The first Coronavirus case was detected in February 4, 2020, in Herat. Since then, more than 55,000 individuals have been afflicted with COVID-19, and 2,427 have died. Increased pressures resulting from growing COVID-19 caseloads prompted Afghanistan to reprioritize its’ national budget. Consequently, the government allocated nearly Afs 30 billion (392 million USD) through re-allocations to the national budget. However, there have been significant grievances about the appropriation and spending of COVID-19 funds.
Several media reports have disclosed embezzlement of health equipment. There have been allegations of corruption against the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) employees since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. These reports have raised concerns and led to criticism against the government for lacking the will or commitment to fight COVID-19 while simultaneously addressing the misappropriation of funds and prosecution of corrupt authorities.
UNDP/ACTION project’s grantee - Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization (APPRO), with the Royal Danish Embassy’s financial support in Kabul, began implementing “Monitoring Government Response in Relation to COVID-19 Budget and Expenditure” in May 2020. This intervention’s overall goal is to ensure equitable and transparent budget allocation in the fight against COVID-19 in Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman provinces.
Throughout the life cycle of the project, with UNDP support, the grantee completed six rounds of monitoring to document the distribution and spending of COVID-19 relief funds allocated by the government and the international community. Nearly 40 key informants representing government, civil society and local communities in target provinces participated in each monitoring cycle.
The monitoring cycles focused on the funds allocated by the Ministry of Finance at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan. Findings showed that many large purchases were made without an appropriate assessment of needs in COVID-19 health centers. In. addition, most of the government’s allocated budget remained unspent, which is concerning. A Furthermore, despite a COVID-19 positivity rate of 80 percent, the eastern provinces (Nangarhar, Laghman and Kunar) had access to only one COVID-19 diagnostic laboratory in Jalalabad. The current testing provisions are inadequate and decrease the government’s COVID-19 response effectiveness by 80 percent.
UNDP’s grantee and National Advocacy Committee for Public Policy (NAC-PP), a consortium of over 60 CSOs advocating for transparency and accountability, presented its findings from monitoring cycles 1-6 at various meetings with Health Officials in the MoPH. The presentations detailed challenges, such as inadequate COVID-19 testing centers, delays with processing samples collected from provinces, and a surging positivity rate. In addition, factors such as dysfunctional COVID-19 testing mechanisms, inefficient treatment in COVID-19 health centers and a short supply of health personnel, particularly female practitioners, have negatively impacted the public’s perception of and trust in the limited services provided by the COVID-19 health centers.
During these advocacy meetings, the NAC-PP delegation also acknowledged a need for greater and more effective coordination between donors, NGOs and government regarding the appropriation of COVID-19 funds. The meeting concluded by discussions on establishing mechanism to ensure transparency, accountability and oversight of the budget allocated to COVID-19.
“These monitoring reports have been key for gathering accurate information from the field and will help us identify challenges in COVID-19 budget allocation and expenditure”. Said Dr. Qadir, Deputy Minister of Administration and Finance of MoPH.
An agreement was reached that a joint oversight committee consisting of representatives from civil society and health officials be established. It was decided that this committee’s scope should be broadened to include monitoringof MoPH’s ministry-wide anti-corruption strategy and the reduction of corruption in the health sector. This committee was named the “Joint Civil Society and Government Oversight Committee on Health Sector.” The ACTION project grantee was requested to share the Terms of Reference for this committee which will soon be inaugurated by the Acting Minister of MoPH.