Kabul Job Opening, U.S. Hiring News Photog, Blames Afghan Corruption on “Negative Media Pics”

12 Feb

U.S. Job Opening for News Photogs, Picture Propagandist: U.S. Blames Afghan Corruption on Photographers for “Negative” and “Misleading” Pics

U.S. Agency for International Development Says it “Can’t Compete”, Posts Job Opening to Address Charges of Corruption in Afghanistan 

(Updated at 1800 hours EST with responses from the United States Agency for International Development)

Nate Thayer

February 12, 2014

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Afghanistan has appealed for news photographers to work as U.S. government propagandists, saying the “overwhelming majority of pictures” by news journalists “are negative and at least to some extent misleading.”

A new job posting by USAID in Kabul seeks professional photographers “with at least one years experience with a news agency” to “to counter negative visual images” and “aggressively distribute these positive images”.

USAID, which is in the midst of an ongoing scandal involving billions of dollars they provided lost to corruption and mismanagement in Afghanistan, does not blame bungled administration of overseeing Afghan corruption and misuse of U.S. money, but rather the news media.

The bad publicity “is because professional photographers working for news agencies are the prime sources of high-quality images of USAID work in Afghanistan. News photographs by their very nature focus on the negative.”

(UPDATE: USAID  did not respond to inquiries from this writer, but provided this statement after publication: “The purpose of the Request for Proposal was to help inform Afghans about the assistance American taxpayers are providing.  The wording of the RFP did not appropriately articulate that purpose and is being reevaluated,” a USAID Spokesperson told this blog.

“The American people have helped Afghanistan make dramatic development progress in the past decade, including a 20-year increase in life expectancy and boosting the number of children enrolled in school from 900,000 boys in 2002 to 8 million today, more than a third of whom are girls.”)

In recent days, USAID’s Afghanistan program, rocked by the release of a damning independent audit report from the US government Inspector General’s office involving UASAID donor money spent in Afghanistan–tried vigorously to suppress that report from being made public.

In a confidential letter from USAID to the Inspector General, USAID appealed to “not make this sensitive material available to the public.”

But the report from the U.S. government Inspector General official in charge of Afghanistan, John F. Sopko, said sending more assistance to the Afghan government is “the biggest gamble with taxpayer money that U.SAID has ever made.”

The report also contends that USAID officials intentionally misled Congress on issues of massive waste and corruption of US money by the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.

So USAID appears to have increased funding for their public relations effort, blaming foreign photographers covering Afghanistan, and is seeking a solution by hiring professional news photographers to conduct propaganda for their Afghan work.

The “USAID Management/Procurement Office in Kabul posted February 12 a new job position. In the job posting USAID complained of negative news photographs and journalists “whose work was undermining the objectives of US foreign policy.”

The USAID job opening, according to the job application says that the government does not have the skills to match the media cameramen, so now they want to hire them directly.

“USAID is executing the most massive international assistance program ever and the gains, particularly in health and education have been impressive,” but the “negative” and “misleading” photographs of those photojournalists “is because professional photographers working for news agencies are the prime sources of high-quality images of USAID work in Afghanistan. News photographs by their very nature focus on the negative.”

The agency complained that “USAID staff and implementing partners are unable to compete with professional, Afghan-based photographers because of lack of skill…”

“Wide distribution of the good work done by UASAID in cooperation with the Afghan government are important for US foreign policy goals of an Afghan public confidant in effective governance, redress of economic and social issues, and a rise standard of living.”

In their appeal to hire professional news photographers the job description they write “In Afghanistan negative images flood both social and conventional media with little counter.”

USAID listed the objectives of the job of US government paid professional news photographers included “to counter negative visual images”, “aggressively distribute these positive images”, and to “test selected photographic agencies or individual photographers for quality, reliability, and skill…for distribution on social media, conventional media and directly to the US public.”

In addition USAID says it will “Test commercial photographers hired on contract….for their potential as an oversight and monitoring tool for USAID projects.”

Eligible candidate job applicants qualifications are that they have been or are employed by a “working photographic agency, preferably in the news industry, or professional photographer with at least one years continual experience working in visual news images in Afghanistan.”

The application can be found here:

http://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1871/Photography%20of%20USAID%E2%80%99s%20Projects%20-SOL-306-14-0099.pdf

In 2011, the U.S secretly hired two of the world’s largest private independent auditing firms, KPMG and Ernst & Young, to assess how U.S. money was being spent in Afghanistan. The auditors determined that every one of Afghanistan’s ministries were stealing, wasting, and mismanaging U.S. assistance money.

Despite efforts to keep the conclusions classified and and unavailable for public access, in late January the report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction was leaked to the New York Times.

Recently, Congress cut USAID development aid budget spent in Afghanistan in half from $2.1 billion to $1.12 billion.

U.S and other international assistance pays for a majority of the Afghan government’s costs, despite that President Hamid Karzai government is notoriously corrupt.

The U.S. administration has pushed for a policy of giving more of the U.S. donor money directly to the Afghan government, and scaling down directly U.S. administered assistance projects. Direct assistance to the Afghan government now comprises half of American aid to the government.

The recent independent audit, according to the New York Times, shows that
$236.5 million earmarked for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health was threatened with being diverted by corrupt Afghan officials “arising from payment of salaries in cash.” The audit cited precisely a report from USAID. The Afghan Mines Ministry could be “paying higher prices for commodities and services to finance kickbacks and bribes,” another assessment based on the audits said.

The Times quoted John F. Sopko, the USAID special inspector general saying sending more assistance to the Afghan government is “the biggest gamble with taxpayer money that U.S.A.I.D. has ever made.”

Inspector General Sopko said his main recommendation to USAID was that they increase pressure on Afghanistan to weed out rampant corruption.

USAID  has rejected the conclusions.

UPDATE: (In a statement responding to this story after it was initially published provided by  Larry Sampler, Assistant to the Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Agency official in charge of Afghanistan, he said: “SIGAR’s audit describes risks which USAID itself identified as a first step in our process of due diligence; but SIGAR chose not to examine in this audit the mitigating measures USAID implemented in response to these identified risks. It’s important to note that SIGAR’s audit did not identify any fraud, waste or abuse in our direct assistance program. Because this audit – as noted on the first page -‘…did not examine the implementation of USAID’s methods for safeguarding US direct assistance…’ we do not believe the report then has any basis on which to question whether the identified vulnerabilities have been addressed prior to funds being made available. USAID is and remains committed to aggressively safeguarding US taxpayer resources. We take seriously our responsibilities regarding oversight of US funds.”)

USAID has designated $896 million they want to deliver directly to Afghan ministries, but complaints of corruption have resulted in only $201.7 million of that money handed over as of the late January.

USAID fought hard to prevent the release of the independent audit, telling the Inspector General in a letter obtained by the New York Times prior to the report being released that public disclosure of the negative findings would result in “reduced cooperation from the Afghan government, and could undermine our ability to conduct proper oversight of direct assistance programs in the future.”

USAID pleaded to “not make this sensitive material available to the public,” a confidential letter from the agency to the Inspector General revealed.

The report said USAID and the federal government of misleading Congress by, one example cited contends, withholding internal assessments that Afghan agencies had taken less than 10 percent of possible measures to undermine and prevent corruption and theft of US funds to Afghan mismanagement or corruption.

The Washington Post reported that USAID officials said the major slash in Congressional funding from $2.1 billion to $1.1 billion dollars will not have a major impact on its main focus of projects in Afghanistan, which they cited as the nations education and health care sectors.

USAID head of Afghanistan projects, Larry Sampler, said that the large amount of money from previous years funding, kept in escrow, would make up a significant amount of the difference, including $400 million for an electrical project and $70 million to $80 million for the Kajaki dam in Kandahar province.

Interested Applicants can apply at the USAID offices in Kabul.

ATTN:
Procurement Division
USAID Office
Kabul, Afghanistan
Email: KabulAIDEXO-procurement@state.gov

SUBJECT: Request for Price/Technical proposal under RFP No. SOL-306-14-0099:
Photography of USAID’s Projects

subject RFP No. 306-14-0099 for Photography of USAID’s Project.

All correspondence should be sent to the following email
address: KabulAIDEXO-procurement@state.gov and the subject line should indicate the Solicitation number 306-14-0099.

One Response to “Kabul Job Opening, U.S. Hiring News Photog, Blames Afghan Corruption on “Negative Media Pics””

  1. philkarber February 19, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    Reblogged this on Phil Karber and commented:
    An interesting post from Nate Thayer on media coverage in Afghanistan.

    Like

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