$43M gas station?: Afghanistan Gas Station
Published: November 3, 2015
$43M gas station?: Afghanistan Gas Station, Nearly $43 million of U.S. taxpayers’ money was spent on building a gas station in Afghanistan – 140 times more than it should have cost, according to a government watchdog. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) also said that one of the most “troubling” issues is how the Department of Defense was unable or unwilling to explain why the “ill-conceived” project was so expensive.
“Even considering security costs associated with construction and operation in Afghanistan, this level of expenditure appears gratuitous and extreme,” SIGAR said in a report issued Monday.
The agency’s top official went further.
“It’s an outrageous waste of money that raises suspicions that there is something more there than just stupidity,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, told NBC News. “There may be fraud. There may be corruption. But I cannot currently find out more about this because of the lack of cooperation.”
Despite having vast natural gas reserves, Afghanistan is heavily reliant on importing petroleum products. The Downstream Gas Utilization project – overseen by the Task Force for Stability and Business Operations (TFBSO) – was aimed at changing that.
The mission involved building and operating Afghanistan’s first compressed natural gas filling station in the city of Sheberghan and helping develop the commercial market for domestic natural gas.
The problem was, according to SIGAR, is that there was “no indication” the Task Force studied the viability of the project – or considered the significant obstacles it faced – before construction began.
A feasibility study “might have noted” that Afghanistan lacks the distribution infrastructure to make such a market viable – and that converting cars from gasoline to CNG would be cost-prohibitive for most Afghans, SIGAR said.
“”They’re saying they can’t find anybody who knows anybody about this billion-dollar program?””
Despite all of that, a contract for just under $3 million was awarded to a company called Central Asian Engineering in 2011. According to SIGAR, an economic impact assessment found the task force spent well beyond that -$42,718,730 – between 2011 and 2014 to fund the station’s construction and supervise its initial operation.
A CNG filling station “would have cost no more than $500,000 in neighboring Pakistan,” the report noted, calculating the “exorbitant cost to U.S. taxpayers” at 140 times higher than it should have been.
Sopko told NBC News it appeared that “nobody was minding the store.”
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