Norway upset with Afghan reform progress

    An Afghan elder shows an inked finger after voting on August 20, 2009. Afghanistan needs to do more in the areas of electoral reform and public finance management among other things, according to Ugo Astuto, European External Action Service director for South and Southeast Asia. Photo by: U.S. Army Garrison - Miami / CC BY-NC

    When donors placed conditions on their aid pledges to Afghanistan, skeptics argued this would not be enforced. But a year later at least one donor is proving them wrong by theatening to cut aid, and could bring others to follow suit.

    At a high-level meeting on July 3 in Kabul, donors reaffirmed their promise of support to Afghanistan amid the country’s transition. This included $16 billion in aid pledges until 2015, which donors pledged to Afghanistan under the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework issued on July 8, 2012.

    The framework set out five goals for the Afghan government, which include ensuring free and fair presidential elections in 2014 and improving the management of public funds. The country, according to a co-chair’s statement, has “made progress” on these two fronts, but not all donors however are impressed with the pace of reforms.

    Gry Larsen, Norway’s deputy foreign minister, told Devex that Afghanistan has made “considerable progress” in the areas of education, health infrastructure, finance and “budgetary discipline,” but in areas the country specifically committed to address, progress has been lagging.

    “Progress is either incomplete or lacking altogether in other fields such as reform of election laws and reporting on the implementation of the law on violence against women,” she said.

    Norway has pledged to provide some 750 million kroner (almost $120 million) to Afghanistan until 2017. But now, Larsen said, “we are currently assessing whether Norwegian assistance will be reduced,” emphasizing that Norwegian aid to Afghanistan is ”based on mutual commitments.”

    Aid in jeopardy

    Though not as explicit, other donors in attendance also hinted at the same possibility.

    Afghanistan needs to do more in the areas of electoral reform, public finance management, particularly in addressing corruption, revenue generation and human rights, according to European External Action Service Director for South and Southeast Asia Ugo Astuto, who spoke on behalf of the European Union and Switzerland.

    He noted: “We are disappointed that the hard deliverables, especially in the priority areas of elections and human rights, have not been fully met so far.”

    Devex reported a year ago that human rights is a big issue in Afghanistan, more the exception than the rule.

    “Making good on the commitments is critical for continuing our support to the government of Afghanistan. If there is insufficient progress our Parliaments and our citizens will question the value of maintaining such an exceptional level of development assistance,” added Astuto.

    For instance, the EU noted that the failure of having a “timely, inclusive, and transparent elections with a legitimate outcome could jeopardise the continuation of exceptional levels of assistance by the international community.”

    Donor requirements

    Astuto identified Europe’s “high priority deliverables.” These include the appointment of a chief justice, and the approval of several laws meant to increase Afghanistan’s financial sustainability and address fraud.

    U.K. Department for International Development Permanent Secretary Mark Lowcock meanwhile said Afghanistan needs to pass two important election laws before July 22, when parliament comes into recess.

    In addition, “we want to see more done to pursue the perpetrators of the Kabul Bank fraud to maximise asset recovery – to send a signal that fraud on a grand scale will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement.

    Both officials also underlined the effective implementation of the country’s law to curb violence against women.

    “Failure to deliver these reforms could jeopardise the long term stability of the country,” Lowcock said.

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    About the author

    • Ravelo jennylei

      Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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