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Afghanistan: Minister Says Kabul Should Control Aid Flows

Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi (file photo) Afghan leaders have begun to call for a leading role in handling the disbursement of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid. Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi says the government can channel such aid more efficiently in projects ranging from education to infrastructure development. He also says international donors and the government need to do much more to eliminate the country’s booming opium economy.

Washington, 18 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Three years of international domination of the reconstruction process in Afghanistan is enough.

That’s the view of Afghan Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi. Echoing the recent comments of President Hamid Karzai, Ahadi said his government should take control of the development process.

He told RFE/RL at the IMF/World Bank spring meetings that the government controls less than one-third of the reconstruction aid. It needs to be given a chance, he said, to show it can handle larger aid flows.

“If most of the money were to be channeled through the government, we think there would be more coherence to the programs, greater rationality to it, and we think greater effectiveness," Ahadi said. "Usually the argument is used that the Afghan government does not have the capacity to handle this amount of money for reconstruction. We think we are ready for the challenge.”

After decades of war and civil strife, Afghans have made clear progress in establishing institutions of self governance.

But three years after the ouster of the Taliban, there has been intensifying debate over the lag in improving living standards, which are far behind most of the rest of the world.

Ahadi said the Finance Ministry has been more disciplined in its handling of aid money than international agencies. He did not name specific projects, but said international efforts to build schools and improve infrastructure could be better run.

“It’s clinics, it’s bridges, it’s roads. In all those areas we should be able to do better in terms of cost effectiveness," Ahadi said. "But right now we cannot do that because in a lot of instances we are not responsible for that.”

Donors last year in Berlin pledged more than $8 billion to Afghanistan over a period of up to three years. In addition, the U.S. government has proposed spending more than $5 billion on assistance to Afghanistan in its next budget.
The Finance Ministry has been more disciplined in its handling of aid money than international agencies, according to Ahadi.

Ahadi proposes a huge increase in moneys directed toward eliminating the country’s huge opium trade.

The United Nations estimates 60 percent of Afghanistan's economy is tied to the illegal drug trade. With such a large gap to compensate for, current programs promoting alternative livelihoods fall far short of what is needed, according to Ahadi.

“In my opinion, the amount of resources that have been made available for this program -- $2-$3 billion -- that is not adequate," Ahadi said. "The size of our drug economy is between $2.5 and $3 billion and to fill that gap the amount of international resources that need to be committed will have to be closer to that size.”

Afghanistan’s economy is mainly agriculture based and Ahadi suggests that an alternative crop program to replace opium is the right approach. But he said that the country and donors must find a mechanism that provides farmers a substantive income.

“Right now, [the international community has] some unemployment programs or what they call emergency employment programs. Well, that’s good for that limited amount of time that those people are engaged but they need longer-term solutions," Ahadi said. "Building roads so that villagers will have adequate access to markets? Yes, that’s good but I don’t think it’s adequate. Providing fertilizers? Of course that’s good but it’s not going to increase their income to even one-fourth of what they can get [growing opium].”

Some established aid agencies have reacted with concern to government comments about the effectiveness of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. They say NGOs are being made a scapegoat by Kabul for slow progress on reconstruction.

The government and donor countries have set up a task force to examine policy toward NGOs.