With the end of the 16-year-old National Solidarity Programme (NSP) and the start of the Citizens’ Charter National Priority Program, Afghanistan is on the verge of a new wave of community-driven development (CDD). Scott Guggenheim and Khyber Farahi, advisors to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, gave their thoughts on what’s around the corner for CDD in Afghanistan on May 9, 2017 to a room packed with members of the World Bank and the international development community.

 

When the new administration took over in late October 2014, President Ghani envisioned rebuilding Afghanistan in a more democratic and participatory way, cutting back on the country’s dependence on foreign assistance and outside security forces while rebuilding the government’s capacity to deliver benefits and services to its people. To achieve this goal, the Afghan government would have to overcome several deep structural challenges that had emerged after forty years of near-continuous conflict. For development, these included a lack of accountability in budget planning, fragmentation of development efforts, and an inability to track and evaluate results from projects, had to be solved by policy reform.

 

This background presented the government with a tough decision when it came time to assess what to do about community development. NSP already had a demonstrated track record of success at delivering block grants in highly accountable ways to thousands of local communities to support local planning. On the other hand, the program was an imperfect instrument for a broader change in how services are delivered to communities. Line ministries, seeking greater control over their programming, did not buy into NSP as a national platform for implementation nor did NSP plan how it would link to various technical agencies or local governments. Additionally, the program was encountering increasing rates of elite capture in its block grants.

 

We could have made NSP bigger, more sustainable. It was certainly feasible after 15 years. But it had reached its limit of creativity. It needed to be disrupted. The only way that we could do this was to say our strategy is about better services but NSP the Fourth is not going to be the model,” Guggenheim said. “We had to close NSP to open up the door for a new idea. But for that next step in community development to happen, the government would need to change some of the overarching systems that it was using for planning, budgeting, and performance assessment.

 

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A late 2014 minister-level international conference on Afghanistan endorsed an overall reform strategy called “Realizing Self-Reliance.” Under the self-reliance reform program, 92 large programs were reduced to 12 outcome-driven national priority programs across 7 national cabinet councils. The government also upended the bottom-up system for developing its national budget, which had led to pervasive fragmentation and the “projectization” of development, with a more policy-based approach that saw the budget become the vehicle for turning Government policy decisions into resource allocations to national programs. 

 

To underscore the reform message, the government committed to including the delivery of basic services in a participatory way to the grassroots of Afghanistan as one of these 12 national priority programs, building upon the foundations of NSP but now including a whole-of-government approach. Thus, Citizen’s Charter was born amidst the government’s broader organizational and budgetary overhaul.

 

Working groups and stronger coordination across all levels were also part of the consolidation process. Deputy ministers had to meet and design the Citizen’s Charter without the assistance of consultants (to improve ownership), staff across ministries as well as the World Bank team all worked off the same document, and a technical working group reported progress and issues to the Afghan President every two months. The Citizen’s Charter itself was anchored inside the Ministry of Finance, which could exercise oversight control via the budget but was also considered a neutral arbiter of performance since it was not an executing ministry.

 

Guggenheim also touched on the World Bank’s contribution to the process. After a slow start, the Bank assigned a high-powered task team with both fragile state and community development experience to speed up preparation and provide expert guidance to the government’s working group. Besides the accelerated project appraisal that was completed within 6 months, the Bank was also able to provide an independent risk assessment of the share to be financed by the Bank (called “Citizen’s Charter Afghanistan Project”) and use its influence strategically to facilitate project planning when it stalled.

 

There are things that you can’t say in a domestic political culture, while an outside respected agency can bring something to the table that really helps these programs develop,” he said.

 

Guggenheim then outlined broader lessons for other CDD programs. Most importantly, if a main objective of CDD is to build trust in government and rebuild local level solidarity, then CDD programs need to be accompanied by policy reform if they are to go beyond being just projects. But timing and sequencing are also critical to success: the years of NSP were necessary to normalize community ownership of the development process within the government and communities, allowing for multi-agency engagement and the broader reform to service delivery that it embodies to take hold.

 

Understanding the political landscape was also important for working within fragile states. A country’s unique experience and structures determine what solutions and resources are needed to implement development. For example, spatial planning, while used in Indonesia for decades, was not used in Afghanistan, leading to difficulties in connecting roads to clinics and dams to irrigation.

 

Finally, CDD project leads and their country teams should distinguish between strategy and tactics: NSP was useful tactically in delivering block grants to communities, but to build on that foundation for a broader change to citizen-government relationships required embedding the next generation’s program in reforms to planning, budgeting, accountability, and the long-term role of sub-national governments.

 

If you want [CDD projects] to evolve into something sturdy and long-lasting, you need to deal with some of these problems with the budgeting and planning systems and how to work across ministries. But ownership and timing matter a lot. By the time we started with Citizen’s Charter, national planners and even line agency ministries were dissatisfied with their current systems and were increasingly open to a more partnership rather than a strict service delivery approach to local level development,” Guggenheim said.

 

While the transition from NSP to Citizen’s Charter was not easy, Community Development Councils themselves called for this evolution, requesting better service standards and improved predictability for funding. Funds needed to be available with regularity to ensure services like schools remained open year to year.

 

What is key for [communities] is continuity with what they were getting from NSP. NSP taught them that government programs didn’t all have to be top-down. But they also said that NSP had lit a spark – and now it was time to let them show that participation could help solve other development issues too. [They wanted] more recognition, more autonomy, more authority... Once they understood the storyline of how Citizen’s Charter was going to work, it solved a lot of questions and concerns that they had with leaving behind NSP,” Farahi said.

 

The Citizen’s Charter is already being tested by Afghanistan’s displacement crisis. Farahi, charged with ensuring inter-ministerial cooperation for the country’s 1.7 million returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), outlined some of the key challenges with the crisis, including the Ministry for Refugee’s low capacity, poor data and tracking capacity by responding humanitarian agencies, and the lack of a clear mechanism for service delivery as the returnees integrate into host communities and cities. The returnee population faces a staggeringly high 40% poverty rate and often lack national identification and other documentation, preventing them from enrolling in basic services such as education.NSP 2.png

 

How do we bridge the gap between when they receive their support and how they are going to be reintegrated into the communities?” he said. “With so many actors involved, how do you make sure there’s a coordinated response given the magnitude of the problem?

 

In response, the Government of Afghanistan developed a single policy framework, the National Policy Framework for Returnees and IDPs, to clarify the government’s approach, delineate the roles of actors, and support returnees and host communities. The Citizen’s Charter came at an opportune time, addressing many of the critical basic needs of these vulnerable populations, such as water, health, education, and social integration through supporting high-return districts in its first phase. And, drawing on the Bank’s technical expertise, the Citizen's Charter Afghanistan Project will also develop much-needed household-level data on IDPs and returnees through community profile exercises.

 

The framework is already paying dividends through successful inter-ministerial cooperation. The Ministry of Education has since waived their documentation requirement for enrollment into schools, and the government is working on implementing this policy decision on the ground. The government also advanced sufficient funds from its overall Citizen’s Charter budget to hire an additional 3,000 women teachers, who will be deployed to communities of high returnee numbers by late summer of 2017. The government has also developed clear criteria for beneficiary selection and are collaborating with UN agencies to conduct matching beneficiaries with services.

 

Farahi says the next challenge is to search for sustainable, longer-term livelihoods for these populations.

 

Given that a large majority of those returning from Pakistan are daily wage laborers, a component of Citizen’s Charter — the maintenance construction cash grant — will respond to that in the short term but we’ll have to see if big transportation projects, other work schemes, or specific livelihood schemes can ensure a more sustainable livelihood income for these returnees and IDPs,” he said.

 

While challenges remain, Guggenheim is upbeat about the prospects for the Citizen’s Charter in Afghanistan.

 

I think that there’s a sound basis for thinking that participatory approaches like the Citizen’s Charter can deliver across Afghanistan’s highly varied economic, geographical, and social landscape because they begin from a principle that with sufficient information, communities will make good choices and can make good partners for government programs that would otherwise have a hard time entering into such a difficult terrain. And it’s been quite remarkable to see such high levels of cooperation across ministries that so often competed with each other in the past,” he said, “but the hard part is just beginning now.