In-depth: Democratic Governance
Sub-National Governance and Development
80% of Afghans live in rural areas with limited opportunities to take part in any decisions linked to the development of their community and with no ability to elect their representatives. With UNDP support, the country is gradually moving towards a merit-based system of high-level appointments at the district, municipal and provincial levels.
Until recently a majority of the provincial and district governors and municipal mayors were appointed by and reported to the President, which centralized decision-making and led to a lack of accountability between the public and unelected government officials.
In addition, almost all services are delivered by the central ministries in Kabul through their line departments and only municipalities have the authority to raise and retain revenue for the delivery of public services directly to the people independent of the central government.
UNDP is leading with its multi-donor program, the Afghanistan Sub-National Governance Programme (ASGP) and supporting the government to strengthen sub-national governance structures. The program assists officials and institutions to build their capacities and systems.
Key policies have been adopted and staff appointed in sub-national offices. Public hearings are regularly organized and provincial council monitoring teams have been established in almost half of the country to oversee the delivery of public services.
UNDP is also working with village-level development committees to empower communities to articulate their needs and priorities and then to take their priorities forward with technical and financial support from UNDP and its partners.
In 2000, the World Bank assessed the ‘quality’ of Afghanistan’s governance institutions as falling in the bottom one percent of all countries. The danger being that a continued political and administrative vacuum would be filled by non-state structures driven by illegal and narcotic interests. This in turn would fund escalating insurgent activities and further feed rampant public corruption.
Therefore, improved governance and the adoption of bold aid effectiveness and transparency policies throughout the country have been placed at the very top of the country’s reconstruction agenda.
UNDP is contributing to this effort with its Making Budget and Aid Work (MBAW) project. Embedded in the Ministry of Finance, project staff support the Ministry and other relevant government offices to strengthen budgeting, strategic planning, aid coordination and management.
Through the Provincial Budgeting Reform across all 34 provinces project efforts have enhanced the efficient allocation of public resources for service delivery at the provincial level. Another smaller but critical initiative undertaken by UNDP has helped establish and equip the High Office of Oversight as well as a complaints and investigation unit within the Ministry of Finance. This unit is in charge of handling most serious fraud cases.
It has also established complaints and investigation units within the Ministries of Education and Interior, which were assessed as prone to corruption. This program has also established 3 civil society networks and carried out training seminars for more than 200 civil society representatives to improve the scrutiny and monitoring of service provision in the education sector at central and sub-national levels.
Organised by the newly constituted Interim Electoral Commission (IEC), in 2004 Afghanistan held the first direct presidential elections in its history. Although the polls were generally peaceful it became clear that extensive support was needed to strengthen the IEC and the other electoral authorities.
According to the Asia Foundation, still today more than a third of Afghans do not express their opinions, due to fear; about a quarter feel threatened by the Taliban and the same proportion feels that it has no influence over the decisions made by government.
UNDP’s Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (ELECT) programme has been the main vehicle through which the international community has supported Afghan electoral authorities in all aspects of planning and conducting free and fair elections. The program is currently running in its second phase and is helping build the capacity of the IEC to conduct free, fair and transparent presidential and provincial council elections in 2014. Followed by Parliamentary election in 2015.
ELECT II is the main vehicle through which the international community has supported Afghan electoral authorities in all aspects of planning and conducting free and fair elections. A major success of this programme has been to see the IEC become increasingly independent and largely ready to plan and conduct the next electoral round planned for 2014 and 2015.
UNDP will continue supporting the IEC to ensure that more Afghans are encouraged to participate in the elections.