effort to inform the public about how to report fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement or reprisal involving U.S. funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. TV and radio public service announcements will air on the Armed Forces Network, Afghan radio and international radio networks. In addition, posters are being placed on bases and near reconstruction work sites in Afghanistan, as well as in Afghan government ministries. Reports of suspected illegal activity can be made by phone, e-mail, fax, or through the special inspector general's Web site.
In an effort to help Afghans report suspicious activity, Fields said, the call-in line in Afghanistan has operators who speak Dari and Pashtu, two widely spoken languages in Afghanistan. "The hotline also empowers Afghans to be a part of the fight against corruption," Fields said. For returning servicemembers and civilians, Fields invited calls to the U.S. hotline number.
Fields also pointed out that all callers can remain anonymous when reporting suspicious activities. "No one should feel intimidated when making a report if wrongdoing is observed," he said. "We handle each complaint with the utmost discretion, including maintaining anonymity if requested by the person reporting."
Fields said management weaknesses were found in the first audit his agency conducted. "We had a situation where the contract manager for a $404 million project was in Maryland, while the contract was being executed nine time zones away in Afghanistan," he said. "That is unacceptable."
Here are the ways to report suspicious or illegal activity:
By phone: +93(0)700-10-7300 (Afghanistan); +1-866-329-8893 (International); 318-237-2575 (Defense Switched Network); 312-664-0378 (DSN International); +1-703-604-0983 (AAX); firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail); and http://www.sigar.mil/fraud (Web form).
(Traci Scott is public affairs director for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.)