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Fresh money, troubled administration

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
Representatives of 80 countries and organisations got together in Paris last month to discuss support for rebuilding Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai outlined a new development strategy for reducing poverty and corruption, improving security and strengthening the rule of law in his country over the next five years. He asked for $ 50 billion to fund the measures. Donors responded with pledges totalling $18.4 billion. However, the periods for which the individual nations and organisations plan to put up the money differ widely.

The US said it would help to the tune of around € 6.6 billion ($ 10.2 billion), although some of that money still needs the approval of Congress. Germany pledged € 420 million ($ 648 million) up to 2010; and Japan promised $ 355 million ($ 550 million). France announced it would double its assistance to $ 107 million and the European Commission committed another € 500 million ($ 771.5 million). However, it is not clear how much of the assistance pledged is actually new money – and Afghanistan has been promised $ 25 billion since 2001, with only $15 billion so far having been disbursed.

The UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, addressed the conference with a call for more funds to be furnished as official budget support. Donors should work more closely with the Afghan government to make this possible, he said. However, his hopes that the conference would spark a new dynamism between donors and Kabul are not likely to be fulfilled. With a three-minute limit on each speech to the conference, the 80 representatives only just had enough time to make pledges. There was no room for real debate.

Critics said the conference was prepared mainly by the French government, with no real regard for the realities of Afghan life. A proposal by a number of donor countries to set up a joint planning in Kabul was not considered. According to a report by the World Bank, cooperation between donors and the Afghan government is still not working as well as it should. The World Bank itself is one of the most important donors. Deployment of external advisers to Afghanistan, it says, has created a kind of parallel administration, which is poorly supervised, but handles more than half the total support funds, bypassing the national governance system altogether. Such practices undermine the authority of the government, it is claimed, (see also D+C 5/2008 p.183) and compound its problems of recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Furthermore, the World Bank paper urgently re­commends that the country’s administrative institutions be decentralised. (cir)