Financial Times ( London)
April 5, 2005



Afghans seek more control over aid

By VICTORIA BURNETT

 

Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, called on international donors yesterday to give his government more control over the

country's aid budget and help it scrutinise reconstruction spending

to make sure foreign money was not wasted.

His appeal, at the start of a three-day aid conference in Kabul, the

Afghan capital, came as Kabul and non-governmental organisations

crossed swords over legislation that would sharply curb the latitude

of NGOs operating in the country.

 

"The government must become the anchor for a more integrated,

transparent and accountable development effort," Mr Karzai told donor

representatives.

 

His comments reflect resentment at the government's limited control

over the billions of aid dollars that flow into the country and a

conviction among Afghans that foreign aid organisations are

profligate.

The administration feels rising pressure to show results to a public

that largely lacks access to electricity, water or paved roads.

 

Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, finance minister, said only Dollars 1.4bn (Euros

1.1bn, Pounds 747m) of the country's Dollars 4.9bn budget had passed

through government coffers last year. The rest went directly from

foreign donors to aid agencies. Of Dollars 4.7bn budgeted for this

year, the government would handle about Dollars 1.6bn.

 

Mr Ahady said donors' concerns about the government's ability to

spend efficiently and transparently did not justify leaving Kabul out

of the aid loop.

Mr Karzai said: "I want the international community to concentrate on

building Afghan capacity. . . . Imported capacity from abroad is not

a long-term solution for our problems."

Last week the cabinet approved a law that would prevent NGOs from

bidding for government contracts, which could include digging wells

or running health clinics.

The law sparked furore within the aid community and Mr Karzai agreed

on Sunday to review it. But he said the law was the product

of "serious concern . . . that some NGOs were responsible for

widespread corruption and misuse of public funds".

 

NGO representatives say the government has confused upstart

organisations that register themselves disingenuously as non-profit,

with legitimate NGOs. Kabul says the number of NGOs in the country

has ballooned from a few hundred three years ago to about 2,400.

 

Acbar, an umbrella organisation representing more than 70 NGOs based

in Afghanistan, said that, contrary to allegations that NGOs spent

about half their funds on overheads, its 23 biggest local and

international NGOs members kept overheads below 15 per cent.

 

Separately, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said

yesterday that Washington, Kabul's main sponsor, planned to double

its aid from Dollars 2.5bn in 2004 to Dollars 5bn this year.