The Gardez-Khost phenomenon

We need to begin the work of incorporating economic micro-platforms into all large aid packages as a means to minimise corruption

The Gardez-Khost phenomenon

It is time to play a game of ‘Corruption Trivia’. The category is ‘USAID’.

Question: What is the name of a road in Afghanistan with a $ 176 million dollar price tag?

Answer: It is the Gardez-Khost Highway.

Let’s take a quick look back at the history of this debacle. USAID awarded the contract for the project to the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch. The aforementioned corporations established subcontracts with corporations in South Africa and India. This led to subcontracts with additional groups.

Unfortunately, fraud is the work of human flesh. Thus, the story of Gardez-Khost devolves down to even the one lone wolf. An unsavoury yet enterprising fellow in Afghanistan ran a complex protection racket. He staged attacks on the ground so that he could be paid to avert attacks. Naturally, by the time all of the leprechauns had fingered the gold in the USAID pot, the result was one helluva expensive project.

Corruption. It is what happens when billions of dollars in USAID flow freely across the world. It is what happens with most aid packages after they are bundled and released to awaiting cadres of nicely dressed thieves. Big pots of money allow for grand schemes. The root motivation for global-scale thievery is wealth acquisition without breaking much of a sweat. The plan appears to be working well and it will continue to work until it is no longer acceptable.

After examining wartime contracts flowing to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimated that seven percent of all revenue has been lost to fraud. Considering that costs have run into the tens of billions of dollars, this sleight-of-hand is committed by polished and dedicated professionals.

The word ‘sustainability’ is the latest Davos’ darling. The World Economic Forum writes of sustainable competitiveness in one of their stand alone publications, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014”. We need business models based on sustainability. But then again, there is the Gardez-Khost phenomenon.

The very nature of sustainability projects requires a massive flow of resources for nascent projects to remain afloat. The latest conceptual coinage is good. But conceptual and theoretical integrity is still being targeted and remains susceptible to corporate greed. Conversely, we remain averse to imprisonment for men in suits who should be issued standard Guantanamo orange, a blanket and a bar of soap. We do not like to incarcerate men who sit in leather chairs behind their corporate desks. We prefer to incarcerate thieves who look like they just came off a three-day methamphetamine binge. The latter end up in the Crossbar Hotel for stealing a pair of socks at Wal-Mart. The corporate/military/state thief is untouchable.

Can we really afford to continue along this path? Can we justify the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many? Gone are the days when we should engage pitiful displays of deep-pocketed salvage operations for NGOs that have squandered money offered from a taxpayer base. Gone are the days when a lack of accountability and stewardship is rewarded with even greater opportunities for personal enrichment. The needs of the destitute can no longer be masked in a day of digital reporting. Those stripped of all but the clothes on their backs will no longer tolerate being stripped of their basic rights due to mismanagement of the very funds that are meant to better their lives. We like to imagine the ‘Arab Spring’ as a moment in time. But what we have observed since 2009 is not only a movement in the truest sense of the word; we have observed a paradigm shift in the thinking patterns of the disenfranchised. This paradigm shift is due to a 21st century access to 24/7 digital platforms. It does not matter whether the perceptions of the poor are right. The perceptions of the poor are all that matter to them. These perceptions become the combustible product of political instability.

The poor are rising up. They are not asking for fancy homes, vehicles, the latest fashions or things that the wealthier citizens of the world take for granted. They are asking for: clean water, adequate food supply, jobs, income to meet their basic needs, education for their children and access to clinic-based medical care. Instead, we give them a patch of road with a price tag of $ 176 million dollars. This is unforgiveable.

The Gardez-Khost phenomenon must be dealt with efficiently and quickly when it is found to be an integrated component of sustainability aid packages. Any aid programme that does not produce tangible solutions combined with measurable economic benchmarks must be placed in a queue for auto-destruction from a defunded status. Let the clowns go home.

Economic micro-platforms are needed as anti-corruption kits. Such initiatives are desperately needed across the world. We need to begin the work of incorporating economic micro-platforms into all large aid packages as a means to minimise corruption. Hand me one hundred million dollars. In a year, I will be unable to account for it. One hundred million dollars can look like shape-changing smart dust. But if you hand me one thousand dollars, if you demand an account of my stewardship one week later, I can do that. If I can do it, surely it is possible for those tasked with sustainability revenue to do the same. Micro-platforms can function as anti-corruption tools. Large-scale sustainability projects must be broken down into micro-platforms so that financial stewardship can be more easily tracked.

Those who live by the Gardez-Khost model of doing business would like to keep their motto. It is undoubtedly ‘Good time had by all’. We can no longer afford the model or the motto. And we cannot allow the world to be run by sophisticated thieves. Economic warlords, who retain titles of state or any manner of rank, must be cut off from what they harvest off the backs of the poor. Men who squander aid packages should find themselves in jail.


The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at