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NGOs Come Under Scrutiny

Afghanistan's leaders are ready to accept foreign assistance to rebuild
By IWPR

By Mir Enyatullah Saadat in Kabul. (ARR No. 17, 03-July-02)


Over the past two decades of war, leaders of every regime have blamed those they've defeated on the battlefield for the country's ruin - and then proceeded to add to the destruction.


Reconstruction minister Mohammad Amin Farhang plans to buck this trend with the help of 4.5 billion US dollars recently promised by the international community.


Those pledges are intended to pay for the projects on a priority list devised by the former interim administration. Now, with a new transitional government set in place by the Loya Jirga, the rebuilding can begin, hopefully securing stability and growth.


“Where there is security there will be reconstruction, and jobs will follow, solving many economic problems. Those who earn their living with the gun will lay down their weapons and peace will spread,” Farhang told IWPR.


The reconstruction programme has been divided into two categories: small-scale projects, such as the renovation of individual schools and clinics, and major ones like road rebuilding and electricity generation.


The proposals go to a committee - chaired by president-elect Hamid Karzai - consisting of the ministers of finance, planning, foreign affairs, the president of the Bank of Afghanistan and Farhang himself.


“Since the Tokyo conference, we have funds deposited with the World Bank and the Asian Development and Islamic banks, which are used to pay state officials' salaries. We have also agreed on some reconstruction projects such as the rebuilding of highways,” he said.


The authorities are clearly keen to control the flow of funds into the country - a fact reflected in their growing scrutiny of some non-government organizations who they suspect are squandering money.


NGOs are typically accused of hiring highly-paid international staff and renting comfortable homes in an otherwise run-down capital. Even small Afghan charities are coming under criticism.


As many donors are unwilling to provide core funding for NGOs, administrative costs often have to be recovered from project grants, reducing the proportion of money being spent in the country, Farhang asserts.


“There is no doubt that international and national NGOs are playing a big role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.” he said. “But their salaries are high too. And in a number of cases, just a small proportion of the funds they receive for reconstruction work in Afghanistan is used on actual project activities. The balance is taken by them.”


NGOs dispute these claims, but Farhang believes there should be more of a balance between funds spent on Afghans and administrative costs. “Now we are making provisions which require them to show income and expenses clearly. We are making these demands on behalf of the people,” he said.


Meanwhile, educated, skilled Afghans living abroad are now being encouraged to return to help oversee planned reconstruction projects, in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on foreign expertise “If they don't come back, we will face a lack of experts and they will be responsible for that,” the minister warned.


Mir Enyatullah Saadat is an IWPR journalism trainee.