World Bank ‘should donate expertise as well as money to Afghanistan’

7 Aug 18

The World Bank needs to give more practical help on the ground in Afghanistan to implement “badly needed” reforms, a former government official has told PF International.

Nematullah Bizhan, a former director general of budget in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance, said a recent set of grant agreements by the bank to help the Asian country’s public financial management would be more effective if it came with practical help and expertise.

This comes as the World Bank announced the latest agreement - $350m - last week.

Bizhan, who held a number of senior positions the Afghan government between 2001 and 2009 and is now senior research associate at the University of Oxford, told PF International that the grant has potential to support the country’s reforms.

But he added: “Reforms and policy process have turned into a circular and unproductive practice in Afghanistan.

“What Afghanistan badly needs is priority-based reforms and implementation, which this grant does not much focus on.”

The former government official warned there is not enough expertise within the finance ministry to implement major reforms and programmes without the help of external donors, to make them sustainable.

The bank has given some technical assistance to Afghanistan but this is mainly dedicated to developing deals with the international private sector - public-private partnerships. 

The World Bank package awarded last week included $50m for PPPs, which aims to develop a “pipeline of feasible private and publicly funded projects” to support infrastructure development.

But think-tanks have warned that the World Bank should look to other ways of supporting development and infrastructure in Afghanistan. 

Eurodad policy and advocacy manager Maria Jose Romero said: “The World Bank promotion of PPPs in low income countries such as Afghanistan is highly problematic, as the evidence shows that the PPPs are often an expensive and risky way of financing public services and can have a disproportionally negative impact on the poor.

“Instead of promoting PPPs as the default solution, the bank should support national authorities to evaluate all the options, ensure participation of affected communities and choose infrastructure solutions that are both financially, socially and environmentally sustainable.”

Tim Jones, policy officer at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, also told PF International that “it is worrying” that the bank continues to promote these partnerships because they “impose more costs on governments and the public”, and are less transparent. 

But Manj Kalar, a public finance consultant and accountant, added that PPPs could be effective if the government had the skills and expertise to manage and deliver the investment deals.

This could be done through external help, such as from the World Bank, to help the government understand what the long-term implications of the infrastructure financing means, she added.

The Finance Ministry in the country completely reformed in 2002 with the help of technical assistance from donors, such as the IMF and World Bank but also countries including the UK and Australia – in the aim to rebuild from years of conflict.

Speaking of the grant agreements, particularly the support for PPPs, World Bank’s vice president for South Asia Hartwig Schafer said: “This is a step towards maximising the financing available for Afghanistan’s development.

“By mobilising private capital for large investments, this project can boost progress towards some of Afghanistan’s key development priorities.

“It is a way to create partnerships that can benefit not only the government and private sector businesses, but most importantly the people of Afghanistan.”

The acting finance minister of Afghanistan Humayon Qayoumi said the support was “aligned with the country’s National Peace and Development Framework, which will strengthen policy to support state effectiveness, growth and PFM”.

A World Bank report in March this year recognised Afghanistan's economy had improved but still had a ‘long way to go’.

Did you enjoy this article?

Related articles

Have your say


CIPFA latest

Most popular

Related jobs

Most commented

Events & webinars