Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghans Impatient With Temporary Officials

Only a handful of governors have been formally appointed, and local government is in chaos.

Kabul’s failure to appoint permanent officials to a range of key roles is fuelling mismanagement and corruption across the country, according to speakers at recent IWPR debates.

Only a handful of provincial governors have been formally appointed since President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani formed his government last September, leaving many senior posts filled on a temporary basis.

The delay has been partially attributed to the power-sharing agreement with Ghani’s rival Abdullah Abdullah, who was appointed to the new post of “chief executive officer”, akin to prime minister.

Both Ghani and Abdullah have the authority to appoint senior officials, and they have different constituencies to consider.

Participants in IWPR debates held in Kunar, Ghazni, Farah and Nuristan provinces last month warned that the situation was unsustainable.

In Ghazni, a province south of Kabul, political activist Zainul Arab Miri said the current stalemate meant government employees had lost all motivation to do their jobs.

“Officials working in departments believe they’ll be removed from their jobs in the near future, so neither they nor the acting officials show any interest in their work,” she said.

The deputy chairman of Ghazni’s provincial council, Abdul Jamay Jamay, agreed, adding that local government there was barely functioning and had run up debts of 800 million afghani (14 million US dollars) to private firms.

“We face massive problems with these acting officials,” he said. “Thousands of hectares of land have been seized illegally in the past six months, but these temporary officials don’t have any sense of responsibility for this.”

In Kunar in Afghanistan’s east, residents said that the failure to appoint permanent staff to senior positions had led to similar forms of inertia.

Nangyalai Sajid, representing Kunar’s governor, said local government was at a standstill. He noted that if a governor lacked the authority to appoint, transfer or sack employees, he was unable to effect change of any kind.

“Most officials in Kunar are breaking the law, but the governor’s office can’t take any serious appropriate action because it lacks the power and authority to do so,” he said.

Jamaluddin Sayar, deputy chairman of the provincial council in Kunar, agreed that “acting officials think they’re here today but gone tomorrow, so they aren’t doing any work”.

In the western Farah province, debate participants also criticised Kabul for what one civil servant, Marzia Karimi, called a state of paralysis in local government.

“All its activities are carried out by acting officials, and as a result the people of Farah are facing unemployment and a lack of security,” Karimi said.

As legal expert Farid Haibat explained, “There’s a big difference between the performance of an acting official and one who’s been formally appointed, because an acting official has neither authority nor a sense of responsibility for people, for the wider society.”

Parwin Tufan, a women’s rights activist in Farah, said local people felt betrayed.

“We voted with so much enthusiasm,” she said. “A year has passed since the [first-round presidential] election, but the current government hasn’t just failed to resolve our problems; it has actually increased them.”

However, a representative of the provincial council, Gul Ahmad Faqiri, defended local government offices, saying they had been functioning as best as they could since the political transition.

“I agree that unemployment has increased and security has deteriorated since the new government was created, but we mustn’t overlook the things it has achieved in the past six months,” he said.

Najibullah Najib, speaking on behalf of Farah’s governor, said, “We agree that acting officials display a lack of interest in their work, but we are trying to put an end to this.”

In Nuristan in Afghanistan’s far east, officials warned of possible unrest if the situation was not resolved. Sahdullah Nuristani, chairman of the provincial council, said people would soon start protesting.

He noted that district government chiefs and minor officials had no fear of being sacked if they failed to deliver, and this meant that little work was being done and corruption was flourishing.

“We want a formal governor in Nuristan, whether that’s the current governor or a new one,” he said. “We disagree with this system of acting officials.”

Audience member Sayed Agha Erfan asked what acting governors could do to reverse the rapidly worsening security situation.

Nuristani said he suspected many of them were actually happy to let things slide in the hope of being made permanent and tasked with dealing with the crisis.

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.