Officials hijack cheap housing project.
Documents in Killid's possession, including a letter dated Feb 2, 2014, show 64 percent of the apartments in the 179-million USD Qasabah housing project -- also called Amarat Township to honour the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- has been shared among office and domestic staff of the president and two vice-presidents. The remaining has gone to other government offices including personnel of deputy ministers and heads of departments. Officials who are lower in the pecking order have proportionately got less.
Work on the model project to promote the housing sector in Afghanistan is only two-thirds done. The township of 111 blocks and 3,330 apartments, spread over 269 jeribs of land (54 hectares), was inaugurated in May last year by President Hamid Karzai.
Engineer Aminullah Amin, a director in the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) which is in overall charge, said the project which includes public facilities like mosques, roads, and water connections would be completed in 2016, and apartments handed over to the allottees.
"All services including roads, water supply, green areas, school, higher education institutes, health clinics and other social services are part of the plan," says Amin. "When completed the township will be a model development within Kabul City," he adds.
The contractors to the project are Trojan General Contracting, a consortium of some 34 Afghan construction companies. According to the MoUD, some 4,000 Afghan workers are employed on the project.
The apartments are being sold at 450 USD per square metre. Allottees have to pay 10 percent of the cost in advance, and the rest within 20 years of the allotment. The MoUD intends to use the money from the sale of flats to finance the second phase of the project -- a similar housing development in Bagrami district "to solve the housing problem of the poor".
On inaugurating the project Karzai had said, " This project will help those who cannot buy high-priced houses become home owners themselves ..." However, Amarat Township has been hijacked as staff housing by the offices of the president and vice-presidents, and others in the government - 2,137 of the 3,300 apartments have been distributed to officers in the president's office, and the first and second vice-presidents. Killid has a copy of letter number 79, dated Feb 2, 2014, from the Ministry of Economy to the president's office which lists the allotments made to individual government offices. The allotments were made by a commission constituted by the ministries of finance, justice, urban development and headed by the Ministry of Economy.
The allotments were approved through decree number 7430, dated Feb 10, 2014, of the former president. It states, "The view of the commission regarding distribution of living apartments being constructed by United Arab Emirates, the shares of government departments attached with the table and request of proposal is approved."
List of allottees:
Some departments feel they have been short-changed by the commission. Mohammad Kabir Haqmal, the head of the Publication Department in the Ministry of Education complains, "For a ministry that comprises 67 percent of all civil service staff allocating 40 apartments and then decreasing it to 38 is without doubt a small and insufficient share."
Farzana Habibi, the head of Policy Planning and Foreign Relations in the Science Academy is unhappy with their eight allotments, and has complained to the MoUD. "It is really ill-treatment," she says.
Killid's findings reveal the process of allotting apartments has been arbitrary. For instance the Ministry of Education with 37,025 staff got 40 apartments (it was reduced to 38 on Karzai's intervention on behalf of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled), while the president's office -- which includes the secretariat and state administration office -- with 2,166 employees got 1,737 apartments.
Mir Mohammad Anwar Sadat, a commission member, told Killid the process was unjust. Sadat who represented the justice ministry says he was not present at the meeting when the allotments were decided. "One day I was contacted and told that the allocations have been made and the documents would be sent to me for signing," he says. "When I saw the list I knew justice was not done." While he has signed the documents, he claims he did it under duress from "high-ranking authorities".
Killid tried to get the views of Minister of Economy Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal but our request went unanswered.
Members of the National Assembly have also expressed dissatisfaction. Shukria Paikan, Member of Parliament from Kunduz, wonders why staff in the president's office were favoured. "Such selections must be fair," she says. "In fact those who don't have housing should be considered first."
Killid has found high-ranking officials have allotted the apartments to themselves. For example all the eight allotments in the Science Academy have gone to heads of departments. The Ministry of Counter Narcotics has similarly allotted all four apartments to heads of departments. When asked why lower level officials were not considered, Deputy Minister Mohammad Ibrahim explained it was because they "would not be able to pay the installments".
The authorities in Physical Education Department claim their allottees, which included top athletes and department staff, were decided by a lottery. However, not a single athlete figures in the list which is with Killid.
The Ministry of Higher Education has distributed its 56 apartments among staff members and lecturers in four universities - Kabul University, Kabul Medical University, Education University and Kabul Polytechnic University.
Lack of transparency in the selection is the reason for many complaints of corruption. An applicant who did not want to be identified said he was asked for a bribe. "When I submitted my letter and filled out the form, one of the employees of the ministry told me to pay 1,500 USD for the so-called favour of considering my case as a deserving person."
Member of Parliament Shukria Paikan says apartments have not been distributed to deserving candidates. She told Killid the National Assembly has received many complaints.
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