Press conference with Special Advisor on Development to the SRSG, Mark Ward,

6 Jul 2009

Press conference with Special Advisor on Development to the SRSG, Mark Ward,

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Mark Ward, Special Advisor on Development to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan and Dr Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Good morning everyone and welcome to UNAMA’s press conference. I am Nilab Mobarez from UNAMA’s Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit. Today’s guest speaker is Mark Ward, Special Advisor on development to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General who will be speaking about coordination of aid in Afghanistan.

Some of you may know that Mr Ward was working in leadership positions at USAID for over twenty years. He was the head of USAID for Asia before joining UNAMA almost a year ago.

MARK WARD, SPECIAL ADVISOR TO THE SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR AFGHANISTAN: Good morning, thank you everybody for coming. I am going to try to answer two questions today. What is donor coordination and why it is so important? Everyone talks about donor coordination, but how many really know what it is. UNAMA hired me to lead the donor coordination effort in Afghanistan – so I should know, right? Let me try to explain it.

When donors and the government work together, the impact is much greater. We believe this strongly in UNAMA – and the facts prove it.

And that is what donor coordination is: the donors and the government working together, really working together. Not just telling each other what they are planning to do, but planning what they are going to do together.

The UN Security Council asked UNAMA to be responsible for donor coordination in Afghanistan, and we are trying, but really it is the Government of Afghanistan that is in the best position to coordinate the donors. It is not enough for the government to simply tell the donors to be better coordinated. They have to design good programmes for the donors to fund.

Over the past couple of months we have seen that when there is good leadership in the government and they come up with good programmes, the donors do fund them.

I’ll give a couple of examples. A very good example is the Ministry of Agriculture. In October we got a new Minister and at the JCMB last April, just a couple of months ago, after a lot of work, he presented five priority programmes and asked the donors to fund them. The donors liked the priorities and the Ministry is now receiving funding for them and that is what strong coordination behind the government can do.

Another good example is the Civil Technical Assistance Plan that was put together by the Ministry of Finance. This plan was drafted in coordination with many Ministries and it will change the way foreign experts are used by the Afghan Government.

It is based on four excellent principles. The experts will fill positions identified by the government, the experts will answer to the government officials they are advising, they will let the government officials do the job, and they will not do it for them. And they will be far more effective in Afghanistan because they will speak the language, understand the culture, not need heavy security and will stay longer. It is a great plan and it will be formally presented to donors on Wednesday at the JCMB, some of the donors have already indicated that they will fund it.

So there is another example of where the government taking the leadership brings the donors along.
Why is donor coordination so important? What difference does it make? Simple. When the donors and government work together the impact is much greater.

There are two very good examples from the past that make the point very well.

Strong government-led programmes in the Ministries of Public Health and Education forced the donors to align their funding behind the government’s priorities.

I say forced, on purpose, because the Ministers really had to exercise leadership and tell the donors what to do.

It is no coincidence that because of that leadership that those two Ministries had such great impacts. As you know more than 80 per cent of the Afghan population now has access to basic health services and more than six million Afghan children are back in school.

So when the donors are coordinated with the government, the results can be very impressive.

I said a lot depends on the government designing good programmes. But it is not easy to design good programmes.

Here UNAMA has an important role to play. When the Minister of Agriculture started working on his priorities, he asked donors to give him help with experts. UNAMA helped him get those experts.

The Minister of Commerce is looking for that kind of help right now, the new Minister has some very good ideas, but he wants to turn those into good programmes and UNAMA is pushing the donors to help him as well.

UNAMA’s work continues after the new programmes are designed and presented to the donors. Then we have to push the donors to fund those programmes quickly.

Most donors like to plan their spending years in advance. They don’t like last minute changes and new priorities. So we have to push them to be flexible and change their budgets to support the urgent new programmes with the government. This makes us a little bit unpopular with the donors, but it is important.

But not all the good ideas will come from the government. The donors also have good ideas.

Our job at UNAMA is to make sure that the donors don’t start new programmes without discussing them with the government and other donors first. Otherwise, coordination falls apart and we have donor programmes duplicating each other, and donors repeating mistakes that other donors made before them.

Therefore, the government and UNAMA started a pilot programme that we call “peer review” in the Ministries of Agriculture and Public Health.

If donors want to start a new programme in health or agriculture, they first have to submit a draft proposal to the Ministry and to the other donors working in that sector. They have to wait for thirty days for comments to come back before they start their new programme.
This will mean less duplication and better designed programmes in the future, according to the government’s priorities. The pilot started in April.

All of us, the government, UNAMA and the donors, have a long way to go on donor coordination.

The donors are spending two out of every three dollars outside the government budget, which makes it much harder to ensure that their programmes are supporting the government’s priorities. It is not impossible, but it makes it a lot harder.

Believe or not, some donors don’t even tell the government what they are spending here. We estimate that about one third of the money spent outside the budget isn’t even reported to the Ministry of Finance database that the donors set up to capture that data.

UNAMA thinks this is shameful and we applaud the government for publicly identifying the donors that are not reporting on their spending.

UNAMA and the government cannot do the donor coordination alone. We need the donor’s generous support. But we also need them to change some of their approaches.

So today UNAMA calls on the donors to do four things differently:

1. Get behind government’s new programmes when the government announces them.

2. Be flexible with your funding so that when the government identifies a priority, an urgent new requirement, we can meet it.

3. Support the government’s new plans for civilian experts so that we start seeing experts in Afghanistan who answer to the Afghans they are trying to support and who can be more effective in this country.

4. Finally and the easiest one of all –for those one third of donors that are not providing data to the Ministry of Finance, please start providing the data on what you are spending in Afghanistan.

Thanks very much and your questions are welcome.


RAH-E-NEJAT [translated from Dari]: How would you persuade or approach the donors to provide more assistance or funding while so far donors have mostly provided support only in a symbolic way?

MARK WARD: It is a good question. Sometimes the donors asked it another way. Why should we be better coordinated? The answer is very simple. The donors like to succeed and associated with programmes like we have seen in education and public health. They want to be the part of successful stories. They will be part of those successful stories if they get behind good government programmes.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: You seem to have passed the onus of getting donors' accountability to the government, but isn't it difficult for the Afghan Government which is dependent on the donors to cross-question the donors. Isn’t it rather easier for UNAMA to do this? And I also wonder what have you done about two of the major sticking points in the donor aid effectiveness, which is the Balkanisation of the aid, where major donors are spending money in the areas where there troops are located. Also the internal domestic legislation, for example, in the USA, which prevents it from coordinating further.

MARK WARD: One of UNAMA’s jobs is to build the capacity within the line ministries and the Ministry of Finance to do their own donor coordination. If we are successful at UNAMA, then more and more of you are going to see leadership in the government like we see in the Ministries of Public Health and Education who know how to say no to the donors. We are seeing it now across the Cabinet, we are seeing at the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Agriculture and this is a part of the donor coordination. Being able to say to the donors – I don't want you to that – I want you to do this. You asked a very good question about the challenge of spreading assistance across the country and our message on this is very clear. While we in UNAMA completely understand the domestic pressures on certain nations to focus most of their funding on provinces where they have troops on the ground, we are still concerned about forgotten provinces. And our plea to the donor countries is very simple. My staff knows this line very well. Just take a sliver, a very small percentage of the money that you are spending in the provinces where you have troops and spend it in the provinces that are being forgotten and that money will go a long way.

NOORIN TV [translated from Dari]: There have been complaints from the government about the assistance spent by the donors. The government has said that 30 per cent of that assistance was spent through government, while 70 per cent was spent by donors themselves. How much has UNAMA made those countries commit to increase expenditure through government?

MARK WARD: The figures are right. This is what I have said. Two out of three dollars are spent outside of the government. That is correct. So the question is what are we doing about that?

One answer is what I have already said: get good government programmes on the table for the donors to fund.

The donors have committed around world in the different conferences, most recently in Paris and the Hague to increase their funding through government programmes.

However, the donor capitals and donor parliaments are not going to let the donors put funding in the government programmes that are not any good. That is why I said we are focusing so much on helping the government. Helping these leading ministries that I have talked about, put good programmes on the table. So that we can get the donors to put their money behind them.

VOA [translated from Dari]: Well the issue of spending the assistance through the government has been long standing between the government and donors. The reason that donors were saying that was that is was a lack of capacity and corruption. Do you think these issues have been tackled? The issues of lack of capacity and corruption?

MARK WARD: The donors put a lot of conditions on their assistance and the government of Afghanistan understands that. Again, referring to the donor’s capitals and the donor’s parliaments they have to insist that their funds are well accounted for. And yes, certain ministries are getting better and better at accounting for the funds and there is a result. Donors are now starting to support those ministries directly.

One of reasons that UNAMA and we hope the donors are going to support the government’s new civilian experts plan is that we are able to fast track that capacity building in even more ministries so the more funding can be made available through the government.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: I wanted to know if the assistance so far has been effective or not? Do you see the assistance as more effective through NGOs or government?

MARK WARD: I hope we can have another session like this to focus more on the aid effectiveness issue, because it is a different topic and there are some other points to make. And we didn’t want to try to tackle all of it today, but it is a very good question and I will respond. You remember I said that one of the principles behind the government’s civilian experts plan is that the experts should be more effective on the ground. They should speak the language, understand the culture, they should be able to move around freely without security and they should be willing to stay longer.

Exactly the same thing can be said about the contractors and the NGOs that the donors are hiring to do the work. You tell me – you look fairly intelligent. Who is going to be more effective in Afghanistan? A company from the USA, that has not worked here before or Afghan company? This is one of the points we are making on aid effectiveness to try to get the donors to stop bringing companies from home and start hiring companies here. Now if you report that, I'll know you are fairly intelligent.

ARIANA TV [translated from Dari]: You just mentioned about some donors who do not report the money they spent in Afghanistan – whether they did not want to report or for any other reason. And the total amount of the assistance that has been given to Afghanistan since seven years. Do you think that the NGOs who not tend to report about these aspects are part of this corruption?

MARK WARD: My complaint is not to the NGOs. My complaint is about the donors that are funding the NGOs that are not reporting the data to the Ministry of Finance.

TAMADON TV [translated from Dari]: You mentioned you are trying to work on coordination. You are also not complaining about the NGO’s. But you are complaining about the donors who are funding the NGOs. Do you think UNAMA has the ability to do this with the donors while the donors are partly responsible for or are part of this corruption?

MARK WARD: If this question is about UNAMA’s capacity, there is no question we could use more help. There are three dozens or more donors out there, working very hard and to expect the brand new unit at UNAMA to start coordinating their work is a challenge.

But we are not in this alone. There is very strong unit in the Ministry of Finance. There is a growing unit in the Ministry of Economy. They are very strongly working with us to get donors better coordinated. I would say it is still a work in progress. But, I would encourage all of you in the room to continue to ask us these questions. You will be pleased with the answers in the coming months.