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MPs: Government`s National Dining Table plan will raise opportunities for fraud

Members of the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan’s house of representatives, on Monday raised concerns about President Ashraf Ghani’s food relief plan, titled “National Dining Table,” with some warning it will raise opportunities for fraud, while others called it “an excuse to waste money.”

They say that the budget for this program has not been shared with the parliament and that this money should not face the fate of the bread distribution and the COVID-19 aid in the country.

The “National Dining Table” program, costing $244 million and initiated by President Ghani, has provoked reactions from a number of lawmakers.

“This (program) set the stage for the embezzlement of money, like the money for bread distribution that was stolen or the money that was embezzled from the budget to fight the coronavirus,” said Nafisa, a parliament member.

A number of members of the Afghan house of representatives say there is widespread corruption in government institutions and that the money for this program will be wasted like previous aid programs.

“We do not know whether this money is spent in the budget or out of the budget, no information has been given to the parliament,” said said Mohammad Azim Mohseni, a member of the finance and budget commission of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament.

“There is a need to discuss this issue in the commissions if we do not go on vacation,” said Mir Rahman Rahmani, the speaker of Afghanistan’s lower house. 

On the other hand, a number of poor families in the capital say that they will once again be left without the help of the program.

“In the previous distribution program, instead of poor people, rich people benefited more the program rather than poor people,” said Mohammaduddin, a resident of Kabul.

But the office of the first vice president says there will be “no corruption” in the budget for the “National Dining Table” Program.

“We have the necessary measures to seriously monitor this program at the local level. The distribution and list-making… will be monitored to prevent corruption,” said Rezwan Murad, head of communications at the office of the first vice president.

Some economists also do not consider the “National Dining Table” program useful and say that the government should improve the market instead of helping the people.

The Afghan government on Saturday announced the launching of Dastarkhan-e-Milli program as part of its efforts to help households amid the COVID-19 pandemic who are facing economic hardship.

Speaking on the occasion, President Ashraf Ghani said that 90 percent of the population in the country is living below the poverty line and that the new package will cover 90 percent of households.

Based on the program, in the first stage, the government will allocate $86 million and then $158 million in the second phase to provide food to people across the country.

The first stage will cover over 1.7 million families in 13,000 villages in 34 provinces of the country.

In May, the government had announced a free bread distribution program to the needy people in Kabul and in the provinces.

The initiative was designed to provide aid through the city’s bakeries to those in need during the lockdown.

Later on, however, the needy families claimed that the program was compromised by corruption.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the bread distribution process in the first phase cost Afs2.8 billion (over $36 million) of which Afs1.15 billion (over $14.8 million) was spent in Kabul.