April 2011 – In Afghanistan, every provincial governor, district governor and municipal mayor is currently appointed by and report to the President. This unique structure, which centralizes decision-making and coordination, can also lead to a lack of accountability between the public and unelected government officials.
Says Ms. Jafari, a member of the Herat Provincial Council, “Local authorities are not used to being accountable to the people, since there was no mechanism at the provincial level to push them to be accountable.”
The province of Herat has been making strides to close this gap between the public and local government. With the support of the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) and UNDP’s Afghanistan Sub-National Governance Programme (ASGP), the provincial governor’s office has organized a series of public accountability forums in partnership with the provincial council and line ministries.
The first-ever Public Accountability Conference in December 2010 attracted more than 700 people, including local government officials, civil society organizations, religious leaders, and local village representatives. In April 2011, a week-long forum was held with over 40 government departments and 3,000 members of the community, to share the progress and future plans of the local government with citizens, respond to public concerns, and institutionalize the relationship between the government and public.
“All departments shall be accountable to people with no exception,” said Herat Governor Dr. Daoud Saba.
One member of the community, a truck driver, used the opportunity to ask the Director of Transportation why some trucks were given priority over others when delivering commercial goods. “Thanks for providing this opportunity so that we can raise our concerns and ask questions from the local authorities,” he said.
Due to the high interest from both the government and the community members, daily sessions ran late into the evening, concluding after 7pm every day during the week.
Both the governor’s office and civil society groups intend to use these public comments and strategies as a way to monitor government progress. IDLG and ASGP hope to expand these forums to other provinces within the country, increasing public participation in government and making local officials more accountable to Afghanistan’s citizens.
The Afghanistan Sub-national Governance Programme (ASGP) is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). ASGP operates in 28 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces with the support of the European Commission and the governments of Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and UK. In partnership with the Independent Directorate for Local Government (IDLG), the project works to improve national systems and procedures for better governance at the sub-national level. UNDP also works directly with provincial and district governors’ offices to develop their capacity to better represent citizens’ interests.