COVID-19 budget spending: where does the money go?

With the spread of coronavirus, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) declared some amendments in the country’s national budget plan. The government has allocated an overall six billion and 727 million afghanis for the fight against the spread of coronavirus in Afghanistan, according to the MoF.

Based on the accounts of the ministry, the budget has been allocated for providing financial and supportive packages for emergency committees in provinces, purchasing wheat, building hospitals, public awareness, and for procurement of required equipment in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). It further notes that every province has been given a certain amount of the budget based on their respective needs and vulnerability against the spread of coronavirus.

A case study of budget allocations by Kabul Now, however, suggests that the budget has not been appropriated based on needs of the provinces and their vulnerability level. Contradictory to the government’s claim, a province which is highly exposed to the threat of coronavirus contagion is allocated 20 million Afghanis while another province which reported just two cases of the COVID-19 disease has been allocated 150 million afghanis.

MPs, observatory bodies, and those who are closely following the situation are accusing the government officials of attempting to “loot” the national budget, arguing that the provincial budgets have not been deducted based on needs of the provinces but through favoritism, partisanship, and connections.

MoF financial report about 6.727 billion afghanis

A financial report issued by the finance ministry suggests that a budget of 6 billion and 727 million afghanis has been allocated for different institutions to combat the spread of coronavirus and its economic impact.

According to the report, 2,320,000,000 afghanis has been allocated to cover the needs of provincial committees for fighting COVID-19. The amount is set to be transferred by the country’s Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) to all 34 provinces.

Sayed Shah Saqim, the IDLG spokesperson, told Kabul Now that the government has allocated budgets for each provinces based on their needs, demands, and their vulnerability against the pandemic disease. The official document which the IDLG provided, however, shows otherwise.

According to the document, the government has allocated 500 million for Kabul, 400 million for Herat, 150 million for Badakhshan, 400 million for Kandahar, Takhar, Kunduz, and Baghlan provinces (each 100 million Afghanis), 60 million for each of Paktia, Khost, and Ghazni provinces, and the provinces of Helmand, Nimroz, Nangarhar, Balkh, and Faryab provinces have been each allocated 50 million afghanis.

As the document shows, the government has appropriated each of Paktika, Logar, Zabul, Bamyan, Daikundi, and Urozgan provinces 30 million afghanis. Badghis, Farah, Ghor, Laghman, Kunar, Nuristan, Jowzjan, Sar-e-Pul, Samangan, Kapisa, Maidan Wardak, Parwan, and Panjshir provinces have been each allocated 20 million afghanis in the fight against COVID-19.

According to the MoF, the government has disbursed a total of one billion and 700 million Afghanis for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to purchase wheat. “The 1.7 billion afghanis allocated to the ministry of agriculture will be spent to purchase around 60-70 metric tons of wheat from India and Kazakhstan for strategic deposits,” said Akbar Rustami, spokesperson for the ministry of agriculture.

According to Rustami, the amount of wheat will not include an already commitment of India to donate 70,000 metrics tone of wheat to Afghanistan.

The MoF financial report also states that the government has disbursed 1.4 billion afghanis for the country’s National Development Company (NDC) aimed at building emergency hospitals in provinces. The NDC was established by President Ghani earlier in February 2020.

Talking to Kabul Now, the NDC spokesperson, Mustafa Nawid, said that around 640 million of the budget will be spent to construct 10 hospitals for COVID-19 patients in Herat, Farah, Nimroz, and Kabul provinces. According to him, each of five hospitals will have 100 beds while each of the remaining five hospital will have 50 beds.

Based on the details provided by the NDC officials, over half of the budget (760,541,265 afghanis) is allocated to development projects, inter alia, for building Machalgho dam, not for fighting the COVID-19.

The MoF report indicates that the government has allocated a total amount of one billion and 153 afghanis to cover needs of the ICUs operated by the MoPH.

The MoPH said that it has purchased medical equipment and machines from Germany worth 799,747,939 afghanis. The ministry noted that it has transferred a total amount of 237,344,976 afghanis to provinces based on their needs with Herat having received the highest amount (28,891,528 Afghanis) for its vulnerability against the pandemic.

According to Hafiz Saadat, director of finance department at the ministry, the amount transferred to provinces will be spent through Public Health Departments in the provinces, notifying that it was a separate amount than the provincial budgets allocated to each province through the IDLG to fight the COVID-19.

Based on the details provided by the MoPH, the ministry has allocated 439,067,113 afghanis for purchasing medicines and other hygiene materials for treatment and prevention of the virus infection from national suppliers. The disbursement, however, has yet to be made.

The MoF financial report underlines that the Administrative Office of President (AOP) has been allocated a total of 77 million afghanis for raising public awareness about the COVID-19.

Days before major cities were placed under lockdown, the government established a committee led by President Ghani’s adviser, Waheed Omer, to launch public awareness campaign about the COVID-19 pandemic disease. The committee’s budget was funded by the AOP.

On April 08, Omer issued financial statement which showed the details about the amount of money spent on public awareness campaign. According to the statement, the committee has spent a total of 28 million afghanis for the public awareness campaign. The spending, however, was followed by a huge public criticism.

The committee’s consumption of 700,000 afghanis for producing 20 advertisements – each one minute long – on preemptive measures to prevent infection by the coronavirus while it had already spent 506,850 afghanis on graphic designing, drawings, carton animations, and computers supply brought the government under spotlight. In other words, the committee has paid 35,000 afghanis for every one minute advertisement while it also paid expenses of primary equipment for the advertisements.

The committee has spent 700,150 afghanis for procurement of stationaries and sanitizers.

The AOP has yet to publish its report on spending the remaining 40 million afghanis which was disbursed to the authority to fight the pandemic disease.

Based on report of the MoF, the Afghan government has also donated 77 million afghanis to the SARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund.

Do authorities spend budget fairly?

Contrary to clarifications of the IDLG that the provincial budgets were allocated based on needs of the province, their demands, and vulnerability level, Kabul Now finding suggests otherwise.

According to the latest updates of the health ministry on coronavirus in Afghanistan, the western Farah and Nimroz provinces have each reported 12 and 52 cases of the COVID-19. Plus, the two provinces are highly exposed to the outbreak of the pandemic disease for their adjacency to Iran, the hardest hit country in the region. Thousands of people, likely to have infected by the virus, have crossed borders into Iran and back to the provinces since the beginning of the outbreak.

The government has appropriated 10 million afghanis for Farah province and 50 million afghanis for Nimroz through the IDLG. While, it has allocated 150 million afghanis for the north-eastern Badakhshan province which has so far reported just two cases of COVID-19.

Commenting about the clear unjust appropriation, Mohammad Hedayat, adviser to the Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, who is chairing the National Committee on Fighting COVID-19, says the allocation of budgets was finalized in a cabinet meeting while all governors were taken on board.

Meanwhile, Belqis Roshan, who represents Farah province in the parliament, accuses the Presidential Palace, MoPH and its departments of embezzling the money. “Those who are infected by coronavirus are not paid attention at all,” she claimed.

According to the MP, all hospitals in Farah districts are closed by the Taliban and that the province has not been allocated enough fund to fight against the spread of coronavirus.

Ahmad Saeedi, who closely monitors the fight against coronavirus, believes that government officials are “misusing the crisis.”