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Kabul Frets Over Aid

Government warns that reconstruction process may suffer unless it gets more western financial aid.
By Delwari Mohammad

The government is calling for a bigger share of overseas funding, alleging that a good deal of it is being squandered by western aid agencies.

Leaders from President Hamid Karzai down have talked publicly of what they see as the mixed performance of UN and non-governmental organisations, claiming that a number have a record of inefficiency and lavish expenditure to rival the worst of government bureaucracies.

Kabul and other major cities are filling up with overseas aid agencies hiring at 20 times public sector salaries, driving big four-wheel drive cars and renting spacious houses.

For their part, donors say they are ready and willing to give funds directly to the government, but must see more evidence of ministries’ ability to absorb money and use it well.

According to figures from the Afghan Assistance Coordination Authority, disbursements by donors – the actual amount they have paid out – is behind schedule.

Roughly half of the 4.5 billion US dollars pledged at the Tokyo conference was due in the first 14 months of Afghanistan’s reconstruction process. Around a third of that has been released so far this year, just under a fifth down on the scheduled amount.

Of major Western donors, the US, Ireland and Australia have paid out over 90 percent of what they promised in the first year, while the EU and Japan are both 25 per cent down on their pledges for the same period.

But what Afghan officials find more galling is that just 16 per cent of funds, around 87 million dollars, goes directly to the government – the rest flowing mainly to, or at least through, UN and NGO organisations, according to sources in the finance ministry.

“We have done all we can as far as our own resources allow us,” said Construction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang. “If things start to deteriorate, we won’t be to blame. But I am sure that soon the ratio of the assistance to the government and the NGOs will be inverted.”

The government’s relative poverty means tens of thousands of state employees are turning up for work without being paid - teachers in the provinces being particularly badly hit.

“Unless we get more money now, you won’t get reconstruction,” said one senior Afghan official. “And without reconstruction, you won’t get security.”

Donors say they would give the government more but are unsure whether it could absorb additional funds. “There are large amounts of aid beginning to flow into the country but the domestic capacity to administer this is weak,” said Linda Van Gelder, a project team leader at the World Bank

One Asian diplomat said despite frequent conversations with a minister over several months, he had yet to get a written proposal for a relatively small capacity building plan. The project would involve taking groups of 10 lower level civil servants in a number of ministries, teaching them

English and how to use computers. “They have to give their proposals - I am really concerned the way the Afghan government is working,” he said.

Many ordinary Afghans believe there’s an urgent need for the Kabul authorities to get a greater share of the funding pie.

“If international donors don’t give more to the government there will be chaos and anarchy in this country,” said a teacher in Mahmood Tarzi High School in Kabul. “The government must be seen to be providing for its citizens - and this is not possible without foreign money.”

“If the authorities don’t start serving the nation, then people will begin saying that there’s little difference between them and the Taleban,” said Gul Ahmad, a traffic policeman in Kabul. “During the Taleban we enjoyed peace and security – we expect something more than this from our government.”

Delwari Mohammad is an IWPR trainee journalist