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The Killid Group
Governors disagree with Karzai on PRTsWritten by Hamid Kohistani
Monday, 04 April 2011 09:10
President Hamid Karzai detests them as "parallel structures" to his government, but governors are fond of their ample cash and quick-fix projects.
The NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are highly expected to give their place to the fledging Afghan security forces over the next few years as the so-called Transition Process unfolds. Despite their alleged good work and extensive support for development and humanitarian activities, the PRTs are received with skepticism, criticisms and a bit of appreciation by the Afghan Government.
A staunch critic of their existence and role is President Karzai who has repeatedly voiced concerns about the PRTs. "PRTs and some other international organizations have become big obstacles to the Afghan Government and to the Afghan ownership of the reconstruction process," Karzai told the newly elected lawmakers at their inauguration on 26 January. "I have seriously requested the international community to eradicate all the parallel structures to the Afghan Government and instead support government institutions," he said at a press conference a few days later.
Mr. Karzai fears that PRTs undermine Afghan sovereignty as rural populace increasingly turn to PRTs to solve their problems instead of seeking support from the government-appointed governors and district administrators. Another worry is the increased dependence of some governors and other provincial bodies on PRT funding and support than on the central government in Kabul.
"All Afghans, particularly government officials, must fiercely defend the national sovereignty," Karzai said.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that President Karzai's criticisms of the PRTs were comprehensible and were taken seriously. "We don't disagree with President Karzai," said Joseph Boltz, NATO-ISAF's spokesman, adding that the PRTs would gradually handover their responsibilities to the Afghan Government over the coming years.
Governors think otherwise
A Killid investigative report has found out that an overwhelmingly majority of governors across the country are satisfied with the performance of PRTs in their respective provinces.
Officials and governors in Badakhshan, Khost, Faryab, Balkh, Kunar, Panjshir, Logar, Ghazni, Kapisa, Parwan, Samangan, Helmand, Bamyan, Takhar, Zabul and Kandahar provinces appreciated the PRTs as effective and supportive.
"We're totally satisfied with the implementation of development and reconstruction projects by the German PRT here and would like to call on other foreign NGOs and donors to learn from it," said Shah Wali Adeeb, governor of the northeastern Badakhshan Province.
"We have put in place well-organized and coordinated interactions with the PRT and we're satisfied with their performance," said Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province where a British PRT is heavily involved in the development and counternarcotics activities.
The governor of Khost Province, Abdul Jabar Naeemi, said he was satisfied with the PRT performance and called on Ashraf Ghani, chairman of the Transition Commission, to extend the presence of PRT in his province.
Several governors, however, voiced dissatisfaction with the disbursement of aid money by PRTs without their consent. They suggested that the PRTs should give them greater say in project allocation, spending and supervision.
"The disbursement of project money and the quality of work are essential. For instance, a project costing about US$100,000 sometimes concludes with only $60,000 and no one knows what happens to the remaining money," said Attawllah Lodin, the governor of Logar Province.
Abdul Basir Salangi, the governor of Parwan Province, said: "The quality of projects implemented by PRTs - be they health, education, road asphalting etc - are very low and that's because the government does not supervise their work."
The governors of Daikundi and Nemroz provinces, meanwhile, lamented the absence of PRTs.
"Despite our persistent requests, unfortunately no country has opened up a PRT in this province and as a result there has been little development projects in this province than in the provinces with PRTs," said Ghurban Ali Urozgani, the governor of Daikundi Province.
In response to the widespread satisfaction with PRTs, President Karzai alleged that only incompetent governors want a PRT. "It's clear that the governors who need PRTs are unable to render their duties properly. I should find such governors and should chastise them for their inability to stand on their own feet; it proves that they are unable to work," he answered to a the question put by Killid.
Big funds, no accountability
PRTs were first established in Afghanistan in 2002 and were expanded rigorously in 2004-2005. Their role is to implement quick development and humanitarian projects - to win hearts and minds -, boost Afghan Government structures and deliver basic services to needy communities. PRTs are also comprised of a civilian component in which embedded civilian experts undertake different activities.
As of March 2011, there are 27 PRTs in 27 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - some provinces such as Daikundi and Nemroz have no PRTs. Many PRTs are headed by the U.S. military but other allied countries such as the UK, Canada, Germany, Italy, Norway, Turkey and even Lithuania run PRTs in different provinces.
Funding to a PRT comes from the military/defense ministry of the lead nation and spending is undertaken under the exclusive remit of the top PRT commander. Most of the PRT-funded development, reconstruction and humanitarian projects are awarded to local contractors for implementation with almost no accountability to provincial government entities or the beneficiaries.
PRT budgets are significantly imbalanced and reflect the economic strength of a lead nation. For instance, U.S. PRTs are widely regarded as wealthy and generous with large budgets while the Lithuanian PRT in the central-south Ghor Province is reported to have a very limited budget. However, no one knows exactly how much the PRTs have spent in Afghanistan since their inception.
Aid agencies such as Oxfam International and Save the Children have also criticized what they have dubbed as the "militarization" of aid by PRTs and have called on the military to step back from civilian, particularly humanitarian field.
PRT projects are also criticized as being prone to corruption and mismanagement as well as less effective compared to the projects implemented by civilian organizations. The Afghan Government is also accused of rampant corruption and inefficiency in its ranks and the Berlin-based corruption watchdog, Transparency International, has ranked it the third most corrupt state in the world.
Designed to remedy emergency needs or to demonstrate a friendship and support gesture, PRT-sponsored projects often lack adequate oversight by the local authorities and people and sometimes end up to the benefit of the armed opposition groups. The Taliban are reportedly charging contractors that implement PRT-funded projects and punish those who refuse to pay.
PRT vs. NSP
Backed by multilateral donors the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) is an Afghan Government-led development process which implements small-scale development and reconstruction projects in close consultation with local councils. Through the NSP mechanisms, 50,000 development projects have been implemented with $800 million donor funding across the country since 2003. The NSP has been lauded by the government and donors as effective and transparent.
"NSP projects are very different from PRT projects," said Mohammad Tariq Esmati, executive director of the NSP which falls under the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.
"Our projects are cost-effective, efficient and in-line with local needs and priorities," said Esmati alleging also that PRT projects did not have such characteristics.
Esmati and several other officials suggested that PRTs should implement their development projects through NSP structures and work closely with the government and local councils.