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Afghanistan: Efforts To Pay Civil Workers Part Of Larger Recovery Strategy

The United Nations disbursed $6 million last month to pay the salaries of hundreds of thousands of civil service employees across Afghanistan, but so far, only workers in the capital, Kabul, have received paychecks. The effort to pay back salaries is part of a larger strategy by both the UN and the country's interim government that is focusing on emergency recovery needs and long-term reconstruction, including preparing for the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Kabul, 8 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) advanced $6 million to Afghanistan's interim government last month to pay the salaries of an estimated 240,000 civil service workers across the country. But the UNDP says that -- two weeks after the money was disbursed from a trust fund it administers -- only about 30,000 people have so far received pay -- all of them residents of Kabul. Applications for another 15,000 salaries for Kabul residents are being processed.

Raquel Ragragio, a special adviser to the head of the UNDP, says the Ministry of Finance in Kabul is responsible for forwarding the salaries to other ministries, which then pass the money to individual workers. After investigating the operations of the Finance Ministry, Ragragio said the problem in getting salaries to workers in other parts of the country appears to stem from a lack of communication by provincial authorities with the interim administration.

"The payments for civil servants in the provinces have not been started because we have not received any payrolls coming from the provinces. And this is quite a concern. The Ministry of Finance, which is coordinating this process, has already sent so many reminders to the field. But nothing is coming in. So the representatives of the Ministry of Finance from five provinces are coming (today) to bring some of the payrolls and also give us an assessment of the situation in the field. That's the situation now."

Ragragio explained that a lack of records within the Finance Ministry about civil service employees in other parts of the country is forcing the interim administration to seek out payroll records from each province. She said it remains unclear whether records even exist in some of the offices of provincial administrators.

"The estimated number of civil servants, according to the Tokyo [donors] conference [for Afghanistan] last month, was 240,000, but there is no hard data on the number of civil servants anywhere. Prior to starting these salary payments last January 22nd, I did a pre-audit and a spot check, a walk through of the processes. And in the Ministry of Finance, at least, there is no record of recruitment or the employees' files. And so, we are basing it on the payrolls."

Ragragio says the UNDP also is insisting on a stringent approval process to ensure funds go to the intended recipients. She says this is slowing the process even further, particularly concerning pay for Interior Ministry police and some schoolteachers, including many women who are only now starting to be retrained after years of being banned from working by the Taliban.

"We have also reinforced the approval process in the Ministry of Finance. The only way it can be done is checking the attendance records. This is slowing the process, but nevertheless, after two weeks, we have paid 24 of the 29 ministries. And the only ones outstanding are more teachers from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Interior, the police."

She said she expects more salaries to be distributed to teachers and police in Kabul in the near future because additional payroll records have arrived this week and are being processed.

The restoration of salaries to public service workers is part of a larger strategy by both the UN and the interim government of Afghanistan that is focusing on emergency recovery needs, as well as the priorities for long-term reconstruction.

Alfredo Witschi-Cestari, another special adviser to the administrator of the UNDP, says both the interim administration in Kabul and the UN agree that the number one priority for the country at the moment is to prepare for millions of refugees and internally displaced persons who are expected to return to what is left of their homes in the months and years ahead.

Witschi-Cestari admits the task of helping the refugees and restoring some semblance of normal life will be difficult, considering the vast destruction across the country.

"As far as [the UNDP is] concerned, we are going to focus on the infrastructure and public services, and we intend to work hand-in-hand with the government in order to provide them with the expertise and resources as much as we can, depending very much on the result of the appeal [for help] to the international community."

Witschi-Cestari says the top priority for long-term reconstruction projects is rebuilding Afghanistan's schools and universities.