In this chapter, the committee considers some specific projects that
have attracted criticism including the AliceGhan resettlement facility, the
Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships program for Afghanistan and more
generally the whole-of-government arrangement for providing assistance to
As part of its resettlement program in Afghanistan, the Department of
Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) provided US$7.2 million to the UNDP for a
housing project named AliceGhan. The project commenced in September 2006
following the signing of a record of understanding between the governments of
the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Commonwealth of Australia.
AusAID provided $1.75 million to the project in 2006 but AliceGhan remained
under DIAC's management.
Located approximately 45–50 kms north of Kabul, AliceGhan was to provide
housing, public services and infrastructure for vulnerable returnee families.
Additionally, through 'a pilot approach', the project was intended to improve
the sustainability of the settlement and the lives of its residents. This
project was to place increased emphasis on community and economic development
through the provision of vocational training and employment opportunities.
DIAC informed the committee that the settlement's location was
determined in close consultation with, and on the recommendation of, the Afghan
The project, however, encountered several difficulties including setbacks in
the identification of an appropriate site, mine clearance and resolution of a
dispute over land ownership, which delayed the starting date.
The water supply in particular caused problems that required extended budget
and implementation planning and the re-design of the water supply system.
Following resolution of several key issues, the project got underway,
including construction activities, which commenced during mid-2008 allowing steady
progress to be made.
Towards the middle of 2009, however, the issue of land and water rights
re-surfaced with the Qarabagh Shura re-iterating and elaborating its demands
regarding the ownership of land, access to water and the selection of Qarabagh
residents as beneficiaries.
The Government of Afghanistan was to lead efforts to resolve the matters.
The construction of houses in AliceGhan was completed in December 2009
and the settlement handed over to the Afghan Government. DIAC explained that it
had agreed to fund further initiatives to enable the settlement to reach its
full potential, which included building boundary walls for each dwelling and
employment generation and vocational training projects. Despite the project
being officially completed, unfinished jobs, including the establishment of
sustainable water infrastructure, blocked the implementation of further
initiatives at AliceGhan.
A temporary arrangement was put in place consisting of bringing water in
by tankers, but as no permanent water supply solution had been found, people were
unwilling to settle there. Thus, while the full capacity of the AliceGhan
project had been planned for 1,525 families, the occupancy rate remained very
low at around 25 per cent of the total capacity.
DIAC explained that the Afghan Government was working with the local
Afghan authorities to resolve the land dispute. In February 2012, DIAC informed
the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee of the low
occupancy rates. The department indicated that it monitored developments with
the project and had CARE conduct an assessment—a gaps analysis—relating to what
was needed to rectify problems with AliceGhan. DIAC stated that it continued to
liaise with the Afghan Government to encourage it to try to resolve outstanding
matters, such as the land disputes and access to a sustainable water supply.
The department indicated that there were no on-going costs.
In December 2012, DIAC officers told the committee that the water supply
had still to be resolved before all residents could be accommodated and that work
continued on securing a water source with some progress being made towards that
According to Mr Leahy from CARE, the situation had reached something of an
interregnum and that obtaining a water supply and a number of other related
issues were out of the hands of the Australian Government, the UN and CARE and that
the relevant authorities in Afghanistan must tackle the problem.
DIAC recently informed the committee that its Principal Migration Officer in Kabul
had worked closely with the Afghan authorities and the UNDP towards achieving a
viable permanent water infrastructure solution. It noted that a potential well
site had been located near the settlement and the UNDP was undertaking water
potability and reliability testing to determine its viability.
One observer, Mr Nassim Majidi, suggested that the AliceGhan project
provided an example of ineffective planning on a land allocation scheme. In his
assessment, the project foundered mainly because of:
- distance: a poor location too far from work in Kabul;
- lack of opportunities: a proper feasibility study was not done in
- lack of basic infrastructure—inappropriate housing designs and a
failure to secure running water which naturally affects well-being, health and
learning potentials for children of school age.
When asked whether DIAC had undertaken an assessment of the circumstances
around the decision to build AliceGhan, DIAC officers informed the committee
that they were not sure whether an evaluation had been carried out.
Although funded partially by AusAID, when asked about the project, the agency
indicated the program was managed by DIAC and questions should be directed to that
It should also be noted that AusAID provided technical advice to DIAC on
'general developmental issues and considerations for implementing such a
project, including procurement and risk management issues related to
construction activities (eg governance arrangements and financial management
The UNDP produces a regular progress report but AusAID has not published any
review or report on its role in the project.
The committee understands that the location of AliceGhan was decided on
the advice and recommendation of the Afghan Government. Even so, it would
appear that Australian aid agencies, particularly DIAC as the lead agency, did
not seek any independent advice or carry out due diligence on the suitability
of the site and of land and water rights. Of greater concern, however, is the
subsequent failure by DIAC or other relevant agencies including DFAT and AusAID
to investigate formally the circumstances around the project's planning and
decision-making. The committee believes that Australian government agencies
missed an ideal opportunity to learn from and record the lessons to be learnt
from this project.
Tarin Kowt Waste Water Facility
The ADF initiated, designed, built and funded the Tarin Kowt Waste Water
Facility at a cost of approximately US$1.3 million.
The 2012 TLO report noted that the sewage treatment plant built on the
outskirts of Tarin Kowt provided an unfortunate example of where inadequate
consideration was given to management capacity and sustainability. It stated:
While the plant itself is described as 'beautifully
constructed', it is not operational because there are simply no adequately
trained local staff to ensure its operation.
AusAID informed the committee that the facility has been handed over to
the Tarin Kowt Municipal Government; that USAID had provided technical
assistance to the municipal government; and the facility was now treating waste
from the municipality.
Since 2011, AusAID has contributed $2 million to an USAID program that supports
activities in the Tarin Kowt municipality, which includes support for the Tarin
Kowt Waste Water Facility.
There appears to have been no evaluation of this project, especially around
sustainability—the important issues of the operation and maintenance of a
Visa applications for visiting
In December 2012, Professor Maley explained to the committee that, in
the previous March and with the support of both AusAID and DFAT, the Australian
National University (ANU) held a very successful workshop. Funded generously by
AusAID, the workshop focused on the challenges associated with holding the next
phase of elections in Afghanistan.
Professor Maley explained, however, that three of the four Afghan invitees, who
had been selected by the university in close cooperation with AusAID and DFAT,
did not receive visas from DIAC in time to attend the workshop.
One of the invitees—a visiting fellow at the Free University of Berlin—received
his visa the day after the workshop concluded. Another, a staff member of the
Asia Foundation responsible for coordinating election assistance, lodged an
application approximately six weeks before the workshop but did not receive a
visa. Professor Maley explained that when DIAC was asked about progress on this
visa application, the department requested the Asia Foundation to provide
information already contained in the original application. The Foundation was
left with the strong impression that the application had been lost. The chief
electoral officer for Afghanistan was the third person invited to attend the
conference and not to receive a visa in time to attend the workshop.
Given that the intention was to ensure that Australia could have access
to top Afghan specialists in areas relevant to the transition process, Professor
Maley could not fathom the reasons for the delay in granting the visas. To his
mind, however, the failure to do so suggested that there was a real problem.
Certainly, it seemed to Professor Maley that DIAC was 'running its own foreign
Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships
Professor Maley also raised concerns about processes relating to the
Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships program for Afghanistan. In his view,
the scholarships provide opportunities for the best and brightest of Afghan
society to study in Australia and were a way to build a solid platform for Afghanistan's
future. Based on his experience, however, deficiencies in administering the
program could potentially harm Australia's reputation and were 'unfortunate for
people in Afghanistan who in good faith have applied for scholarship support'.
According to Professor Maley, an applicant for the scholarship, Mr Niamatullah
Ibrahimi, is a remarkable man who holds a Bachelor of Science degree with
honours in international relations from the London School of Economics. He has
a contract from Hurst and Co. in London for the publication of his first book
on Afghanistan. Currently he is the chair and co-director of a non-governmental
organisation in Afghanistan called Afghanistan Watch.
Mr Ibrahimi applied for an Australian Leadership Award in March 2012,
which was accompanied by strong endorsements from his referees, Professor Maley
and Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC. Mr Evans has been Chancellor of the
Australian National University since January 2010 and is President Emeritus of
the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He was Australia's Minister for
Foreign Affairs between 1988 and 1996.
In his reference, Mr Evans wrote:
I am writing to commend the work of Mr Niamatullah Ibrahimi,
one of the brightest young Afghan analysts of his generation. Not only has
Mr Ibrahimi demonstrated outstanding research, analytical and writing
skills but for the last decade has proved an articulate and tireless advocate
on often forgotten issues of human rights despite challenging circumstances for
such work in Afghanistan.
Before Mr Ibrahimi applied for the scholarship to fund his further
studies, the ANU had already completed his admission to a doctor of philosophy
At that time, GRM International was the contractor and the development
assistance facility for Afghanistan responsible for the administration of
scholarship programs. Before the application was lodged, the company's
scholarship manager in Kabul informed Professor Maley that Mr Ibrahimi did not
need to have his degree from the London School of Economics certified by the
Ministry of Higher Education in Kabul. Professor Maley conveyed this advice to
Mr Ibrahimi and also informed the scholarship manager that he had done so. Subsequently,
however, the GRM office informed Mr Ibrahimi that he had not been shortlisted
for interview because his degree certificate had not been verified by the Afghan
higher education ministry. Professor Maley spoke to the scholarship manager who
confirmed that Professor Maley had discussed the matter of the certification
requirement with him.
GRM International also informed Mr Ibrahimi that he did not have
sufficient leadership potential. But, according to Professor Maley, the
scholarship manager informed him that he [the manager] had made a mistake in
his advice to Mr Ibrahimi, which was that there had been four applicants with
similar names and the wrong feedback had been given to one of them. Mr Ibrahimi
was then interviewed.
By November 2012, however, AusAID had temporarily suspended the process
of awarding scholarships to allow time for the completion of a review of the
program. Professor Maley sought clarification about the suspension from AusAID
and received an email from the director of the Afghanistan section which stated
that the process had concluded and that no Afghan fellows were selected for the
intake. It went on:
I can also advise that Afghan candidates were notified of
their unsuccessful applications in September by GRM (then managers of our
Development Assistance Facility for Afghanistan).
Mr Ibrahimi had received no such communication.
On 23 November, AusAID wrote to Professor Maley in an email explaining
that its managing contractor had confirmed the names of those who were advised
by letter in September that their applications had been unsuccessful. The
e-mail stated further:
Although Mr Ibrahimi should have been advised, he was not. We
will rectify this ourselves immediately by contacting Mr Ibrahimi directly to
explain the situation.
At the time of the committee's public hearings on 4 December 2012, Mr Ibrahimi
had still not been informed.
Highly dissatisfied with the way in which Mr Ibrahimi's application was
processed, Professor Maley was left with a number of outstanding questions and
has serious doubts about the administration of this program in Afghanistan. He
There are of course 18 aid based AusAID staff in Afghanistan,
and I would say a train wreck was beginning to take shape in July. I am
wondering what kind of oversight responsibilities the aid based AusAID staff
have in Afghanistan for these kinds of programs or whether it is a kind of
fire-and-forget approach to what is being done by contractors.
To Professor Maley's mind, a situation had developed in which:
...a significant amount of money will have been spent in
Afghanistan in 2012 in a process that ultimately resulted in no students being
awarded scholarships because the process of administration was suspended, as is
identified on the AusAID website.
He queried the advisability of suspending scholarship processes in the
middle of a scholarship round rather than between rounds. In his opinion:
It is poor public diplomacy to invite people to spend their
time filing applications, only then to leave them with the impression that
those applications have not been taken seriously.
Wary of multiple contracting because of the inherent risks, Professor
Maley sought to understand why AusAID was not directly administering the
scholarship recruitment rather than a Brisbane-based company.
He did note, however, that Australia had been, in his judgement, a less
obsessive user of multiple subcontractors than, for example, the United States.
The handling of the Development Assistance Facility for Afghanistan, however,
has made him question AusAID's use of contractors.
In January 2013, Professor Maley provided the committee with an update
on Mr Ibrahimi's application. He referred to the e-mail of 23 November 2012 in
which AusAID had informed him that the process for the current intake had
concluded; that Mr Ibrahimi should have been advised of his unsuccessful
application and would be notified. But Mr Ibrahimi was not advised until 21 December
2012 when he received the following email from AusAID:
I am contacting you to inform you that on this occasion your
application for an Australian Leadership Award was unsuccessful. As you know,
the selection process is very competitive, with a high number of applications.
AusAID are contacting you directly because a review of the
records indicated that you had not been previously contacted with this advice.
This was an oversight, and we would like to offer our apologies.
To Professor Maley's mind, one reading of this email would appear to
suggest that Mr Ibrahimi’s application was properly assessed but found to be uncompetitive.
Professor Maley held strong doubts that this could be the case, surmising
instead that Mr Ibrahimi was 'simply caught up in a blanket suspension of the
Afghanistan program'. He stated further:
If, however, the application was individually assessed but
viewed as uncompetitive, then I would have the gravest doubts about the quality
of AusAID’s assessment process.
Professor Maley informed the committee that on 18 December 2012, Mr
Ibrahimi was advised that he had been selected to receive a 2013 Endeavour
Postgraduate Award (PhD) to undertake doctoral studies in Australia. The
Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education administers
this program, which it describes as ‘the Australian Government’s
internationally competitive, merit-based scholarship program providing
opportunities for citizens of the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Europe and the
Americas to undertake study, research and professional development in
Australia’. Mr Ibrahimi was the only applicant from Afghanistan to receive a
2013 Endeavour Postgraduate Award.
In Professor Maley's view, Mr Ibrahimi’s ability to secure an even more
exclusive Endeavour Scholarship provided clear proof of the man's outstanding
capabilities as attested by his referees and noted above.
Dr Bizhan also referred to the poor management of the Australian scholarships
through GRM International in 2012. In his opinion, the shortcoming in this
program indicated 'a poor state of coordination among potential scholarship
awardees, the Australian government, and the company'. He concluded that while
coordination between the Afghan and Australian governments was sound, this was
not so among the Australian government and Australian companies inside
Allegations of fraud
Surprisingly, AusAID informed the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and
Trade Legislation Committee on 14 February 2013 that it was 'certainly
aware of allegations of fraud in the program.' The Director General AusAID, Mr Peter
Baxter, told the committee during a public hearing that the Australia Awards
program in Afghanistan had been suspended in August 2012 because of allegations
of corruption in the administration of the program. It should be noted that Mr
Baxter did not volunteer this information but provided it in response to a direct
question about whether the scholarships were being on-sold for profit.
Mr Baxter informed the committee that the suspension was in accordance
with AusAID's zero tolerance policy towards fraud and that it had commissioned
an independent investigation into the allegations. He stated that in December 2012,
he raised the matter directly with the Afghan minister for education in Kabul
and while that investigation was underway AusAID would not be awarding any new
long-term Australian Leadership Awards scholarships to Afghanistan.
The investigation is being undertaken by an independent audit company,
Protiviti. As part of its contractual obligations, GRM International, who was
responsible for the program at the time of the alleged fraud, is contracting,
at AusAID's instruction, the independent investigator.
The investigation is expected to be completed in the middle of 2013, when
AusAID will consider whether to recommence the program.
The committee is at a loss to understand why an explanation for
suspending the program was not provided to the committee in December 2012 soon
after Professor Maley aired his concerns publicly about the program. Moreover,
AusAID did not mention any fraud related matters for suspending the program in
answer to a follow-up written question on notice from the committee about
Professor Maley's concern.
The committee understands that an independent investigation into the
allegations of fraud in the program is necessary, though it is not convinced
that the company responsible for administering it should be the one to
commission the audit. The committee believes further that AusAID needs to
investigate its own conduct with respect to not only the circumstances that led
to the program's suspension, but to AusAID's oversight of the program and the
poor handling of Mr Ibrahimi's application. It should not be overlooked that he
received incorrect advice; was given misleading information (including a
suggestion that he was uncompetitive); and overall subjected to a process that
was highly unprofessional.
In light of the evidence pointing to serious deficiencies in the
administration of the Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships, the committee
makes a number of recommendations.
The committee recommends that AusAID conduct its own internal
investigation into, and report on, the circumstances around the administration
of the Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships for Afghanistan. The
investigation to include, but not limited to, AusAID's due diligence; the
adequacy of its oversight of the program; its promptness in responding to
indications that something may have been amiss, and the reasons for its failure
to inform the committee of allegations of fraud when the
matter was discussed in December 2012.
The committee recommends further that, using Mr Niamatullah Ibrahimi's
experiences as a case study, this investigation also look closely at the
processes for communicating with applicants, including the accuracy and
timeliness of advice; the transparency of the application and selection process;
and the overall level of competence evident in the administration of this program.
The committee recommends that AusAID provide the committee
with a copy of the report.
The committee also recommends that AusAID provide the committee with a
copy of the report from Protiviti, an independent audit company, following its
investigation into the Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships for
Some reports and evidence criticise more general aspects of Australia's ODA
to Afghanistan. For example, the 2012 TLO study noted that in comparison to the
Dutch, AusAID was seen as having, 'a complicated and long process to decide on
the funding of a project'. In its view, the quick response and action needed
for some important small-scale projects was 'now missing in Uruzgan.'
The committee has also mentioned non-specific observations to do with the
sustainability of facilities built with Australian funds, schools without
teachers, and health clinics not being fully used. The committee cannot,
however, identify specific instances to verify these observations, though it
notes that analysis, evaluation and reporting on Australia's ODA program to
Afghanistan is weak. This matter is discussed in the final chapter.
From the particular cases discussed in this chapter, the committee suggests
that there appears to be scope for better coordination between government
agencies. In this regard, it should be noted that Mr John Eyers, who has
undertaken a survey of evaluations of Australian aid to fragile and
conflict-affected states, found that the effectiveness of Australia's
whole-of-government overseas aid is a surprising gap in recent such
evaluations. He observed that the whole-of-government approach had received 'little
direct attention, and less as the years have passed'.
As noted previously, the analysis and assessment of Australia's
development assistance to Afghanistan is dealt with in the final chapter.
From 2000 to June 2012, Australia's ODA to Afghanistan accounted for
over $710 million. While the committee has drawn attention to areas where Australian
aid could have been more effective, the achievements cannot be denied. Many
recent studies on Afghanistan preface their work with observations on the
progress that Afghanistan has made.
As noted in previous chapters, there have been substantial and 'in some cases,
remarkable gains in the country's key development indicators'.
Many evaluations of the country's progress refer to the strides made to advance
the health and well-being of the Afghan people, the improvements in
infrastructure development and access to water and energy.
Many witnesses similarly acknowledge the improvements in living standards such
as increased school enrolments and better access to health services.
Caritas observed that the education sector had experienced a number of
achievements ‘unprecedented in the history of the country’, particularly in
terms of enrolments:
Today more than 7.3 million children attend primary school
compared to 1 million in 2001; 38% or 2.7 million are girls.
Indeed, since 2001 Afghanistan has established democratic institutions
and ministries, made significant improvements in health care and immunization,
reduced maternal mortality, infant mortality and under 5 mortality rates,
expanded primary education considerably including for girls, embarked on the
construction of roads, transport and communication infrastructure, boosted
economic growth, and strengthened its law enforcement and state security
Australia can take credit for being part of the community of donors that
have over the past decade or so assisted Afghanistan to rebuild its country and
rehabilitate its people.
Despite the positive development gains in Afghanistan, most concede that
the people of Afghanistan were still struggling to emerge from decades of
conflict and political instability and to meet basic survival needs—food,
shelter, education and health. The committee has discussed the main obstacles
confronting the Government of Afghanistan and the donor community to rebuild
the country—the sheer magnitude of the task, endemic corruption, severe
capacity constraint and the ability of the country to absorb the aid
effectively, the number of donors and insecurity. The country's security, political
stability and government revenue are major problems looming as Afghanistan
transitions to a country taking full responsibility for managing its own
In the final part of this report, the committee considers Australia's
aid effectiveness as Afghanistan moves toward the decade of transformation.
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