About four months ago, a company with just a skeleton crew and no proven background secured a lucrative $ 11 million contract in front of the president and other top government officials.
Exclusive findings by Salam Watandar indicate, the company was proposed by Homayoun Qayumi, the interim minister at the Ministry of Finance, to win the $ 11 million contract "contrary to the legal procurement process." At the time of the contract, the firm, Bustos, was not even licensed in the United States or Afghanistan.
Recently, the U.S, with reference to public agencies such as the National Procurement Authority, cancelled about $ 160 million aid to Afghanistan due to corruption in the government and faulty financial mismanagement here.
- The beginning of the saga
The story started when the government began collecting 10 percent tax on telecommunications in the first quarter of 2015. Responsible for implementing this program are the ministries of finance, communications and information technology as well as the Afghanistan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARTA).
Years went by, but it was unclear where would this 10% tax go until this company called Bustos came up with seven employees and literally hijacked the Realtime Project without any reconnaissance and due legal procedures. Just one day after the contract was awarded, Salam Watander received information indicating that the company lacked proper work experience. -
- A company that was not even licensed
As reactions towards this deal mounted, the telecommunications ministry announced that Bustos had signed a contract together with the telecommunications company Lettero, a US company with more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications sector. While there were no representatives from Letro present on the day of the contract signing, it was not mentioned at that time at all. The supposedly US-based Bustos Company should have submitted its registration documents to the Afghan government for earning the 'Realtime' contract, but evidence suggests that the company was only registered in the state of Nevada a day after the deal was signed.
License of the Bustos Company was registered in Nevada on 03.01.2019. One of the requirements for the Realtime contract was to provide details of the five-year corporate functions, but the firm Bustos, which emerged from the dark with this project, has no evidence of a five-year experience. Bustos came to the forefront as a company of only seven employees.
Recently, SW received evidence that Bustos was not even licensed during the procurement and contracting stages. The evidence shows that just 42 days after the contract and the uproar in the media, Bustos obtained its license from the General Directorate of Central Registration and Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Based on the evidence, this company did not operate prior to the license agreement, and it is not yet clear why the Ministry of Telecommunications, the procurement department and the Ministry of Finance awarded such a large contract to a non-operating company and based on what criteria.
Several other companies had announced their readiness to win the contract. Bustos has presented no documentation to solidify its legal standing in line with the rules.
- Who's in charge and who is lyinlyingg?
The procurement authority claims the Ministry of Telecommunications was in charge of awarding the contract to Bustos. Well-placed sources say the use of a single source and the transfer of the ‘Realtime’ contract to Bustos was one of the proposals made by the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology.
"The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology officials met with Bustos officials in the U.S. and concluded that the contract should be awarded to Bustos," said Ramin Ayaz, strategic communications officer for the National Procurement Authority. He said NPA is solely responsible only for evaluating contracting progress according to the procedure and rules. Shershah Nawabi, press adviser at the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology, said Letro is accountable to the new leadership at the ministry. He said nothing about Bustos and the $ 11 million contract.
But, this is strongly challenged by former officials of the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology. Sayer Zaland, a former spokesman for the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology, said in a telephone interview with SW that the Ministry had no proposals to award the contract. According to him, all procurement processes of projects in accordance with the procurement law are within the jurisdictions of the NPA, and the Ministry of Telecommunications has only assisted them in technical matters after the contract is concluded.
A letter sent to the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology by the NPA on October 25, 2018 states that according to a report by Homayoun Qayyum, the head of the Ministry of Finance, the procurement process of the Realtime system has come to a standstill and that by using a single source this project should be awarded to a U.S. firm. The letter reads: "According to the Minister of Finance, the procurement process of RTDMS has been stalled, so it is suggested that the procurement process be terminated and through a single source the project be awarded to a U.S. company." In addition, Homayoun Qayumi, the head of the Ministry of Finance, was not satisfied with this letter alone, and on December 8, 2018, he introduced Bustos to the NPA via an email.
Finance Ministry spokesman Shamrouz Khan Masjid, speaking to SW, said in response to a question about what the deadlock was, that the offer for contract was floated four times but no decent firm showed interest. He said this prompted Homayoun Qayumi and member of the NPA committee to propose use of the single source. He said no email has been sent in regard to proposing Bustos for the project.
Interestingly, some of this evidence suggests that huge salary ranging from $ 6,000 to $ 10,000 a month is reserved for the staff at Bustos in this contract. For instance, $ 7,470 to $ 9,960 for project manager, $ 7,470 to $ 9,960 for system designer and analyst, and $ 7,470 to $ 9,960 for cyber security expert. In addition, $ 6.225 to $ 9.130 for telecommunications expert, $ 6.225 to $ 9.130 for archiving expert and $ 6.225 to $ 9.130 for software engineer. Further evidence shows that when the Decree No. 2948, which increased the cost of the Realtime contract from $ 8 million more than $ 11 million, was issued Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive and Abdul Basir, the Minister of Justice were absent.
An official at Abdullah’s office said in this regard that in most of such cases, decisions have been made in absence of the CE. A credible source in Abdullah’s office told SW that Abdullah has been protesting against such moves since past four years. But Ramin Ayaz, head of strategic communications at the NPA, dismissed these allegations. He said before holding a meeting of the National Procurement Authority, all its members, including Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, are notified.
We wanted to have views of the presidential palace in connection with this controversial deal, but it declined to comment.