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Why Ghani failed Afghanistan: Culture of corruption, mismanagement and disrespect

Many competent and high qualified individuals refused to work in Ghani's administration and quit their jobs in frustration, writes Qudratullah Karimi for South Asia Monitor 

Qudratullah Karimi Dec 02, 2021
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Former Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani

When Ashraf Ghani won the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan, many professionals and Afghans attracted by his plans hoped he will strengthen state institutions, appoint professionals and bring professionalism to governing parties. No one even remotely felt that he will end up failing and that the state will collapse. 

So, why did a supposed expert on failed states fail to strengthen the institutions? The answer is a mix of internal and external factors.  These included micromanagement, unprofessionalism in administration, a corrupt coterie, creation of parallel administrations and unnecessary division and unification of ministries.  

Micro-management

Being a President of a country where more than half of the population lives in poverty, it was expexted of Ghani to focus on mega issues and not waste time on minor matters. Instead, he was involved in every minor issue of the ministries and provinces’ governing bodies. This made it tough for the authorities to move forward. His micromanagement annihilated the trust of officials; their role and productivity got damaged by the President’s interventions. 

The presidential office directly approached low-level officials or pushed the ministries to fall in line, failing which it was threatened their power will be reviewed. Such actions weakened the institutions and sparked internal conflicts in the administrations. Gossip and hurting one another became routine rather than providing services to the nation.

Irrelevant appointments 

As a President holding Ph.D. in anthropology, Ghani was expected to bring professionalism into practice. Unfortunately, most of Ghani's appointments were made without relevance to administration: a pilot got appointed as the Kabul mayor, an IT product as CEO of the state power utility company; a medical doctor as Director-General of the President’s administrative office and a computer science graduate as the National Security Advisor. 

These individuals were from a circle close and none of them could be asked for transparency and accountability. They had the power to hire and fire individuals and sourced projects to relatives, friends and others which ruined their moral authority. 

President Ghani appointed Ajmal Ahmadi as the governor of Central Bank although he had been rejected by Parliament earlier. This led to internal conflicts and Ahmadi terminated his deputy and banned him from entering the bank. Even though this raised many voices in Parliament and turned the civil society against him, the President simply ignore the protests.  

Centralising of corruption 

President Ghani was expected to control corruption. He established the National Procurement Administration (NPA) to oversee projects and budget expenditure. Similarly, new councils were established for various key issues which led to the sacking of former corrupt authorities. But Afghanistan remained one of the most corrupt countries and the President played a vital role in centralizing corruption for his inner circle.
 
A factor that affected the performance of state institutions was the creation of parallel administrations, especially a senior advisor in the Presidential Palace who was more powerful than ministers. Moreover, these advisors deceived the President by presenting him plans which were never applicable in the country. 

By this, every ministry found two reporting heads: a legal but powerless minister and a president-appointed powerful advisor. In the long term, this created conflicts between ministers and advisors. The President sidelined the ministers.  
 
In Ghani’s government, many ministries were merged and dissolved; new administrations were created for certain people of his circle. The first two years of his administration were spent merging ministries with no clear strategy. Later, when this yielded no results, they were dissolved. This was a waste of time and led to the loss of resources within the ministries.

Insulting of juniors 

President Ghani routinely humiliated officials in front of others. Many competent and high qualified individuals refused to work for him and quit their jobs. The culture of disrespect spread to all the organizations as high-level authorities insulted low-level employees. 

Ghani’s close circle has been described as the most unethical of all the administrations in Kabul which severely stifled efficiency. President Ghani was never able to recover his trust. His so-called 16 hours of daily working was no panacea to heal the wounded country as he failed to recognize his own corrupt circle. 

(The author is an independent researcher based in Kabul. The views expressed are personal.) 

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