NEW DELHI: The UN Development Programme announced that the UN has reached an agreement with Afghanistan to transfer to Kabul's control a controversial multi-billion dollar fund intended to rebuild the police force and pay officers.

According to the deal, the transfer will take 18 months and is to be signed by both parties on Tuesday. The deal is a breakthrough as the two sides have thus far failed to reach an agreement on how fast control should pass over to Afghanistan. Late last year, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani demanded that control be handed over within six months, triggering a crisis that eventuated in the UNDP country director departing less than a year in the role.

Reuters reports that Law and Order Trust Fund of Afghanistan (LOTFA) has received about $3.6 billion (£2.29 billion) from international donors since 2002 to pay Afghan police force salaries and other expenses. “The new LOTFA project is the result of weeks of intense collaboration…. We appreciate the government’s decision to continue working with UNDP,” a spokesman for the agency said in a statement.

The importance of the deal is further underscored by the fact that revamping the Afghan police has been one of the most expensive and problem racked issues concerning western intervention in the country. The Afghan police have in fact been in the headlines in matters relating to corruption and wasteful spending of US and its allies’ aid to the conflict-torn country.

A recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released earlier this year concluded that Afghanistan is unable to adequately track personnel and pay within its police force despite more than 13 years and billions of dollars of outside assistance.

As a majority of foreign troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, the US will continue to spend $300 million annually on the Afghan National Police (ANP). Since the start of the Afghan war, the US has spent $3.6 billion dollars on police salaries and payroll costs, with US taxpayers paying $1.3 billion of that tally.

The problem, according to SIGAR, is that these payments have been made and are continuing to be made without any guarantees the money is going where it’s supposed to.

SIGAR says that the two main electronic systems used for payroll data are not fully functional and do not even communicate with each other. “There is no documentation that unit commanders are accurately reporting subordinate personnel attendance,” the SIGAR report says. “All these factors could result in personnel being paid for days not worked, either with or without the knowledge of supervisory personnel.”

The report then goes on to state that identification cards -- meant to be the bridge between the two system -- are incorrect or not being used on a daily basis to record officer attendance. Further, there are twice as many ANP ID cards in circulation as there are active police officers.

According to the report, nearly 20 percent of the ANP were at risk of not getting their full salaries because payments are made in cash, by agents appointed by the Afghan Interior Ministry. SIGAR says that there is limited oversight of these agents, and hence, the risk of corruption looms. According to the report, corruption by these agents “could take as much as 50 [percent] of a policeman’s salary.”

“Unless the MOI develops the capability to ensure and verify the accuracy of ANP personnel and payroll data, there is a significant risk that a large portion of the more than $300 million in annual U.S. government funding for ANP salaries will be wasted or abused,” SIGAR said.

SIGAR has previously highlighted the fact that aid being funneled to Afghanistan does not reach its intended targets. In a report last year on the challenges facing Afghanistan, corruption figured foremost on the list, with the report noting that initial U.S. strategy in Afghanistan fostered a political climate conducive to corruption. Massive military and aid spending overwhelmed the Afghan government’s ability to absorb it. This, coupled with weak oversight, created opportunities for corruption. The report placed onus of the blame on lack of political will on the part of both the international community and the Afghan government to combat corruption resulting in a culture of impunity.

Focusing on US strategy in a subsection of the report titled “too much money, too little oversight,” the report noted that “the deluge of military and aid money into Afghanistan” overwhelmed the Afghan government’s ability to absorb these funds. This, coupled with weak oversight by U.S. implementing agencies and other international donors, “created ample opportunities for corruption.”

The report noted that reconstruction assistance has dwarfed the size of the Afghan economy. For instance, according to the World Bank, Afghanistan total GDP in 2010 amounted to about $15.9 billion. That year, Congress appropriated President Obama’s’ request for more than $16 billion to build Afghanistan’s security forces, government and economy. This did not include the tens of billions of dollars spent that year on US military operations in Afghanistan. Since 2010, Congress has provided nearly $64 billion for reconstruction programmes.

The report highlighted the need to arrive at a clear, shared definition of corruption and a full appreciation of how Afghans perceive corruption. It further noted that neither the international community nor the Afghan government have been fully committed to combatting corruption and called for the need to develop a comprehensive anti corruption strategy.