Notes from the Field

Afghanistan’s Provincial Governors Exercise Responsiveness, Transparency

March 9, 2011

In Afghanistan, governors are responsible for coordinating security, planning and development, and administration in their provinces. While they receive restricted funding from the Ministry of Finance, most lack adequate resources to equip their offices, plan and oversee development, or fund initiatives independent of the central government. Consequently, governors often seek financial support elsewhere, and in some cases provincial planning consists of little more than presenting “wish lists” of projects to different donors. The delays and lack of accountability inherent in this context offer few opportunities for governors to develop realistic budgets or promote strong and credible accounting practices, which has significantly hindered the development of sustainable government institutions and systems that are sufficiently responsive to citizens.

The Asia Foundation’s Performance Based Governors’ Fund (PBGF), supported by USAID, DFID, and the Belgian Government addresses these twin challenges: unreliable resources and cumbersome funding systems. By creating a predictable cash flow ($25,000 per month per province), it enables governors to prioritize budgets based on six expenditure categories: equipment, transportation, repairs and maintenance, information communication technology, capacity building, and community outreach. By requiring strict accounting procedures and full transparency, PBGF has helped governors develop stronger financial management capacities in a culture rife with inefficient and unaccountable spending. The first program to provide a metric for provincial government performance in Afghanistan, PBGF effectively taps the dedication and energy of provincial civil servants, such as the governors’ offices, to improve operations at the local level.

Afghanistan governors at PBGF training

Above, PBGF regional teams conduct training sessions with officers in Laghman province to monitor PBGF disbursements and train new provincial officers.

The PBGF facilitates information-sharing and public scrutiny of related budgets and financial reports through a dedicated website and by convening regular meetings at several administrative levels. Because PBGF doesn’t disburse money unless strict budgeting and accounting procedures are followed, it provides an incentive for responsible financial management.

Though the majority of PBGF funds are used by the governors’ offices to address crucial operating expenses, funding also supports unique community projects, such as: district-level outreach to convene tribal and religious leaders in shuras; resources to develop campaigns against poppy cultivation in Laghman; constructing additional classrooms for a crowded girls’ school in Faryab; and a two-month, demand-based vocational training for women in Helmand providing skills in tailoring and embroidery.

Women from Farah province participate in a tailoring and literacy training course, supported by PBGF funds.

Women from Farah province participate in a tailoring and literacy training course, supported by PBGF funds.

Over the past year, PBGF has tested and developed governors’ abilities as custodians of public resources, demonstrating that sub-national entities can and should be entrusted with money directly and account for their expenditures transparently to eliminate the abuse of funds. PBGF’s pilot run has proven to be more than simply a rapid, responsive channel for sub-national resources.

By engaging these crucial decentralized bodies, the program supports the Government of Afghanistan to contribute to public sector finance reform in Afghanistan and ultimately, enhanced development and stability across the country.

Tamara Failor is an Asia Foundation associate in the Afghanistan office. She can be reached at tfailor@asiafound.org.

Write a comment:

* Required

Comments are moderated. Please be polite and on-topic.

 characters available