Talking Governance

by Joshua Foust on 7/2/2009

Joshua Foust (me!), February 27, 2007:

Yet even after years of what the IMF calls “building capacity,” Kabul cannot manage its resources effectively. Trying to unravel the financial mess, the World Bank in late 2005 drafted a report on Afghanistan’s public finances. It contains some sobering statistics: domestic revenues are only 5% of GDP, the fiscal deficit is financed entirely by a foreign aid, the entire operating budget is managed by a trust fund. The government cannot directly channel the reconstruction money, so it delegates to NGOs and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). As a result, it exercises no control, no accountability, and, most ominously, no legitimacy over the reconstruction process…

Making all aid projects budgetary line items—turning them local, instead of keeping them foreign—would make the reconstruction more about Afghanistan itself and less about the interests of the donor countries… projects should be coordinated through various local government ministries, essentially turning them into contractors of the national government. This would introduce two improvements: a domestic budget to keep track of how money is spent, and an additional layer of legitimacy for the central government.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, July 1, 2009:

Despite commitments from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that they would send additional personnel to help the new forces in southern Afghanistan with reconstruction and governance development, State has added only two officers in Helmand since the Marines arrived. State has promised to have a dozen more diplomats and reconstruction experts working with the Marines, but only by the end of the summer.

To compensate in the interim, the Marines are deploying what officers here say is the largest-ever military civilian-affairs contingent attached to a combat brigade — about 50 Marines, mostly reservists, with experience in local government, business management and law enforcement. Instead of flooding the area of operations with cash, as some units did in Iraq, the Marine civil affairs commander, Lt. Col. Curtis Lee, said he intends to focus his resources on improving local government.

Well, the devil is in the details, I suppose. As I’ve said before: I really don’t think the Marines quite understand the scope of what they’re attempting to do, and I hope they’re doing it with a years-long view. Because governance problems in Helmand won’t be fixed in a single summer, or even a single calendar year. Again: I hope they can find a way where all the others have failed.

Either way, I’ll be on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight, umm, tonight, to discuss all of this. Tune in at 5 p.m. EST.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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