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

Afghans Question Reconstruction Scheme

Debate participants say the National Solidarity Programme's projects are not always well run.
By IWPR

Speakers at recent IWPR debates were critical of a flagship programme intended to empower local communities in Afghanistan to run their own development projects.

The National Solidarity Programme (NSP) was created by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in 2003. Under the scheme, Community Development Councils (CDCs) were set up in villages across Afghanistan and funded to implement the infrastructure or agriculture projects they needed most.

As well as receiving government funding, the NSP is supported by the World Bank, the Aga Khan Foundation, the United States development agency USAID and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.

In Herat in western Afghanistan, Mahmud Majidi, head of the local department for rural rehabilitation and development, said that 2,563 CDCs were currently active in villages across 15 districts of the province.

He said 4,344 projects had been implemented since the NSP began working in Herat, of which 448 were still in progress, adding, “These projects include building schools, roads, bridges, riverside embankments and digging water wells.”

In the eastern Laghman province, local department of information and culture representative Gul Ahmad Muhabat praised some NSP projects but warned there was a serious lack of oversight.

“No particular standard has been established for those who implement NSP projects in the community councils,” he said. “The chairmen, vice-chairmen and secretaries of a number of councils are completely illiterate. How can illiterate individuals implement a national programme?”

Sheikh Muhasel Khan, a tribal elder in Laghman, said that although NSP projects went at a rapid pace, the quality of the work was poor.

“All community councils, including a number of local officials and evaluation committees, are involved in corruption,” he said.

Aminuddin Bedar, the head of the rural rehabilitation and development department in Laghman, rejected these allegations.

“We have created 826 community councils in five districts, in addition to the provincial centre Mehtarlam. NSP projects are being implemented by these councils, and the work is going well,” he said.

Bedar laid out the NSP’s four main goals – reducing poverty, developing national and local government offices, building the capacity of CDCs and improving the standard of living.

Debate participant Abdul Bari Ghurzang asked whether any community councils had been accused of fraud.

Bedar replied that his office had recommended legal action against 19 councils for alleged corruption.

In Pul-e Khumri, the provincial capital of Baghlan province in the northeast of Afghanistan, the NSP’s local head similarly argued that it had been a force for good. Kefayatullah Usmani said that the programme was driving reconstruction and community-building in the province.

“The number of development councils in Baghlan has increased to 994. Some 2,953 projects have been implemented through the programme in the past 13 years, out of which 562 are still in progress,” he said.

However, a local tribal elder called Mohammad Usman said that while a lot of money had been spent on development, not much had been achieved.

“People in villages face many problems. Although projects have been implemented in some areas, the results haven’t been good due to a lack of control and poor-quality materials,” he said

In the eastern Kunar province, participants agreed that although the NSP’s methodology was a good way to support national unity, putting it into practice was a different matter.

Jamaluddin Sayar, deputy chairman of the provincial council, said, “People like the programme because it gives them some authority and some power, but there are problems when it comes to implementation.”

Hajji Attaullah, the chairman of the CDC council in Narang district, added, “The NSP can reduce the gulf between people and government, but the problem is that its councils and their engineers and teams commit fraud when they implement projects.”

But the head of the NSP in Kunar, Wahidullah Zahed, defended its work.

“The difference between the NSP and other programmes and organisations is that it gives citizens 100 per cent of the power to identify and address their own needs and problems,” he said.

Fereshta, a resident of Dam village in Kunar, asked how the NSP managed to implement its programmes in remote parts of the province when other agencies struggled.

“We have a policy for unsafe areas in which we obtain guarantees from local residents, so that even some of insurgents don’t oppose it,” Zahed said. “Projects are implemented in those areas in cooperation with the people.”

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