Press conference with UNAMA and World Bank

16 Jun 2008

Press conference with UNAMA and World Bank

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Ranjana Mukharjee, Senior Public Sector Specialist, World Bank, Mariam Sherman, Country Manager, Afghanistan, World Bank and Dr. Nazifullah Salarzai, UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nazifullah Salarzai from UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office. Welcome to our weekly press conference this morning. We are very pleased to be joined today by Ranjana Mukharjee, Senior Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank, who will present the World Bank report Building an Effective State: Priorities for Public Administration Reform, and Mariam Sherman, Country Manager for the World Bank, Afghanistan. Before I hand over to Ms. Mukharjee, I would like to make few announcements, after which we will be happy to take your questions.

As you all know, the Government of Afghanistan and the international community met last week, on 12 June in Paris at an international conference in support of Afghanistan, chaired by President Karzai, President Sarkozy and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This conference marks a new commitment to work more closely together under Afghan leadership to support the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The conference identified clear priorities, including strengthening state institutions and economic growth, particularly agriculture and energy sectors. The Afghan Government has committed itself to pursuing political and economic reform. The international community has agreed to provide increased resources and to use them in a more effective way. All stakeholders committed themselves to work in a more coordinated way.

UNAMA welcomes the outcome of this conference and reaffirms its commitment to a strengthened partnership and ‘new deal’ with the Government of Afghanistan and the international community, based on Afghan leadership. We will all be working towards fulfilling our shared vision of a democratic, peaceful, pluralistic, and prosperous Afghanistan.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), together with the Government of Afghanistan, are currently holding a three-day workshop on corruption. The key stakeholders and experts within the Government and the international community will come together from 15 - 17 June in Kabul to work out how Afghanistan can fulfill the legislative requirements of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Afghanistan signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2004. UNDP and UNODC are assisting the Afghan Government in implementing the provisions of the Convention, as part of the wider support provided in the crucial fight against corruption.

As a first step in implementing the Convention, UNDP has conducted a study analysing gaps in the current national legislation concerning corruption and making recommendations for an action plan for revising and drafting legislation.

The workshop will review the findings of this study, and serve as a starting point for developing the plan to address any gaps identified that currently exist.

An Afghan theatre tour supported by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) will reach Herat city this Wednesday 18 June. The play highlights the need to deal with the impunity of past human rights abuses spanning nearly three decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Most of you will have already seen the media advisory, but there are also copies available on the side table.

WORLD BANK (RANJANA MUKHARJEE): As you heard in the first announcement, last week was a very important one for Afghanistan’s development. You all know that in Paris, the Government and its donor partners discussed rebuilding priorities and ways of funding the development agenda. The Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS), which was presented in Paris, lists the many things that need to be done, on many fronts, to bring public services to the people of Afghanistan. That is because getting these basic services to the people is their main expectation from the Government – next to security and employment opportunities.

But the chances of achieving the ANDS targets and providing basic services to the people, with declining amounts of external assistance, depend on how strongly the Government systems can function. It used to be equated with building a strong bureaucracy here in Kabul. But bringing good services to the people is something more than that. It means de-centralising line ministries’ authority to the provinces and districts, and improving the capacity and coordination of Government activities at those sub-national levels.

But even if you had a good civil service at the national and sub-national levels, that would still not be enough to have a strong Government system that can deliver services to the people – because that can be a self-serving system. What you need is the system to be stimulated by demand from the Afghan people. This demand of the Afghan people for good administration and public services is expressed through elections, civil society groups, the media, and the checks and balances provided by formal oversight institutions, such as the National Assembly and the judiciary – in other words, all these institutions hold the Government to account.

During the last two years, we have worked with different parts of Government and with donor partners to see what the components are of a strong Government system that can ultimately bring good services to the people are.

The report that you see today – the longer version in English and the shorter version in Dari – summarises what came out of our work. The report says that both the Government and its donor partners have to remember that this strengthening of Government systems and institutions is a very long-term agenda; it needs to be led from the top and it needs coordination across Government and with donors. It is important for that Government tells everybody what its priorities are and it is equally important for donors to work within those Government priorities. This must be led from the top and the Cabinet must discuss and sign off on all major reform proposals.

Everyone here knows that recently the Parliament has approved a new salary scale for public employees. Those higher pay scales are intended to attract and retain skilled people in public employment. But its successful implementation depends on many things that must happen at the same time: re-grading existing positions, filling those new positions on merit, having an exit strategy for those that don’t qualify, and making a link between performance and career progression. Equally, donors need to display restraint. If they make extra payments to those connected with their own programmes, the new higher scales will still be inadequate to get good people into public employment.

As you know, the ANDS has given responsibility to the new Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) to think about sub-national reforms, especially developing sub-national governance policy, designing sub-national administrations and building capacity at those levels. The IDLG has recently released its work-plan. We welcome that work plan; it may need some streamlining and prioritisation, and realistic provisions for the amount of technical inputs required. The IDLG will also need to clarify its role vis a vis other organisations such as the Independent Electoral Commission on elections, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock on land matters, with the Ministry of Finance on provincial budgeting and so on.

I started out with saying how important it was to have the executive accountable to the people. You know that the Bonn Accord stressed accountability of public organisations to the people. Looking forward, the National Assembly and the judiciary, who are the formal channels of public accountability, can provide formal oversight with credibility only if they enjoy people’s trust. Currently, the public has low trust in formal organisations. But the National Assembly has high visibility and they can quickly win people’s trust by demonstrating that they themselves are abiding by the rules of the game.

Judiciary strengthening received low attention until the Rome conference earlier this year. Without attention to rule of law, spending more and more on security forces will not be effective. Even a well-trained police force cannot enforce law without a functioning criminal justice system. Rather, they could become the sources of injustice. The justice system is severely sparse and dysfunctional, so we have suggested starting small and then scaling up, maybe starting from five large cities or urban centres and then building up.

I talked about the Afghan people’s demand for public accountability. But only demand is not enough. Both demand and supply of information are needed for public accountability. Media and civil society systems are being built up very fast, but while they are being built up, the Government needs to proactively provide information about its programmes – and open up Government processes to public scrutiny and participation.

One of the assignments before we started was about anti-corruption. Our report recommends that the Government clearly demonstrates its will to fight corruption. Short-run anti-corruption measures could focus on a few agencies where the public interacts most frequently with service providers.

Finally, it is not enough to only implement reforms. It is important to constantly check your progress against the goals of the ANDS. So we have recommended that Government and donor partners spend serious effort on monitoring progress and to rethink reforms when they are not meeting their goals. Thank you.


BBC: As the international community is concerned about corruption, do you have any details on the scale of corruption inside the Government?

WORLD BANK: I think we share the concerns of the Afghan public on corruption, and the perceptions of corruption are certainly very high in this country. If you look at Transparency International they do a measure which could give you an idea, but the perception is certainly high. However, I think it is important to look at the other side of this. In the World Bank, we put all of our financing through the Government of Afghanistan. Our entire budget goes through the Government of Afghanistan. To date, that has been about 1.6 billion dollars. In addition we manage about 2.4 billion dollars for other donors, which also goes through the Government of Afghanistan. And from that financing we are seeing results on the ground for the Afghan people, for example, the National Solidarity Programme, which is spread throughout the country, is a Government programme, with financing through their budget. The other important thing is that we work with the Government to help them improve their management of finances – of money. There is a lot of work on procurement, audit and financial management – tracking the money and making sure it is spent well. And truly there have been tremendous improvements over the past years in this area.

KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: You spoke of attracting and employing experts in the civil service. People are concerned that this has not helped the effectiveness of the Government. Is there any guarantee that this will contribute to building the capacity of the Government in the future?

WORLD BANK: Are you speaking of international specialists? Yes, there are a large number of international consultants working in Afghanistan and it is indeed the Government’s priority to have this decline very steadily over time. At this time, it is probably impossible to eliminate it completely, particularly in big infrastructure projects or where there is a short-term need for a particular skill which is scarce in this country, those are really essential. But the other kind, which is working in line functions in Government, doing what civil servants are meant to do, is not something you want to carry on for a very long time, and hence we have suggested that while donors are giving this immediate help with international consultants, they must simultaneously give training and development to the civil servants so that they can start doing things immediately, as well as do long-term measures like building universities, building training institutes, so that ten years down the line you will have a very good stream of Afghans who will enter the civil service.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: My question is on accountability and decentralisation. While the international community is increasingly talking about administrative decentralisation, I think it is shy of talking about political decentralisation in Afghanistan. If you look at the Provincial Councils, they have no role, and if you look at the National Assembly, it has effectively been bypassed in decision-making processes, including on the consultation of the ANDS. Are there any recommendations in your report to strengthen these political bodies? Secondly, on the issue of technical assistance, how far has the World Bank been able to practice what it is preaching in terms of lowering the amount of external technical assistance it is using?

WORLD BANK: On the question of technical assistance in the World Bank interventions: yes, we have been trying at every stage to do this. For example, we currently have a US dollars 23-24 million project for strengthening the Civil Service Commission. And all the technical assistance that we provide over there is reporting to the Government. It is embedded deep inside the Commission and reports completely to the Government and Commission and not to us.

UNAMA: The different legislative and executive bodies have clear roles given to them under the Constitution of Afghanistan, and UNAMA has always respected and supported the Afghan Constitution. The ANDS, which was presented at the Paris Conference and backed by the international community as a roadmap for the next five years, is a document that reflects the priorities of the Afghan Government.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: It is said that the money provided by international donors has been wasted or gone to foreign international organisations. Is this reflected in your report?

WORLD BANK: No. The issue of aid effectiveness was discussed in Paris. The effective use of aid is a big concern to us all and we have been putting out recommendations. One of the points we have been making is that we need to see improvements in the Government’s ability to manage funds and we also want to see from the international community more willingness to put their funds through the Government.

UNAMA: I just want to add: The assistance provided by the international community must be spent in a more effective manner from now on. This was a key topic of discussion at the Paris conference.

RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: As you know, the President of Afghanistan yesterday warned the Government of Pakistan that Afghanistan may send troops to confront the militants operating outside Afghanistan’s borders. Do you support this decision by the Government?

UNAMA: UNAMA considers all of Afghanistan’s neighbours as partners in the process of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. We have made it clear many times that we want to see Afghanistan and Pakistan work closely together to defeat the common challenge of the insurgency. The stability of both countries are linked to this – Afghanistan and Pakistan have a shared interest in working together to address a problem that affects them both.

AINA TV [translated from Dari]: One of the areas that the Government of Afghanistan stressed in Paris Conference was the issue of coordination of aid to Afghanistan in the coming five years. This was an important issue and the Government of Afghanistan wants the aid to be spent in accordance with the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The World Bank, as one of the major donors to Afghanistan, how sure are you that the aid will be spent in accordance with the ANDS priorities in Afghanistan?

WORLD BANK: You made a very good point on improved coordination, which everyone in the international community did commit to at the Paris conference. We believe that the budget of the Government is a very useful coordinating tool which helps set priorities for spending, and therefore we align all of our assistance with the budget of the Government of Afghanistan and the priorities put forward by the Government.

ALL INDIA RADIO: It is a very interesting report. You said that the Government budget is a useful coordinating tool, but there are some ministries, for example the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, that have not been able to absorb the aid, because they have no capacity. There are reports that they are unable to take the aid, because they cannot deliver. How do you think that you will be able to channel further aid through their budget?

WORLD BANK: Capacity constraints are a problem and that is why we talked about a lot of improvements that need to take place across the public service. But actually, I am surprised that you give the example of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation, because, in fact, they are a very effective Ministry we found, who are channeling a large amount of finances across the country. Also, if you look at overall Government spending, its spending on its development budget, in 1386 [2007] the development budget of the Government was – I believe – double what it had been two years previously. You can double-check the numbers with the Ministry of Finance, but I think we are really seeing the capacity taking off in terms of absorbing and spending money in a good way.

NOORIN TV [translated from Dari]: In your initial remarks you made a reference to some legislative gaps, could you specifically tell us some of them, and what exact measures do you recommend to solve them?

WORLD BANK: Let me pick up on the example I gave about the new law that has been passed by the parliament, the new civil service law, as well as the new pay scale for civil servants. As I said, just making a new pay scale is not enough, there have to be many accompanying measures and these have to be done in regulations. It has to be laid down who gets to get these new pay scales, what does he or she have to do to qualify and so on. These need regulations and several of these have already been developed; there are another one or two which are I believe in the final stages of finalisation before they go to Cabinet for approval, but that is the kind of the thing the World Bank is supporting on a big scale.