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Afghan Prison Funded by U.S. Needs Extensive Repairs

A prison in north-central Afghanistan funded by the U.S. State Department requires extensive repairs to correct construction deficiencies, including weak walls and the lack of storm-water drainage, according to an audit.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said inadequately compacted soil at the Baghlan Prison resulted in “serious structural damage, including wide cracks to three buildings” after the facility was turned over to Afghan authorities in November 2012. One structure has been demolished and two have collapsing walls and cracked structural beams, the audit found.

The report released today provides a microcosm of challenges the Afghan government faces in establishing the rule of law, as well as security, as it faces the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2016, as President Barack Obama announced last week. There are 32,300 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, to be reduced to 9,800 next year.

The State Department and the contractor dispute who is at fault for the prison’s deficiencies, according to the audit.

The audit blames a “lack of oversight” of the $11.3 million contract by the department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement for some of the issues. Bureau personnel “initially missed” a “significant design and construction error” -- not requiring the prison walls to be built with steel-reinforced masonry walls between concrete columns, John Sopko, the special inspector, said in the report.

“Despite extensive structural damage,” the prison is overcrowded, housing 777 inmates in a facility designed for 495, according to the report.

Contractor’s Work

Sopko wrote that, “to its credit,” the State Department bureau has taken many steps to resolve deficiencies and is working with the Afghan government to develop a “nationwide operations and maintenance system for its prisons.”

Aside from questions about the quality of work performed at the prison by Omran Holding Group, a Kabul-based contractor, “many of the construction deficiencies may be the result of fraudulent actions by the project’s original contracting officer’s representative” who worked at the U.S. embassy and “possibly” Omran Holding Group personnel, according to the audit.

Sopko wrote that his office has opened a preliminary inquiry to determine whether company and State Department officials “may have been complicit.”

Gerry Castelli, Omran’s executive vice president, said in a rebuttal that his company “was never given the opportunity to provide input or information” to Sopko’s office during its review.

Prisoners’ Damage

The company “would welcome an investigation into the alleged possibility of fraudulent activities and would participate openly and fully in such an investigation,” he said.

The company “never intentionally” provided “substandard construction or inferior products and materials,” he wrote.

In the company’s view “the main cause” of the buildings settling is “damage caused by the prisoners in attempting to solve the plumbing problems on their own,” Castelli said.

Omran is the State Department’s fifth-largest contractor in Afghanistan, according to data cited by Sopko’s office.

The State Department, in its written responses in the report, didn’t respond to Sopko’s allegation of potential fraud involving department personnel.

“This combination of deficiencies in construction and possibly fraudulent activity lead to uncompleted work, overcharges and part of the prison being unusable,” Sopko wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net Larry Liebert, Michael Shepard

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