Ghazni, the designated 2013 Capital of Islamic Culture, waits for the sixth year for someone to locate missing funds allocated for construction of a university. Meanwhile, students study in disused office space
Classes continue but the university has no permanent premises. Here students sit exams in rented office space adjoining a noisy food market in Ghazni city. (Photos: Alizada)
Eight years ago, Ghazni reaped the rewards of being an opium-free province when the Counter Narcotics Ministry allocated a million dollars for construction of a university under a government incentive scheme to kill local drug trades.
Then, after almost a third of the 50 million afghanis was disbursed by the provincial government, construction work ground to a halt, the contractor vanished and students and teachers were left to hold classes in improvised premises around the city.
“The construction of three blocks of Ghazni University was contracted out by Assadullah Khalid, the former governor of Ghazni Province, in 2004 to a private construction company called Wahid Baktash,” Rahim Noorzai, the acting chancellor of Ghazni University, told Afghanistan Today. “Thirty percent of the construction work was completed, the rest was left unfinished and [the director of the construction company] fled.”
It’s a story that became commonplace around the country in the past decade: large sums of money disappearing, work being left incomplete, and apparent impunity for the culprits.
Ghazni University has just two faculties, teacher training and agriculture. More might have been created were it not for the construction fiasco. Work on the new buildings was finally abandoned six years ago and the trail of the 14 million afghanis that was given to the contractor went cold.
Hamidullah Nowroz, who until recently was chairman of Ghazni’s Province Council, confirmed the allegations against the Wahid Baktash Construction Company: “We informed the provincial prosecutor’s office of this case several times.”
All of which undermines efforts to brush up the city’s image before it acts as the 2013 Capital of Islamic Culture, as designated by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IESCO).
Nor do the prospects for swift justice look good. The company’s premises have been vacated, its phone numbers no longer work, and police say they would arrest the director but he has vanished.
Lessons go on
Meanwhile, tuition continues wherever the university can find even half-suitable premises. The university's around 900 students have already been moved on once, and now they hold classes in disused office space by a local vegetable market, where the state of repair and general hubbub are hardly condusive to academic excellence.
“Many students will as a result have no future.” Ghazni governor Akbarzada on the incomplete building work.
“We study in a facility which meets none of the standards of a classroom - there is too much noise here,” said student Mohammad Rezai, adding that low security was another very real threat..
“The university facilities are just not appropriate for education,” agreed 21-year-old Khatera Ahmady, demanding that the national government finally intervene and ensure the completion of the study blocks.
Official channels have been impotent
According to the acting chancellor, the university repeatedly informed the Ministry of Higher Education about the issue but to no avail. Ghazni Provincial Governor Musa Khan Akbarzada also says he petitioned the Attorney General’s Office without success.
“As the governor of Ghazni Province, I am concerned that the reconstruction work of Ghazni University has been left uncompleted,” Akbarzada told Afghanistan Today. “As a result, many students will have no future.”
The Wahid Baktash Construction Company left a trail of unfinished buildings behind it before closing down without trace, including schools and this shell of a block of the new university.
The university is not the only construction project the accused company abandoned. Officials of the provincial education department said construction of schools in several districts went the same way as the university project.
Hosni Mubarak Aziz, who was recently replaced as chairman of the education department of Ghazni Province, told Afghanistan Today before the end of his tenure: “In the past years, the construction of two schools in Jaghori District, three schools in Khwaja Omari District and one school in Malestan District were contracted out to the Wahid Baktash Construction Company. Work on these schools was left unfinished and pupils now study in old, crumbling classrooms.”
Since these projects were initially funded by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), the provincial authorities say they are unable to complete them using their own funds.
However, no one cares to explain why a company with such a dismal record would be repeatedly contracted to perform work. Mutual recriminations and finger pointing abound.
Describing the construction company as “lazy and treacherous,” Aziz alleged that the MRRD was an accomplice in this case.
Prosecutors, educators refuse to give up
Nonetheless, justice authorities say they have not given up on bringing the guilty parties to book.
Sayed Mohammad Amin, a member of the investigation division of the Ghazni provincial prosecutor’s office, confirmed that the vanished company and its director are being actively sought:
Ghazni University will still enroll 500 new students this year.
“We are doing everything we can to address this issue. An investigation is underway and law enforcers are searching for [him],” Amin said.
Nor does the university have any plans to scale down its plans and activities, despite the current situation. The remaining 36 million afghanis earmarked for construction are safely banked until the work can resume, said the acting chancellor.
And the university will carry on its work undeterred, Rahim Noorzai stresses.
“In the past, some students left the university due to not having appropriate educational facilities. We do not have enough space and the construction work of the facility has been left unfinished. But we are still going to enroll another 500 students this year.”