Times ( London)
April 5, 2005
By VICTORIA BURNETT
Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, called on international donors yesterday to give his government more control over thecountry'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, theAfghan 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 controlover 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 (Euros1.1bn, 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 tospend 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 upstartorganisations 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 basedin 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, saidyesterday that Washington, Kabul's main sponsor, planned to double its aid from Dollars 2.5bn in 2004 to Dollars 5bn this year.