President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at 4th Annual EU Anti-Corruption Conference – Transcript

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at 4th Annual EU Anti-Corruption Conference – Transcript

Presidential Palace

Kabul-Afghanistan

 

April 24, 2018

 

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

The First lady, Ambassador Mayaudon, Mr. Sopko, distinguished members of the cabinet, His Excellency the Chief Justice of Afghanistan, distinguished ambassadors, colleagues, members of civil society, the business community, chairman of the Independent Election Commission, chairman of the Independent Complaints Commission, ladies and gentlemen.

A very big welcome to you. I am glad that you consider this is a safe space; other people might think otherwise. Thank you.

First, let me pay tribute to our martyrs of democracy and equally express sympathy for people of Canada and other recent victims of terrorism. May I ask for a moment of silence please?

[A moment of silence]

The Chapan [a kind of coat worn over clothes] I am wearing is one of most valuable gifts that I have received as the President. This is a gift from people of Mirza Olang, a people who were subjected to brutal torture and murder, the repetition of which again we have witnessed through the attack on our democratic institutions. The reason I considered it as my most valuable gift as a President is that these people speak for all of Afghanistan in terms of their commitment to democracy, to rule of law, to a secure environment where they will be able to elect their leaders without fear in a fair and free elections – inclusive elections. Because of that will, we will not waver in moving forward with our four political tasks; elections, peace, and reforms, especially in implementing our anti-corruption strategy and poverty eradication. These are the tasks that the people of Afghanistan, one third of them go to bed hungry every night, mandate us.

I would like to thank the EU and our international partners for dialogue, support and staying power. All you distinguished ambassadors and Ambassador Yamamoto and your colleagues, I would like to thank you for your courage and conviction in staying with us, and being such advocates for a people whose aspirations are the right values and whose sufferings have known no limits. Thank you on behalf of my people.

You have chosen an excellent theme “Corruption in recess, Peace in process”. It could be broadened to saying “Reforms in progress and Corruption in recess”. I’d like to express special appreciation for Mr. Sopko and the SIGAR team for being such excellent partners and for shining light on the areas that need further attention. Let me also extend special welcome to the new members of [indiscernible] including Mr. Tank and let me thank General Skiple and all the members of the Resolute Support Mission for their phenomenal sense of dedication and support to us.

I would also like to acknowledge colleagues who are leading and managing transformation at their institutions, ministries and general directorates. It is my particular privilege and honor to acknowledge to leading role of our chief justice, Chief Justice Halim. Thank you for what you are doing. The attorney general is not with us, I’d like to especially mark him also.

Let me take you back to 2014. What was the mood? I revert with Sir Nicholas’s permission to an English poem, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold … The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” So wrote Yeats in 1919. The poem captured the predominant mood because the mood both inside, in the region, and abroad was how can four simultaneous transitions; political, security, economic and the culture of state – the pervasive corruption – be tackled. The Government of National Unity faced its four dimensional challenges and I hope now to take you to the moment.

What is the emerging trend? Four years into the decade of transformation, we are still confronting our four-fold challenge and in the six years remaining, we need to establish our self-reliance, but emerging pattern is discernable, the center is jelling. The best men and women are acting on their convictions. They are accepting high office at enormous personal cost and sacrifice. Democratic change, peace and self-reliance are achievable goals within the decade of transformation and Afghan businesses are investing. They are pouring tens of billions of dollars. Now, I think, they are exceeding, their investment is exceeding billions of dollars. This is a sign of things that can come. The trend is positive but it is reversible, so we cannot rest on our laurels; on the contrary, we must exhilarate our efforts.

Our efforts with Central Asian and other regional partners are showing the immense potential of Afghanistan as a roundabout and corridor. In 2014, you would have been considered mad to say that Central Asia is looking south. Now there is a consensus that all of Central Asia, Central Asia-5 and Caucuses and we are looking north. But more significantly, we are witnessing regional connectivity as a probable reality and a palpable reality rather than a dream. Twenty five years on the books, TAPI is now becoming the reality as well as transmission lines and others.

Increasing probability of regional connectivity is turning established wisdom on its head. Prime Minister Abbasi of Pakistan probably put it best. He argued in his last visit that connectivity will likely impel regional cooperation on security rather than the other way around. And we thank all our partners, foundational partner the United States; European Union, Japan, all of you around the table, UK and others as well as our regional partners have been such significant players in producing a different image and a different sense of possibility.

I would like to acknowledge the South Asia Strategy of President Trump and the United States as a game changer because it is the force re-examination of assumptions by all actors and without the strategy our peace offer and the peace discussions would not have been positive. Thank you Ambassador Bass and colleagues for your continued and daily work.

Our peace offer, regional partnerships and democratic commitments and reform efforts are redefining the rules of the game to align them with the Constitution. In 2014, nobody could have claimed that the formal and informal rules of the game are aligned with the Constitution. Now the Constitution as our rule book is increasingly becoming our defining reality and because of that elections are crucial to establishing the mandate, and Dr. Sayyad and Mr. Aryaee have been given that task and the nation looks to them.

On corruption, let me first tackle the big picture bringing depth and breadth, highlight some of the challenges and then go to briefly take stock of the six priorities in the ministries.

Big picture. Our anti-corruption strategy is meeting the criteria of a good strategy and avoiding the symptoms of a bad strategy. There is no fluff. You see what you judge. The criteria are clearly articulated and the tasks are clearly delineated; therefore, the judgement particularly for Mr. Sopko becomes easy and we welcome that.

Colleagues will share details regarding the six priorities I will briefly touch on them later. But what I would argue is that initial gains on all six fronts have created the foundation for exhilarating change. We look very much forward to the July NATO Conference and to the November Geneva Conference to be able to give stock not of efforts, but of results. A whole of government effort is not yet fully in place. As some of the priority ministries are lagging and we need to clearly highlight those that are lagging and push between now and July and now and November to get even pace.

A whole of state effort, unfortunately, is not yet in place. The Judicial and the Executive branches have moved and both show significant gains. Parliament has neither come with its own anti-corruption strategy nor acted on request from the Attorney General to turn over members accused of corruption or abetting and aiding corruption for prosecution. This is a significant challenges because parliamentary immunity is an issue and it goes to the heart of rule of law. But when an institution has members… the majority we respect, but those members that stand for corruption and abetting and pushing; and this issue should be one of your key themes in the discussion of corruption in the election process.

Resistance as anticipated in the strategy has been intense and will intensify. There should be no misunderstanding. This is not a walk in the park. A lot of interests are challenged and they will put a strong resistance, but what is gratifying is the public response. Every reform effort in the anti-corruption area has been welcomed and holistically and wholly supported. We look forward to the July and November conferences to really provide a full account to our international partners; prior to that, we will be holding a national conference on our anti-corruption, on the implementation and further refinement of our anti-corruption strategy.

Bringing depth and breadth.

My first remark is that high councils are proving to be an effective and efficient mechanism of decision making and consensus building. The private sector is there, civil society is there, all parts of the government; this has become an important way in the interrelationship among councils is increasingly moving forward. Private sector dialogue and partnership is intensifying. I just provide you with one example. Since March 21st, our new year, we have had six meetings of the High Economic Council and we have had five meetings of the Anti-poverty or Poverty Eradication Council. This indicates and we are moving forward to the initiative of Mr. Zaki – Minister of Labor – on a big conference on labor that we have been working for weeks on.

The area that we did not promise but have delivered is municipal reform. Significant reform is underway. I congratulate Mr. Naderi and his colleagues and also the IDLG, Mr. Bek and his colleagues for… 8 reformist mayors have been recognized and mayor of Kandahar based on the last meeting of the Urban Council was given a special presidential award recognition. This is a man who managed to give firm property rights within a year to tens of thousands of residents of Kandahar to complete a road that was stuck for 60 years and to digitize all assets and properties in Kandahar within a short order. That type of initiative is moving forward. The mayor of Qala Naw was rewarded for being the first mayor to create a center for 400 woman entrepreneurs in the heart of his city. These examples stand out and this is an indication of increasing accountability. Every single mayor has significantly increased domestic revenue and provided credible expenditure.

Analysis of governance by the Civil Service Commission; I’d like to particularly acknowledge Mr. Naderi and his colleagues and the commissioners for immense work and for creating a very fashionable and very livable headquarters. People in Palace who saw it came to envy that everything is Afghan-made I hope every other institution follows both your taste and your support of local industry. They have completed analysis of eight provinces. Based on this analysis, we are now going to move significantly to reform local governance. And analysis will be shared with our international partners so you can really see the most significant level of government after the cabinet how it operates and what needs to be done.

I’d like to thank the women of Afghanistan for their particular role. I’d like to single out Judge Rasooli for her remarkable courage in conviction, in prosecuting those that needed to be prosecuted. Thank you Justice Rasooli.

But I also like to thank the women who went to the United States. The young leaders went to the United States. I was speaking to General Nicholson’s wife on Friday, they left an impression that Afghan women do not occupy their positions of influence in power because they are women, because they are the best and they have the conviction.  So Minister Nihan and colleagues, thank you for your immense effort; Deputy Minister Surabi.

Women, youth and the poor have welcomed the merit-based recruitment system, Minister Naderi I hope you will show some of the pictures of thousands of women and men standing in stadiums and applying for exams. If anybody tells you that there is a shortage of women applicants, highly educated women applicants, ask him. Over eight thousand in Herat, over one thousand in Helmand. If one thousand women in Helmand can apply for jobs, they are available everywhere, and we should drop the myth that Afghan women are no longer available, or no longer educated or no longer willing to work.

The second generation of procurement reform is underway. I’d like to salute minister Yari, our minister of Public Works who started the process and Mr. Hotaki who is furthering it. Afghanistan is going to be the second country in South Asia to move to electronic procurement, and equally to an investment-based procurement mechanism.

Condition-based approaches from the state building contract, Mr. Ambassador with you to compact with the United States to IMF is working. Mr. Sopko, we like condition-based… we are one of the few countries on earth that likes condition-based approaches and it is important that we further and we move forward with them because that moves the dialogue from asking and encouraging to focusing on specifics, and all our international partners are very significant in this, and I welcome your growth.

Let me turn to challenges.

International competitive bidding is emerging as a major challenge. These rules – and I was at the World Bank for ten years – were made for conditions of peace, for conditions of genuine competition. Unfortunately, under current conditions, the Afghan private sector and the Afghan industry is being turned into subcontractors of subcontractors. They are neither efficient by cost or by delivery. We have assembled a picture of all our procurement office and if you like to, we’ll share them with you. Delays are frequent, cost overruns are the trend. Instead of complaining, we have a proposal which we started with the Asian Development Bank. Let’s shift to performance-based approach to the infrastructure.

Let us indicate what we need to complete rather than how a process is done and you monitor the process, the fundamental shift would be that the work would be tailored to the capacity of Afghan contractors and we would get international engineers and international project monitors and supervisors. The previous approach has not worked. Your citizens asked where the billions of dollars that you provided to us went. And one answer is to the contractors. So we need a fundamental shift now that we have done our first significant installment of reform, I hope that you would work with us to do second installment together, and the Afghan private sector is ready and engaged. There are 200 Afghan private firms that are not having sufficient business but ultimately everything is being done by them and cost will be reduced substantially.

We have reached agreement on a “One UN” and I thank Ambassador Yamamoto for his leadership. The first side website providing information to Afghan public will become available in June. A level playing field judging the effort of government and the international partners regarding mutual accountability will be very welcomed. If after 17 years of presence in Afghanistan, for the first time, the UN, the embodiment of the Global Anti-Corruption Strategy is creating its first website, judges us also either by the same pace and standard or create a level playing field please.

Civil society and NGOs have yet to act on our public request for generalized accountability for expenditure of over 800 million dollars and the results. We love the civil society; we want their support, but it has to be a framework of mutual accountability and comparison. They are phenomenal examples of success; the Swedish Committee, the Japanese NGO, the Norwegians, etc.; there is no shortage. We are not saying that the problem is sector-wide but the successes need to become generalized. With four million dollars, Dr. Kimura has achieved remarkable results; 12,500 hectares of irrigated land that now provide employment, livelihood to 650,000 and in addition reforestation, massive reforestation, and a community willingness and participation. The Swedish Committee; and effect was both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education of Afghanistan during our…. So the phenomenal success. We don’t want to put everybody in the same pan but it requires a more generalized approach so successes can be moved.

And the last challenge is the dialogue regarding conditions for shifting from off-budget to on-budget needs intensification and equally we need a discussion on technical assistance and its modalities and parallel organizations. Modes of technical assistance when we lack strategy and everything was to encourage us and impel us were satisfactory, but today you have reformers and I’d like to bring it to your attention that 49 percent of the Afghan cabinet is under the age of 40. They are extraordinarily well-educated and grounded in this country. These leaders require different type of interlocutors, different modalities of technical assistance and we have had a very successful series of examples through online advice rather than on the ground. So we would urge this to be taken.

Six priorities.

Let me touch on them briefly. First is political leadership. I hope that there is no question that the Government of National Unity has taken anti-corruption serious, and one illustration again is that 49 percent of the Afghan cabinet is under 40. But it is not just that, the CBR process that was stuck has been exhilarated; now, staffing these capable ministers and leaders of agencies are being provided with the right staff through the right competitive exam.

Security sector reform. Inherent Law; we did not mention the Inherent Law as part of our Anti-Corruption Strategy, but can you find a government that is going to elections and is willing to take a fundamental re-organization of two of its top security ministries; Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior. A profitable early retirement scheme; we lower the age of retirement to 62, I would like to salute Minister Bahrami and Minister Barmak for their leadership. Thank you ministers.

But it is not just that. Minister Bahrami cut the headquarters staff by 1000 people. Minister Barmak has just re-organized the ministry, and this re-organization, I think, the sustainable and enduring reorganization of the ministry. Reform of the Ministry of Interior was critical, I hope that Minister Barmak’s leadership and his commitment to a merit-based system of recruitment will be fully implemented. The Inherent Law is the key to this, but also understand the depth of the problem he is facing. Sometimes for three months, he is unable to provide me with a suitable candidate for a provincial chief of police. As many as three months! We go through dozens of candidates and we find. So the past is also an obstacle that we need to be able to understand. But the other part regarding reform of the Ministry of Interior, that we had promised, both the Border Police and the Civil Police (ANCOP) have been fully moved to the Ministry of Defense. Now unity of command is being established within the Ministry of Defense and that will be subject the process. Procurement of both ministries is under significant review and, of course, more needs to be done but civilianization again in both ministries is underway.

Civil Service

Mr. Naderi will be speaking to you. But I had on Saturday a very pleasant experience. Commercial attaches; men, women from all provinces, all speakers of all languages who were recruited through an incredibly merit-based process and the person, who scored 103 out of 100 was a woman. She scored above 100 because there was a five-point gender preference. But she topped everything. This is an indication of things to come. And they stood and said for the first time in the history, they won their posts not their father’s name, their uncle’s connections, or their mothers’ relatives. This is a significant cultural change but is not just related to that. 8,000 teachers have been recruited through similar process and over 500 CBR members.

Prosecute the corrupt

ACJC has been sharing results with you. H.E the Chief Justice has just shared with me that files of two cabinet ministers from the past have just been submitted and the special court will be convened and for other files are under final review by the Attorney General’s Office and as soon as they are submitted to the Supreme Court, according to the Constitution, a component of the court will set in the judgement and render judgement.

Follow the money

I would like to single out Deputy Minister Payenda who is not here and the Ministry of Finance for doing an immense work in budget. And I’d like to thank our Australian colleagues for a form of technical assistance that has been exceptional. Thank you ambassador! If you ask our Australian colleague, three of whom were working, the Ministry of Finance and the budget were able to do the work of 3 years in six months. For the first time we have a transparent budget, no hidden holes and the principle of “use it or lose it”. And yesterday in the High (Economic) Council, we have again decided that this year’s budget will be completely discussed and prioritized by cabinet if it takes as many as six sessions of the cabinet and then there will be public consultation; two areas that are crucial.

Priority ministries were in two categories. Revenue ministries and expenditure ministries.

Ministries of Mining and Public Works; a roadmap has been prepared, implementation is underway. We can now credibly say that by November you will see significant award of contracts in the mining areas. Past contracts have been reviewed. Those that will be canceled, will be canceled. Those that need to be negotiated, but new contracts are being awarded and we started awarding. And the policy particularly the marble sector, I am delighted to inform you that in the session before last of the High Economic Council last week, we saw an investment of fifteen million dollars in Kabul for processing of both tiles and slabs; all according to the latest Italian machinery. Mr. Ambassador you would be pleased in meeting EU environmental standards. I hope now that it’s oriented towards it. And to the top of it, 20 percent of the employment will be women. Investment in the mining sector is beginning seriously as it is in the energy sector. But the legacy of the past still needs to be tackled. We are renegotiating and cancelling those contracts that were awarded, now the website is fully available.

Transport

Transport Law was a license for corruption for sixty years. The law has been completely re-written. And I am acknowledging Mr. Alokozay and the significant role of private sector with us. Based on the new law, the ministry will shift from executing and actually being an obstacle to the private sector to an open system of licensing like the Ministry of Communication where routes between cities, among cities, within cities will be auctioned, and equally, taxis in public transport. We hope to see the first investment and transport terminals in Kabul and following that in fortress eight other cities. Communication and information technology, open access policy. I’d like to acknowledge Mr. Ayubi and his colleagues. The open access called policy on fiber optics has resulted in commitment of under 320 million dollars from 4 of our private companies. And they have begun work, these are not memorandums of understanding. This is real work and outstanding problems will be discussed.

Internet

When the Government of National Unity was formed, the cost of a megabyte of internet was $96 to the Afghan Telecom. Last week, it got reduced to $13. In January of 2019, it is going to be reduced to $6.5. We have created new contracts. All the sole source contracts that previously imposed this high price are being changed.

Dark fiber; yesterday we decided on lowering the prices. Now, it would be a mechanism to make sure that the benefits pass not to the companies but to the ultimate users. Asan-Khedmat, you have highlighted and it’s being widened, but the personnel problem of the ministry remains a significant challenge; still the majority of people that Minister Ayubi has inherited, ironically, are graduates of high school. So we have a fundamental challenge as to how to align the staff with reformist ministers.

Haj and Awqaf. Slow.

As a major revenue ministry, it is not working. We are now working and this would be in the coming month to make sure that Haj becomes literally a logistic operation. We have discussed, we have arrived at it. But for this season’s Haj we need to continue. It is being every year handled as though it is an emergency. And it will be turned very significantly; the Awqaf part as a source of investment has not received significant attention. We are slow here.

By contrast, the ARAZI office – and if Mr. Paikar is here, I’d like to acknowledge him – is moving with top speed. Within four years, we would… the first thing we have done is to create a land bank. All state property is being put in one land bank. We will be able to simplify processes and be able to account property rights are being awarded and within four years, I hope that you would see a revolution in property rights in Afghanistan. And equally, private-public partnership; two of our most crucial ministries are mixed; Finance and Industry and Commerce. Finance has done a great job on budget and on treasury. Customs is still a significant area of corruption. The good news is now there is a complete strategy and like the Ministry of Education, Minister Naderi and his colleagues will make sure that customs recruitment is totally transparent and organized and non-political. Equally, we have come with a strategy on how to create customs, dry ports and investment zones. The strategy is in place now. It is in the process of finalization, but reform of the customs is critical to doubling our revenue within two years and that’s where we need to focus and we need assistance in all area.

Industry and Commerce is equally mixed. Reform is proceeded but the private sector is not finding a partner that is moving the industry. We have lacked an industrial strategy and we will focus on it. The hangover of the past where the merchant culture dominates industry is still a fundamental challenge and this needs to be overcome.

Expenditure ministries

Agriculture: Minister Durani has started a major reform on anti-corruption. The issue is not anti-corruption; the issue now is lack of qualification. Pine nuts – I have mentioned this example to you a dozen times – is one of most significant revenue earners but we are not earning anything in export, because we don’t have a single expert on pine nuts in any part of our government and not in part of our international advisors. That shows the relationship.

Education

A complete overhaul is underway. I am delighted that Ms. Nadima Sahar, one of our brilliant women both as an entrepreneur and as a policy analyst, agreed to take the leadership of the technical and vocational training part. That office will be separated and due process… recruitment in the Ministry of Education is completely gone to the Civil Service Commission and its procurement equally. We are building 6,000 Schools thorough the Ministry of Rural Development, Minister Karimi, and equally through Minster Naderi.

Energy and Water is disappointing. Expenditure is not moving. We are not getting the benefits of big big dams that we are investing.

Labor

I want to thank Minister Zaki for significant reforms and particularly in terms of payment to the retiree sector reform and as well as martyrs and disabled. This has been very tough work, it needs to continue, electronic payment is critical. I am pleased to say that over a hundred thousand people now are being paid through the electronic payment system.

Public works is undergoing a full re-organization. Minister Yari is, I think, going to be a challenge to the Ministry of Finance because in the past it was a ministry that always retuned its budget. Now he is spending at a rate that we cannot catch up with. Rural development is equally on course with Citizen Charter.

Let me turn to my concluding remarks.

First again the political task of elections. A free, fair inclusive and democratic elections requires a proper analytic framework to deal with all dimensions of corruption and interference. I hope that you during your deliberations particularly with the Independent Elections Commission you will be able to create such a framework. And all areas need to be identified and realistic expectations needs to be set. This is crucial to the participation. You saw that our people are willing to die for the democratic rights. Let’s honor their memories by conducting a free, fair, transparent and inclusive election.

I have never been and addict but I thought on my concluding remarks I would repeat the theme of seven steps. Shining light on a cancer that threatens body politics is a painful exercise. Of course, the pain is general and the shame is general, but moving beyond that the first step, like addiction, is acknowledgement that we have a problem. And that acknowledgement I hope has been consolidated and taken place.

Diagnostic has been the second step. A clear diagnostic of the problem and I hope that on that again we have consensus.

Third, good strategy is the third step because we have had many bad strategies in this regard and bad fall starts.

The fourth step is relentless implementation.

Prosecution is the fifth step. Those who commit crime must not get away with it. The culture that it is acceptable to run away with state assets and nothing happens or abuse your authority.

The sixth step is learning. Because this is not a science, it is an art. It is an art that combines judgement and deliberation. And one needs to understand the absorptive capacity of the society and the capability for delivery. If we don’t sequence right; sequencing is crucial to learning and takes expansion of the domain.

And seventh step is perseverance. Our people command us to persist and overcome. We shall and we will, with your support, succeed.

In conclusion, for the decade of transformation, I would like to propose some very simple but hopefully feasible goals. The goals that I propose is that by 2024 we should at least have 8 billion dollars in domestic revenue. This requires agreement with our international partners on a framework to get rate of growth to between 6 and 9 percent.

And the third issue is to change our balance of trade from roughly 8 to 1. We import eight times what we export and that is the recipe for unsustainability. So it is important… then the means, if we set the goals, the process of reform and the choices that we make become clear. I have seen an excellent document from the World Bank called Pakistan at 100. And it paves a picture that if they continue with business as usual it would be extraordinary difficult consequences for the people. But if they made the courageous decisions, they could go forward. We need an equally clear framework for Afghanistan by 2047, it is going to be our 300 anniversary of a state, foundation of the state and it’d be a proper marker by then to get out of the transformation decade to an exercise and vision and credibility that would be suitable to a people who have sacrificed so much, who are so dedicated to the goal of partnership, decency and humanity.

Once again, I would like to thank you for this opportunity and I wish you great deliberations.

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