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Afghan Aid Row Flares Ahead of Donor Meet

Arab News

April 4, 2005

Lots of fanfare, billions of dollars spent and not much to show. When donor countries meet in Kabul this week, from today to Wednesday, President Hamid Karzai's new government will plead for more control over the purse strings in order to inject pace into economic reconstruction, involve more Afghan firms and prioritize infrastructure and poverty reduction programs.

On the eve of the Afghanistan Development Forum, Karzai issued a stinging rebuke to non-government organizations (NGOs) for squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid from the international community.

The president met ambassadors and representatives of the United Nations and donor countries to explain why the cabinet gave its blessing last week to a draft law barring NGOs from tendering for government projects. The government said yesterday it had agreed to set up a joint task force with donors to review policy toward NGOs. We had a responsibility toward the Afghan people, as well as the taxpayers in the donor countries, to stop NGOs that are corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable, he said, while also praising the good work of those NGOs serving the country's development and humanitarian needs.

Karzai became Afghanistan's first democratically elected leader last October, after leading an interim government set up after US-backed forces ousted the Taleban in late 2001. Afghans saw him both as a savior from regional warlords who thrived during the past quarter century of conflict and as a guarantor of billions of dollars of aid.

In December, he picked a Cabinet loaded with Western educated technocrats, who are under pressure from an impatient public to start delivering them a better life. During the last three years, international aid has focused on humanitarian and emergency needs, and largely dealt with the return of millions of refugees.

Now, the government wants sustainable economic growth for a nation of 28 million that is one of the world's poorest. A lot of money has been pledged to Afghanistan, but the question is how much money has actually been spent, said Adib Farhadi, director of Afghanistan Reconstruction and Development Services, the government division liaising

with donors.

Farhadi says it's in the pipeline but results are slow. This is why the Afghan people are discontented. They ask: You've promised us roads, you've promised us jobs, you've promised us electricity. Where are they? Yet millions of dollars are being spent, he said.

The government is partly blaming NGOs. It reckons the cost of delivery on some projects had overheads ranging from anywhere between 35 to 60 percent, due to expensive foreign consultants and overpayment for services and material that should have been purchased more cheaply.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), representing 88 aid agencies, says that is a false picture.

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