Effort to Help Afghanistan Collect Customs Revenue Found Lacking

Armored vehicles patrol a customs check point in Khowst province in 2009. Armored vehicles patrol a customs check point in Khowst province in 2009. Dima Gavrysh/AP file photo

The ongoing U.S. effort to leave war-torn Afghanistan self-sufficient depends in part on the Kabul government’s ability to collect customs revenue, a dual federal agency project that could benefit from clear performance metrics, auditors found.

Contracts let by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection “have achieved some positive results” but rely on “questionable customs data,” according to a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. “The drawdown of coalition forces and systemic corruption will likely hinder development of customs revenue as a sustainable source of funds.”

Customs revenue collections accounted for $698 million to $1.1 billion annually for the Afghanistan government over the past three fiscal years, SIGAR reported. The Defense Department has projected that revenue will rise “if border management improves and the various Afghan government entities responsible for implementing reforms to customs legislation, regulation and procedures improve their organizational operations and reduce corruption.”

Since 2009, USAID and CBP have spent $198 million, including an $83.8 million contract with Chemonics Inc. to administer a trade facilitation regime for Afghanistan, which includes developing and reforming laws, policies and customs processes around the county, SIGAR noted.

After reviewing the contracts and other documents and visiting key sites, auditors recommended that the CBP attaché in Afghanistan develop clear performance metrics and submit them to Defense central command for incorporation into future contracts and task orders. It also recommended that USAID reduce inconsistencies in customs data and count anti-corruption measures and their impact as performance metrics.

CPB agreed with the recommendation, and USAID partially agreed, commenting that “while USAID has considered SIGAR's recommendation to include in the contract a performance requirement relating to statistical discrepancies, USAID finds it impossible to do so because the discrepancies in customs data are often driven by factors outside the control of the project.”

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