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Governance reforms: priority for the new Afghan government

Afghanistan donor funding. The country is also facing an acute humanitarian crisis due to loss of productivity and livelihoods as a result of lockdown in major urban centers, significant reductions in government revenues and price spike due to border closures, and a significant reduction in remittance from the Afghan diaspora. The UN humanitarian office has predicted that more than 14M Afghans will face acute food insecurity this year.

Following months of negotiation and mediation, a power-sharing deal between President Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah was signed on May 17.  Most Afghans hope that the political deal between the two political opponents will somehow pave the ground for a more coordinated and effective response to the pandemic and help revive the stalled peace talks with the Taliban for a negotiated settlement.

The US-Taliban negotiations took nearly eighteen months before they led to the signing of the agreement in February. The intra-Afghan dialogue expected to start in March has been delayed but it seems both sides are working on a kick-off date. Given the delay and how complicated the more than forty-year long conflict has been, the talks will probably drag on for months and years.

Taliban have concentrated so much on battlefield gains in order to have an upper hand in the negotiations.  As an insurgent group, not much is expected from the Taliban except to respect the international humanitarian law, also known as the law of armed conflict.  The Afghan Government, however, has the legitimacy of a recognised government by the United Nations and the international community which comes with certain responsibilities and obligations towards its citizens. The primary responsibility of a government is to protect citizens and provide them with minimum services. Embarking on some much needed reforms in governance can enable the Afghan Government enter the dialogue with the Taliban from a much stronger position and can maximise its bargaining power.

Afghanistan is among the ten most corrupt countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, and corruption is identified as the second biggest concern after insecurity in many national surveys such as Integrity Watch Afghanistan’s National Corruption Survey and The Asia Foundation’s A Survey of the Afghan People. Due to accountability concerns, most foreign aid is channelled through the UN agencies and NGOs, bypassing the national budgetary system.  In most contested provinces, there are many reports of people approaching the Taliban for resolving their disputes instead of using the justice services of government-run primary courts for fear of corruption, ineffectiveness, and unnecessary delays. Therefore, the new government should put accountability and integrity at the heart of governance reforms. This will help provide effective and quality services to citizens and improve the government’s image in the eyes of both citizens and the international community.

To start with, the government should establish the long-awaited National Anti-Corruption Commission the legal basis for which has already been put in place.  To ensure the independence and effectiveness of the commission, the Jakarta Statement on Principles for Anti-Corruption Agencies should be applied. The statement defines, among others, the mandate, autonomy, immunity, and accountability of these agencies. The commission should have a clear mandate and address the fragmentation and overlap that currently exist in the anti-corruption work. Relevant civil society groups should be sufficiently consulted and involved in the establishment of the commission.

Cabinet and other senior positions are being divided between the two electoral opponents based on the political agreement. Both sides of the agreement should strive for nominating civil servants with clean backgrounds and proven track records. Priority should be given for the appointment of younger experts instead of relying on the usual elites who have monopolized power and senior positions since 2001 without having the required merit. Political affiliations, definitely not merit, have been used for senior appointments merely for accessing state privileges and resources.

Implementation of the agreement also carries the risk of politicising the justice and rule of law sectors.  The independence of justice, rule of law and independent bodies should be maintained and these institutions should be kept immune from political interference.  

Some sectors and institutions that are more vulnerable to corruption than others should be prioritised for these reforms. These include but are not limited to the police, courts and attorney offices, customs, municipalities, human resources, and procurement units and the infrastructure sector.

View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy.

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