The Cable

Afghan Watchdog Finds That If You Build It, They Won’t Necessarily Come

A 37-acre industrial park in Kandahar built with $7.8 million in USAID funds has sat mostly empty since construction finished more than four years ago, says a new report.

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This post has been updated.

In the latest example of U.S. taxpayer money going to waste in Afghanistan, a 37-acre industrial park in Kandahar built with $7.8 million in USAID funds has sat mostly empty since construction finished more than four years ago, says a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The watchdog announced Wednesday that at the time of its inspection last year, the Shorandam Industrial Park, built to host 48 businesses, so far had managed to attract only one – an ice cream packing plant. Other business seemed to have been scared off by U.S. military security checkpoints set up to guard a power plant in the park, the report said.

Officials saw the power plant as necessary to temporarily provide electricity to Kandahar City, but the Afghan Industrial Parks Development director told the inspectors that the checkpoints dampened business interest in the site that was supposed to have helped spur economic growth. Afghan authorities later told SIGAR that since its inspection, other businesses had started moving in after the U.S. military withdrew from the location in mid-2014. Still, as of February 2015 only four companies were open for business there.

Beyond noting that the site was mostly empty, inspectors weren’t able to assess several other potential issues with the park due to a lack of electricity. “As a result, we could not test whether the park’s internal electrical distribution and water systems were operable and safe, or whether those crucial systems, as well as roads, flood channels and other construction, met contract requirements,” the report found. Additionally, USAID officials couldn’t find necessary documents with its contractors for the inspectors to view during their visit.

While an Afghanistan Industry Association official told inspectors that the power outage was a “temporary issue due to maintenance being performed on the USAID-funded generators,” the report said, USAID officials “could not explain their inability to locate the documents.”

Shorandam is among three Afghan industrial parks built under a 2004 USAID contract worth more than $20 million, and it’s not the only one sitting mostly empty. SIGAR reported in January that the $7.7 million Gorimar Industrial Park in northern Balkh province also appeared to be vastly underused, but there, too, missing contract documents prevented a complete inspection. The watchdog will issue its report on the third park, Bagrami, later this year.

USAID spokesperson Ben Edwards told Foreign Policy that “both Gorimar and Shorandam are fully operational facilities. Existing and future business tenants have access to electricity, water, roads and clear title to land in both parks.”

He confirmed that security for the generators at Shorandam “likely deterred interested businesses from moving in” but said that “since the military withdrew from the park in 2014, 13 businesses have committed to moving in to the park, 4 businesses have already established operations, and several more have expressed an interest in moving in.”

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. @jkdrennan

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