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

Officials Mull Over Karzai's Commissions

Delegates to the grand assembly appear divided over creation of commissions to oversee the work of government ministries.
By Samander Khan

While all eyes are on the vexed question of who will occupy key posts in Afghanistan’s next government, another question has largely escaped notice: what powers will cabinet ministers have?

President-elect Hamid Karzai on Monday announced the transitional government would have no less than 11 wide ranging commissions, which would work with the ministries, in areas ranging from defence, intelligence affairs to media and land ownership.

“The commissions are vital. With their help, conditions will get better and changes will occur,” Karzai told the Loya Jirga.

The commissions - which will closely monitor the ministries and be able to veto their decisions - along with widely discussed plans for cutting the number of government departments from 29 to perhaps 18, suggest a far reaching agenda for administrative reform, which will make the new authority look very different to the interim administration.

But it is difficult also to escape the idea that they will also serve to give back to Karzai some of the powers he relinquished to various ministries in the previous government.

“The minister will not be able to do anything without the permission of the commission which, in turn, will answer to the head of state,” Ashraf Ghani, Karzai’s economic advisor, told IWPR.

Many of the commissions were agreed at the Bonn conference last December. Some have already been working during the interim administration, such as that for human rights, justice, and coordination of international aid, which Ghani heads.

One of the new commissions bound to draw a lot of attention is that for defence. Karzai said it would be responsible for creating Afghanistan’s new national army, the institution which it is hoped will finally end the power of regional militias and warlords and create effective unity.

Karzai did not give details of exactly what powers the commission would

have, how it would be constituted and how it would work with the defence

ministry.

Abdul Hamid Mubarez, deputy minister of information, said the commission on media would include people from the country’s TV, radio stations and press, as well as independent journalists, writers, some representatives from civil society groups and government officials.

Its remit is to help ensure that national media remains independent from the government.

Sayed Yousaf Haleem, responsible for legislation at the ministry of

justice, said the commission to adjudicate land disputes was sorely needed

because property has changed hands so many times in Afghanistan’s 23

years of war that there were thousands of disputes between people claiming ownership rights over the same piece of land.

He said this commission, and the one for legal affairs, which is already up and running, would not have extra paid staff but would use experts already employed at the ministry.

This begins to make it look as though the plan is to draw off top civil

servants from within the ministries and put them together with outside

advisors in a kind of hot house environment which could bypass the bureaucracy ministries typically suffer from.

Ministers and senior officials in one department also talked of how the

commissions would help them find new revenue streams, in the face of the almost total lack of funds under which the central government of Afghanistan currently labours.

The commission for state enterprise will look into which companies may be revived or sold, and which should just be closed. Afghanistan’s state sector, extensive under the communist regimes of the 1980s, was all but destroyed by the civil war.

Nazer Mohammad, deputy minister of mines and industries, told IWPR he

thought the ministries of water, energy and irrigation would all be folded into one ministry, while that for of rural rehabilitation would be returned to the department for agriculature.

Delegates to the Loya Jirga had mixed opinions about whether the whole

commission idea was a good one.

In a straw poll of 12 delegates, four thought that if they were strong and supervised the work of the ministries well they would be of great service.

Another four said the main emphasis should be on professional and impartial ministers, and that the commissions could actually add to government expenses.

And the remainder doubted whether the proposed bodies would be

able to control ministers, many of whom are established political leaders not used to having their authority checked by committee.

“We don’t want commissions. Rather we want professional, intelligent and stable ministers. Karzai can’t replace the ministers, so he wants to change the way of their work, which is impossible,” said Fazil Mohammad Ibrahimi, the former dean of the Ningrahar University.

Samander Khan is an IWPR trainee journalist.