Anti-corruption reforms in Afghanistan. What does the research tell us?
A leading Afghanistan expert provided key advice related to aid delivery and institutional support in Afghanistan at a conference named “Corruption in Afghanistan: What do we know, how do we go forward?” held in Brussels at the end of last year.
Dr Saeed Parto, co-founder and Director of Research at Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization (APPRO), an independent Afghan social research organisation, said that corruption has become “very systematised and institutionalised” in Afghanistan, as a result of years of conflict which has allowed ‘informal institutions’ like corruption to fill the void created by the demise of formal and accountable institutions. “Corruption is a feature of pretty much everything you do in Afghanistan (…) and donors have a major role to play in not contributing to it,” he said.
To help combat corruption, Dr Parto suggested donors strengthen their monitoring and evaluation programs. “Monitoring is not happening the way it can. Despite the conflict and lack of security, it can happen more often and more systematically," he said.
Dr Parto also emphasized that Afghan factor markets should be monitored more closely by international donors and other entities operating in Afghanistan. This will ensure that the expenditure of foreign funds within Afghanistan does not distort the factor markets, and that donors and other international entities are paying adequate rates for goods and services. He also emphasized that donors should be less concerned about spending money over a specific length of time to “meet their dreaded ‘burn rate’”, and focus instead on the quality and the unintended impact of the work they undertake in Afghanistan.
He said that the large amount of aid spent in Afghanistan over the last decade has led to a sharp increase in factor and goods prices and inflation, leading to discontent among ordinary Afghans regarding the detrimental impact of foreign aid interventions in their country. "Too much money that is poured into an economy that cannot absorb it will always distort the market,” Dr Parto said.
In order to make aid more effective, Dr Parto highlighted the need to strengthen the role of local staff employed by international donors and embassies in Kabul. “A revolving door situation with key international personnel spending a relatively short time in the country is the defining feature of aid work in Afghanistan. This leads to a loss of institutional memory and results in lost opportunities for consistent programming. It also prevents development programming from linking to local institutional memory and building on it.” Therefore, Dr Parto believes that building institutional memory requires strengthening the role of local staff as carriers of knowledge between key international personnel and international donor organisations and foreign embassies. He also identified civil society organisations (CSOs), Members of Parliament, media and political parties as key players that could raise awareness and change corrupt practices, provided they receive support, guidance and protected spaces within which to operate.
Dr Parto also said that the many international experts who come to work in Afghanistan should have a strong understanding of the Afghan context in order to work more closely with their Afghan counterparts and create genuine opportunities for “capacity exchange” rather than “capacity building” or “capacity development”.“It is not as if Afghans do not have capacity. They have different capacities, some of which could be fruitfully applied in development programming. We need to be humble enough to look for these capacities, learn from them, add to them and then employ them in our programming.”
To achieve this, he stipulated that international experts must involve local experts and listen to them, while offering alternative perspectives for development programming. “Since 2001 everything from the new Constitution to laws and policies for various ministries has mainly been written by international experts. This is not as widespread now, but it continues to this day,” Dr Parto said, stressing that “the role of international experts and advisers should be to mentor local policy makers and guide them, rather than just giving them the policy or the law to apply. (…) It needs to come from them so the ownership is with them”.
The European Union (EU) has focused a lot of its efforts on institutional reform, working to ensure that systems and processes within Government institutions function in a transparent and effective manner. The approach, outlined in the European Commission (EC) strategy paper, seeks to entrench concepts of good governance and fight corruption through strengthened oversight and improved management. A significant part of this involves working on Pay and Grading processes and Human Resource Management (HRM) reform, explained Zoë Leffler, Attache to Justice, Rule of Law and Police Reform to the EU Delegation to Afghanistan.
By supporting institutions to establish clear HR strategies, as well as detailed job descriptions and minimum qualifications, the EU promotes a merit-based civil service that is capable of carrying out its tasks. Projects have been carried out in the main justice institutions, and the EU is contributing to a USD340 million project that supports different ministries in their response to Public Administration Reform needs, including the creation of a rational pay structure and improved budget execution, she explained.
The EU, alongside USAID and DFID, is consulted in the World Bank supported Afghanistan Capacity Building for Results Facility (CBR), which aims to increase the capacity of the government of Afghanistan to deliver essential services and implement national priority programs, while helping address the over reliance on external technical assistance. The first two ministries to benefit from this programme are the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and the Ministry of Public Health.
The EU also supports CSOs that seek to hold public institutions to account in relation to the quality and cost-effectiveness of their service delivery. While acknowledging important projects such as these, Dr Parto stressed the need for a longer planning horizon in Afghanistan. “Development in Afghanistan is a generational question. It is not a five year planning problem,” he said.
This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Dr Saeed Parto and Matt Trevithick of the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization (APPRO), and Zoë Leffler of the EU Delegation to Afghanistan, with support from the capacity4dev.eu Coordination Team.