Alumni News - Afghanistan
By Richard Prekodravac
20 June, 2014
Abdul Hadi Jalali (Master of Public Administration 2011 cohort) reflects on the challenges in Afghanistan as Director of Donors Coordination at the Independent Administrative Reforms and Civil Serivce Commission. In this article, first published in the November edition of Australia Awards - Afghanistan Newletter, Abdul considers those challenges and solutions, as an alumnus of the Graduate School of Government.
Policy and Governance Challenges in Afghanistan
by Abdul Hadi Jalali (reproduced with the permission of the author).
Afghanistan’s aid dependency ratio of 71 percent of its GDP is one of the highest in the world. Over the past decade, the country’s development partners have invested significant amounts of official development assistance (ODA) to support its development and economic growth, although approximately 82 percent of this was off-budget during the period 2002 to 2010 (Ministry of Finance 2010).
In 2010, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and the international community decided to align a major portion of ODA towards Afghan government-led processes originating from the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) launched in mid-2008.
In particular, at the Kabul Conference 2010, coordinating ministers translated the country’s development priorities into focused implementation plans in the form of 22 National Priority Programs (NPPs) (GIRoA 2011). Since then, the implementation of these NPPs has been a priority for the Afghan government and its development partners.
This article briefly reviews the development of the National Priority Program 3, Afghanistan Efficient and Effective Government (NPP3), enabling us to assess the NPP process as a mechanism for the policy development necessary to meet the challenges of the forthcoming transition decade. The NPP3 serves as a policy document addressing strategic public sector reforms and capacity building initiatives. As its title suggests, it represents the Afghan government’s attempt to improve governance in the country. Let’s briefly review how it was developed and endorsed.
As the lead Afghan government agency for reforms, the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC) began developing the NPP3 shortly after the Kabul Conference 2010. The approval process was such that the development partners had to agree to its strategic goals and approach and then endorse it in two official forums, namely the Standing Committee Meeting and the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board Meeting. After four versions of the document, the document was finally endorsed by the development partners in early 2013.
During the two and a half years of program development, the development partners’ continuous concern was that the program did not adequately reflect a government wide reform strategy. They argued that the IARCSC must do more to develop a comprehensive and effective government-wide reform and capacity building strategy. In response, the IARCSC consistently countered that the document did, indeed, represent a government-wide approach to reforms and a strategy for future governance in the country.
Amidst this debate, it became evident that there was marked difference in the understanding of reforms and governance between the Afghan government and its development partners.
This caused me to consider the complexities and obstacles standing in the way of effective policymaking and implementation in Afghanistan. Given that four NPP3 versions developed by donor-funded IARCSC consultants were not endorsed, I wonder about the type of internationally accepted policymaking process we are attempting to implement and about the particular impediments faced by Afghanistan.
Modeling public policy
As a student of public administration, I have read much about policy-making processes in the last few years and believe public policy can be reduced to the following simple statement ‘what governments choose to do or not to do’ (Dye 2011: 4). Further, policy experts have noted the various stages of policy-making and implementation, or the policy cycle. For example, in Australia, they follow a comprehensive cycle, which begins with issue identification, followed by policy analysis, policy instruments, consultation, coordination, decision making, implementation and finally evaluation (Althaus et al. 2007).
Considering the high number of regional and global issues affecting the Afghan government’s processes and performance, I argue that our country must consider and execute each stage of the policy cycle carefully to ensure effective policymaking and implementation.
What is currently happening?
Major Afghan government agencies across the government sector are highly dependent on donors to fund their senior staff salaries, including both national and international advisor positions, and their development projects. The high level of authority that these officials exercise in policy development is underwritten by the general assumption that the country’s civil service lacks effectiveness due to its traditional management practices that have been fostered in autocratic regimes ruling the country for over half a century.
The participation of middle-level and junior-level civil servants in agenda setting for policy development is substantially limited by the continuous waves of organisational and structural reforms occurring in the ministries. Also, official representations from the private and civil society sectors in public policy making process are weak and vague, largely due to the fact that both these sectors are still very immature and new in the country.
Therefore, we consistently witness two parties competing for policies best suiting their definitions of the subject matter – namely the Afghan government bureaucracy consisting of ministers, their senior advisors and officials, and the donors represented by the development partners. For example, in the case of NPP3, the IARCSC continuously advocated for a course of action that would achieve the results it considered important, arguing that it is able to define these objectives based on its 10 years’ experience. Development partners strived to include issues in the program they considered important for future reforms and good governance.
What needs to be questioned here is, if both parties are serving the same government, why are their issues, objectives and courses of action suggested for inclusion in the policy document so different?
I argue that what Afghanistan needs is a well-developed and rigorously consultative understanding of reform or any other policy matter.
What should be happening?
With so many influential stakeholders involved in Afghanistan’s future, the country can no longer be managed by a government system, but rather it needs a governance system. The Afghan government, in close collaboration with its development partners, must bring about institutional and organisational reforms that ensure effective involvement of private and civil society sectors in public policy-making.
I therefore suggest a hybrid model of integrated governance, encompassing a logical and well thought-out combination of traditional public administration, new public management reforms and new public governance (Gallop 2012).
Together, the Afghan government, its development partners and the country’s other stakeholders must address some serious national issues such as aid dependency, widespread poverty, corruption, heavily politicised institutions, poor standards of education and health, and oppression of women. These can only be tackled if reforms establish a governance system that entails consultative and well-coordinated policy-making processes.
Integrated governance can serve as a useful framework for the Afghan government. The existence of some traditional public administration elements, such as accountability, will ensure integrity and preserve the public interest. A well analysed and logical set of new public management reforms can support the efficient development of civil society and markets. A logical and relevant set of new public governance reforms can ensure community engagement in change.
Integrated governance will provide a wider range of stakeholders with more equitable opportunities to participate in the country’s policymaking processes. It will establish structures within the Afghan government that will enhance effective coordination amongst the involved parties, such as the development partners and the private and civil society. In doing so, it will also rationally strengthen the government’s position in managing the system.
The inclusion of private and civil society sectors in policy-making and implementation processes is also likely to lead to cleaner politics. Cleaner politics will mean policies will have a better likelihood of success and greater impacts.
Althaus, C., Bridgman, P. and Davis, G. (2007), The Australian Handbook, 4th ed., Allen and Unwin: Australia.
Dye, T.R. (2011), Understanding Public Policy, 13th ed., Pearson Education Inc: USA.
Gallop, G. 2012, Public Management and Governance (GOVT 6331), at The University of Sydney, Sydney, 2 April.
Ministry of Finance. (2010), Development Cooperation Report, Government of Afghanistan: Kabul. The Government of Afghanistan. (2011),
Towards a Self-Sustaining Afghanistan: An Economic Transition Strategy, Government of Afghanistan: Kabul.
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