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Auditing Afghanistan

Will the committee set up to oversee the aid money coming into Afghanistan have the tools to keep track of a previously chaotic spending process?
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Five months on from a landmark conference which set out the international aid funding plans for the next few years, Afghan analysts have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of a body set up to monitor the flow of money.



The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board is a 28-member committee of internationals and Afghan officials whose job is to monitor the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact, a framework plan of action agreed at a donor conference in London on January 31-February 1.



At the meeting, the various participating governments pledged 10.5 billion US dollars to Afghanistan over the next five years, to be spent in three key areas: security; governance, rule of law and human rights; and economic and social development.



The JCMB is a response to past concerns about the lack of a system to check and manage where the foreign aid money was going. Coordination by different groups doing similar things was at times incoherent and it was unclear where some of the funds ended up.



This fed a perception among many Afghans that the internationals and a few lucky local non-government organisations, NGOs, were in effect spending the money on themselves - buying expensive vehicles and paying high fees to foreign consultants - while little of it trickled through to make a difference to ordinary people’s lives.



The Afghanistan Compact aims to correct that perception, and the intention now is to ensure that half the total funding flow goes through the Afghan government - thus increasing its credibility among the population. Previously, less than a quarter of the money was thought to have been spent via government agencies, and the bulk went to NGOs.



The JCMB has two co-chairmen: Ishaq Nadiri, the senior economic advisor to President Hamed Karzai, and Tom Koenigs, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan. The other Afghan members reflect the main development areas set out in the compact, consisting of the foreign, finance, economy, education and justice ministers and the president’s national security advisor.



On the international side, alongside Koenig there are 20 other individuals representing major donor governments such as the United States, Britain, Japan and Germany; regional players including Pakistan, India and Iran, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Six of the internationals are drawn from the military forces present in Afghanistan – the US-led Coalition, NATO and four participating nations.



It is an impressive group of players, but some Afghan analysts interviewed by IWPR raised concerns that the committee has neither the resources nor the teeth to act as watchdog over the aid flow. The board members meet only four times a year. They are supposed to have a secretariat and technical experts to support them and keep the work going between meetings, but IWPR understands that this structure does not yet exist.



According to Mohammad Hashim Mayar, deputy director of the Afghan Coordinating Body for Aid Relief, ACBAR, "This board will not resolve any problems because its members are senior officials from different governments and they are busy with their own important work. It doesn’t have any other personnel, or a secretariat."



Those involved in the process say this does not matter.



Co-chairman Nadiri did not respond directly to questions from IWPR about the extent to which the board could be responsible for what happened to the money, but he said there were other organisations to do much of the basic legwork. “Monitoring impact and expenditure is the job of the Ministry of Economy and other [government] bodies. But if there is a major problem, the ministry of economy refers it to the JCMB, which reports it to the media and donors after evaluating it," he said.



Addressing the first meeting of the JCMB on April 30, Koenigs said the board’s work was all about strategic oversight of the aid coordination on the one hand, and ensuring that the compact was underpinned by high-level political support to the Afghanistan Compact, on the other.



"The objectives of the JCMB's sessions will be to ensure overall strategic coordination, provide advice on significant issues and to report to the Afghan president, the National Assembly, the UN Secretary General, the donors and the public," he said.



Presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi said the board would help ensure the money was not misused, "Establishing the board will be a positive measure in preventing administrative corruption and creating transparency."



He added that the fact that both the Afghan government and the international community had members on the board meant that its decisions would carry real force.



While there are conflicting views about the effectiveness of the JCMB, most Afghan commentators interviewed by IWPR agreed there was a great need for transparency and accountability.



Despite his reservations about the board’s limited resources, Mayar said that the Afghan people want to know how the money has been spent by the government and international NGOs - and that it was up to the JCMB job to ensure they are no longer kept in the dark.



Hamidullah Farooqi, head of the Afghan International Chamber of Commerce, agreed, saying, "If there were no body to monitor the spending of the aid money, and if those who spent it didn’t feel responsible for accounting for it, everything would get much worse."



But Ramazan Bashardost, a member of parliament and former planning minister who has been a long-standing and outspoken critic of the way NGOs have used funds, believes the concept behind the JCMB is flawed.



He said the diverse national origin of the JCMB’s members is a weakness – when it comes to answering for the aid expenditure in future, no one individual or government will be accountable.



"In my view, Karzai alone should be responsible for all of the aid money and its expenditure, so that he is accountable to donor countries and the public in the future," said Bashardost.



Abdul Ghafoor Liwal, a political analyst who heads the Centre for Regional Studies in Kabul, is less pessimistic, viewing the JCMB as the political embodiment of the compact between the Karzai administration and its international backers.



“This board is like a guarantee between the Afghan government and the international community. It will undoubtedly be effective because there are representatives of the international community on the board," said Liwal.



On the streets of Kabul, people are generally sceptical of the new institutions that spring up from time to time.



Ahmad Firoz, a 30-year-old resident, said, "Karzai has created many such useless commissions. No one feels for this poor nation. All these things are just for show."



The JCMB holds its next meeting on July 30.



Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is a freelance journalist in Kabul. Hafizullah Gardesh is an IWPR editor in Afghanistan.

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