Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Lack of Oversight on Performance at Government Institutions Exacerbates the Sorry State of Governance & Public Services (Part 1)


Lack of Oversight on Performance at  Government Institutions Exacerbates the  Sorry State of Governance & Public Services  (Part 1)

In the advent of establishment of new political order in Afghanistan after toppling of Taliban regime by the US and allied military in December 2001, Government institutions in Afghanistan were equal to not-existing. The US, NATO and international community started to rebuild these institutions in order to strengthen Afghan Government services, functionality and operability. But all this was done without first laying out extensive planning. Reconstruction of Government institutions is done in two phases – to say it in the simplest form: 1) the hardware part, which constitutes buildings, structures, energy, transportation and logistics, equipment, vehicles and all kinds of infrastructure; and 2) the software part, which includes technocrats, skilled workers, knowledge, expertise, establishment of routine procedure, effective management, manpower, oversight on ongoing projects, mandate, objectives, goals, chain of command, hierarchy, operation and maintenance and reporting.
In the process of reconstruction of Government institutions, more emphasis was put on the hardware part of it as more resources were available, but the software part of the process was hardly given any due diligence or attention. Meaning, lack of talented technocrats, skilled and properly educated employees, and assignment of people based on personal relationships, nepotism and political favoritism in various, important senior positions led the entire Government institutions to serve vested interests and look for personal benefits, which resulted in endemic corruption, scandals and formation of inefficient Government organizations. This trend remained to nurture for a long time until it became part of the culture of Government institutions.
Capacity building of leaders, managers, employees and workforce of an institution / organization is equally – or even more important – than infrastructure or the buildings. Since last one and half decade, it has been established trend that donor countries and organizations recuperate more than fifty percent of the grant allocated to different government institutions mainly due to lack of capacity and skills of concerned ministries and institutions to implement development projects. Despite harsh criticism at national and international levels because of this laggard nature, there is no tangible record to show efforts by Government leaders at various ministries and institutions to improve the current status quo. The reason is that the same people are sitting in key positions with no knowledge or talent to implement. Government should bring change in this status quo and break the ice by removing the present officials and replace them with experienced, knowledgeable and talented ones. The current bureaucracy is the main reason for corruption, inability to deliver good governance and public services to the masses.
There have been cases in point where heads of certain Government institutions are removed and replaced, but to gauge and compare the background of the old ones with newly installed ones, in most of the cases, officials are shifted from one province to another or from one department to another, which exacerbates the status quo. This whole phenomenon has turned most of the Government organizations as Zombies, meaning they are there only to spend all the money, use the resources and social status to keep themselves alive, receive good salaries, enjoy social status and spend yearly budgets without any impact on beneficiary communities, and without conducting yourly audits of money spent, audit of project results and project impact on beneficiary etc.
Here are cases in point of the Government ministries and institutions that are blatantly wide of the mark to meet objectives, implement projects as per national economic agenda, to bring about positive change or spend the money within yearly budgeted framework. These are Zombie ministries and institutions, which need urgent performance overhaul, structural changes and extensive overview of knowledge, talent and experience of the employees at all levels.
Though very few Government institutions have unleashed the process of reform, which include ministry of interior, office of the Attorney General, Judiciary and Justice Department as a whole, ministry of finance and ministry of defense, there still remains a large number of other important ministries and government institutions which need drastic reforms and changes in the way they perform.
The first to come in mind is Traffic Police Department. One can imagine the sorry state of Traffic system in Kabul and hundreds of other cities in the country. 
A country’s first image of the level of development, organization, law and order and discipline is exhibited from the manner how the traffic is managed. Managers and leaders of the department have been enjoying good salaries, protocols and other perks related to their benefits and packages, but their performance is equal to zero. They continue to keep the status quo in place as, a) this is the only way to keep the status quo that benefit them the most, and b) they do not have to work hard to bring about improvement, positive changes and routine procedure in the traffic  system. Lack of oversight on this department ensures continuation of the status quo, which relentlessly take toll on general public.
Government should take heed of the problems generated by bad traffic system in the country, and assign professional, industrious and knowledgeable officials at the helm of affairs of this department to bring changes. It is not so difficult to implement organized and routine traffic system. There are professional firms and traffic engineers who can advise, plan and provide implementation strategy for building a viable, modern and normal traffic system. It is always cheap to spend on improvement and up-gradation of certain government institutions rather than to continue with the status quo, which definitely can prove more expensive and resource depleting phenomenon.
Kabul Municipality is one major laggard in the process of bringing in structural changes, which is badly needed, and effect immediate reforms in its management and operations system.
Kabul city streets are not clean, garbage is not removed routinely, dustbins do not exist at all, and where they do exist, they are in dilapidated state.
Tall buildings of up to twenty stories are being constructed in residential areas without any check and control. Culturally, Afghans consider their homes the safest place on earth. But this safety is encroached by construction of tall buildings because strangers who reside in these buildings can easily have access to peer and look inside the surrounding, neighboring houses, eighty percent of which are not more than two stories.
It seems there aren’t any rules and regulations government ongoing construction of high rise in the city. It is incumbent on Kabul Mayor to take heed of this irregularity and take drastic, remedial steps to regulate this sector. Water well construction is one major concern. Every household, building owners and landlords in Kabul city dig deep water well at will. There is no procedure in place, such as obtaining license before construction of water well.
Hundreds of deep water wells are currently under construction across Kabul city. Water level has gone tens of meters down compared to twenty years ago. Many surveys and scientific findings have drawn grim picture of underground water in Kabul within next ten years.
Kabul Municipality in collaboration with National Geological Department should lay out a plan and enforce stern regulations by imposing licensing and other administrative procedures on people who want to dig deep water well. In addition, Kabul Municipality should set aside considerable budget and start to construct extensive piping network for water distribution to households in Kabul city, and build large water dams around Kabul to feed the city.
Most recently, Kabul Municipality exhibit hectic activities in the wake of involvement of USAID and World Bank to upgrade and beautify the city streets, but this is being done under a separate project and project management team, the credit of which does not go to Kabul Municipality. People want to get rid of the present irregularities and mismanagement unleashed by Kabul Municipality. It is hoped these points are taken heed of and effective steps are put forth.

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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