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Moving Forward? Assessing Public Administration Reform in Afghanistan

BRIEFING PAPER
Sarah Lister September 2006

Moving Forward? Assessing Public Administration Reform in Afghanistan Overview

Contents
I. Introduction II. Public Administration Reform in Afghanistan III. The Scorecard: Achievements and Problems To Date IV. What can we learn from PAR elsewhere? V. What does PAR in Afghanistan need to succeed? VI. Ways Forward

Successful public administration reform (PAR) in Afghanistan is important for the government’s credibility and legitimacy. It is also critical to achieving the government’s goals and fulfilling its commitment to poverty reduction. In the Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (I-ANDS) and the Afghanistan Compact, both launched in January 2006, the government of Afghanistan and the international donor community laid out challenging benchmarks for PAR process. To date, however, reform has been slow and problematic, and the PAR programme that has been ongoing since mid-2002 has been criticised by ministers, other government officials, and donors. Some have even suggested that the PAR programme should be discontinued. Although there have been some considerable achievements, especially given the constraints, the

About the author. At the time of writing, Sarah Lister was Senior Researcher, Political Economy and Governance at AREU. The author is grateful for the input of Quan Dinh (Second Emergency Public Administration Project [SEPAP], IARCSC), Mat Kimberley and his team (Adam Smith Institute), Jalpa Patel (World Bank), Louise Perrotta (DFID) and Satyendra Prasad (World Bank, DFID) in commenting on a draft of this paper. The support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in funding this paper is gratefully acknowledged, but the paper reflects the views of the author alone.

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Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

PAR process has run into numerous problems. According to a number of reviews, reform has been “cosmetic”, with superficial restructuring of ministries and an emphasis on higher pay rather than fundamental change. One major issue has been the slow establishment and weak capacity of the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC), the main body responsible for steering and overseeing PAR. Ministries have also had very limited capacity to implement reform, and there has not been sufficient competent technical assistance (TA) to help them do so. Targets and timetables have been unrealistic, and coordination among donors has been poor, particularly in their support to the IARCSC. Experience from both developed and developing countries suggests that the reform of public administration is extremely difficult. Any chance of success is dependent on six necessary elements need to be in place: 1) strong domestic political leadership; 2) a focus on end results; 3) some measure of “demand” from citizens; 4) a process of institutional change; 5) appropriate and coordinated donor behaviour; and 6) realistic timeframes and expectations. Afghanistan measures up poorly on most of these elements. In particular strong domestic political leadership is lacking. The extremely fragile, aid-dependent environment, experience to date, and lessons from other countries suggest that the likelihood of PAR to be successful in Afghanistan is low. Nonetheless, the PAR process is critical to the country’s development, and thus stopping it is not a feasible option.

Although some aspects of the Afghan environment are unlikely to change in the short or medium term, the government and donors could improve PAR progress by instituting certain changes. In the absence of strong domestic political leadership, other activities should be explored to improve the environment within which reform takes place. These should include: • Closely linking PAR to the development of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy and the monitoring of the Afghanistan...
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