CoST webinar highlights lack of transparency on Covid-19 projects in Afghanistan

CoST members continued to contribute to the Covid-19 response this week, as CoST Afghanistan brought together key stakeholders for a webinar to assess the country’s newly built health infrastructure. Voices from civil society and the private sector were particularly vocal around a lack of transparency on Covid-19 projects, for which they claim key information is yet to be disclosed.

During times of fast-paced infrastructure procurement, disclosing project information is key to reducing opportunities for financial mismanagement. Afghanistan has joined countries worldwide in mobilising significant financial resources to address the challenges posed by the pandemic, with 89.9 Billion AFN (US $ 1.1 billion) allocated by the government and an additional US $ 600 million from the international community. However, webinar attendees highlighted a disconnect between the information currently available on procurement portals and that which is required Afghanistan’s Procurement Law.

Opaque project information

Mr Hamidullah Habibi, Director of Afghanistan Builders Association, specifically pointed to a lack of information disclosed by the National Development Company (NDC) around the construction of Covid-19 projects such as hospitals and clinics. Parliamentarian Mr Javid Safi, a member of the Finance and Budget Commission, raised issues around transparency in the procurement process, adding that information has gone undisclosed by the National Procurement Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and the NDC.

The webinar also provided opportunity for government representatives to respond to these concerns. Mr Safiullah Kamawal, Director of Electronic Procurement at the NPA, stated that a new page has been created for Covid-19 project disclosure on the Afghanistan Government Open and Electronic Procurement System (AGEOPS) and indicated that government entities are now working to populate this. Dr Ziaullah Shafiq, Administration and Finance Deputy at the NDC, also addressed the concerns around a lack of engagement with the media, stating that the NDC will establish a press unit to focus on disclosing information publicly.

What more can be done?

In order to resolve these issues, webinar attendees stressed that a coordinated approach to disclosure should be taken by government departments to ensure the private sector, media and parliamentarians have access to key project information. This is particularly pertinent in respect to Afghanistan’s focus on creating a fair business environment, for which its Procurement Law states that all bidding opportunities must be publicised by procuring entities. Concerning these efforts, Mr Mohammad Nabi Sroosh, Acting Deputy Minister of Economy and Acting Chairman of the CoST Afghanistan multi-stakeholder group (MSG) said:

” The disclosure of information is a crucial matter…(It) needs to be disclosed consistently and in real-time. Using international standards such as the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS) could help to modernise the disclosure process and improve the use of data by the public.’’