Government Turns to Merit-Based Recruitment
Sayra Shakib Sadat was a young female school student from an illiterate family, living in an isolated village in northern Afghanistan, when fighting broke out among political leaders and the mujahidin in the early 1980s.
- 61 new District Governors and 15 Deputy Provincial Governors were appointed through a merit-based recruitment process.
- More than 50 per cent of Afghanistan’s 373 District Governors and nearly all 34 Deputy Provincial Governors are now recruited through a transparent and competitive process lead by the Government of Afghanistan and supported by UNDP.
- The Civil Service Commission publicly advertises the vacancies nationwide, and the terms of reference specify minimal educational and professional requirements, and a post grade that aligns with Afghanistan’s civil service salary scale.
The fighters ran a brutal racket of extortion and violence, and government health and education services rarely reached her village of Zargar-khana, or other contested parts of the northern provinces.
Twenty years later, as a teacher in the same province of Jawzjan, Shaqib encountered similar repression, this time under Taliban rule.
"I went through a very difficult time," said Sadat.
"Since I was a student I had a huge interest in government, I was always wishing that people working in the posts did their job with honesty and served the community and the people.
"But my experience of government was shaped by fighting, and I gave up on the future."
Yet in January 2013, at an oath-taking ceremony in Kabul, she became Afghanistan’s sole female District Governor, among 61 new District Governors and 15 Deputy Provincial Governors appointed through a merit-based recruitment process. They all swore to promote good governance and effective service delivery, uphold Islam, and observe the constitution and laws of Afghanistan.
More than 50 per cent of Afghanistan’s 373 District Governors and nearly all 34 Deputy Provincial Governors are now recruited through a transparent and competitive process lead by the Government of Afghanistan and supported by UNDP.
Five years ago, all District and Deputy Provincial Governors were appointed, often on the basis of political affiliation. Shakib says this meant that candidates like her, raised in isolation and poverty, never stood a chance of being selected.
Instead, Sadat said, the merit-based process, ‘is important for a better future for governance and Afghanistan. It will bring great hope for the people of Afghanistan because more educated and professional people will join the posts.’
As District Governor, Shakib coordinates and oversees the activities of line departments such as health and education, security and justice in her district Kuhwaja Do Koh, in Jawzjan Province. The Provincial Governor has similar responsibilities at the Provincial level, with the Deputy Governor exercising operational and executive responsibility.
In a sparsely furnished government office in Kuhwaja Do Koh, Shakib meets with a long procession of line department heads, and community leaders.
"It’s important for me to know the matters of the people, and their expectations from government. We need to enhance awareness of local governance, among family members and the community. Not listening to the people is a big problem of local governance," said Sadat.
For this merit-based recruitment process, the Civil Service Commission publicly advertises the vacancies nationwide, and the terms of reference specify minimal educational and professional requirements, and a post grade that aligns with Afghanistan’s civil service salary scale.
The Commission leads the recruitment in partnership with the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), and their joint committee administers a written exam on management and administration, and then an interview with successful candidates.
At the UNDP-supported oath taking ceremony, the Director General of IDLG, Mr. Abdul Khaliq Farahi, said that merit based recruitment is a great event in the subnational governance of Afghanistan.
"Appointments are no longer based on tribe, race, gender or privilege, and District and Deputy Provincial Governors can perform their jobs with full transparency and accountability," he said.
Once in office, District Governors’ challenges can include a lack of resources, insecurity, and – for Shaqib – personal criticism and harassment.
"One of the challenges is competition from men in the district, due to community ignorance that says women cannot be representatives in the districts," Sadat said.
"But the day I decided to serve the realm of people and government I realized there would be challenges from many sides and I decided to stake out my goals. I have many challenges, and I attempt to overcome these challenges."
UNDP has supported merit based recruitment through the Afghanistan Subnational Governance Programme and its partners IDLG and the Civil Service Commission. The project supports subnational governance and public administration reform, empowering provincial and district offices to effectively fulfill their roles, and to improve administrative and performance management systems.
Renaud Meyer, the Senior Deputy Country Director of UNDP Afghanistan, said that such merit based appointments were pivotal to the promotion of good governance, particularly in the context of the transition and beyond 2014.
"The Afghan state is at a critical juncture of nation building amidst the ongoing conflict."
"In such a situation, government officials at the subnational level need to be the critical link between the central government and the citizens. They need to first understand the problems of the citizens in their area and then work toward their solutions," said Meyer.
For Kuhwaja Do Koh's newly-appointed District Governor Shaqib, this understanding and focus on solutions is fundamental to good governance.
The work is challenging, but Sayra Shaqib Sadat perseveres. Her name Shaqib, she says, means patience. And her favorite poem, in Dari, reminds her that with patience, ‘a stone will become a precious ruby.’