Abdul Razaq Vahidi

Ex Minister at NUG

Abdul Razaq Vahidi, served as the Minister of Communication and Information Technology in the National Unity Government of Afghanistan in 2015. Previously he was the Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Finance.


In 2014, when the first peaceful transition of power took place without any political violence in Afghanistan’s history, and people were very tired of spread of corruption nationwide, they were quite hopeful that this trend would occur in all other areas and fundamental reforms would be created.

Ashraf Ghani, who took office from President Hamid Karzai as the new President of Afghanistan, by proclaiming anti-corruption slogan, and taking some initiatives such as sudden visit of a police district office or a state hospital abruptly and dismissing some of the officials for a disciplinary action had created many hopes among people in order to fight against the vast corruption and improving the services of the government sectors. But these were only short-term measures and, unfortunately, they did not have a tangible result for the people. These activities were welcomed on the first days, but in the long run, they were denounced by the people as unfair, dramatic and deceptive acts of Ashraf Ghani.

“Fighting against Corruption” is not possible only with populist movements and small measures, even if it’s supported by the people. The National Unity Government (NUG) seems to be like a pupil who has neglected to do his homework, has not reviewed his lessons, and suddenly takes on an exam and then expects to get a passing score. And the results come as follows: the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has called Afghan Attorney General, Mohammad Farid Hamidi as dishonest, corrupt and deficient. At the meantime, The Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) survey shows that Afghanistan’s legal, judicial and educational institutions is listed as the “most corrupt” institutions, and the overall amount of money used in corruption in Afghanistan in 2018 is estimated at $1.7 billion. And Afghanistan, that has not been moved from the lowest third and fourth stages of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Against Ashraf Ghani’s deceptive temporary actions, I believe that for a real fight against corruption, there was a need of “corruption vulnerability assessment” and a comprehensive and precise study to find practical solutions on how walk thorough of the existing system.

One of the most important assignment for the National Unity Government was to model a transparent framework for a better governance and expertise to reduce the damages in the financial management system and also taking effective steps toward the country’s financial self-reliance. In a government that the major income resources (other than donors aid) are taxes, diagnosis of damages to the taxation system, transparency in the taxes collection, customs duties and other sources of income has to be on the top agenda and high priorities. Unfortunately, by appointment of a Minister of Finance, who only had a diplomatic background but with lack of proper knowledge and expertise in the administrative and public financial management sector, this ambition was far away to achieve.

In my opinion, the factors that spread a vast corruption in the government of NUG and major challenges toward a transparent system are:

1. Major challenges in the human resources management, for example lack of capacity, nepotism and favoritism, 2. Lack of will in adoption of the modern technology, 3. Lack of proper supervision and accountability, 4. Lack of proper understanding of Law and lack of law enforcement, 5. Lack involvement of people in director supervision in regards to the performance of state servants.

The first challenge in the human resource management: most of the personnel employed in Customs and Revenue departments of Ministry of Finance belong to a specific ethnic group, and more specifically from a few districts. Despite that the Civil Service Law determines that the only way to hire government employees is competition to find the top talents, but most of the recruitments in the key positions in the Customs and Revenue departments proposed by a Pishnehad (formal request and proposal format) being approved either by the Minister of Finance or President. The Customs and Revenue departments has its own Human Resource Department that is not reporting either the Human Resource General Directorate or Deputy Ministry of Administration. As the recruitments are not done merit based, most of the employees do not have the knowledge to do a very simple tax calculation, and even they do not have the required literacy to think over a complicated tax problem, analyze and digest the issue and draft an ordinary letter. Thus, calculation and collection of taxed are based on interactions, personal relations, and secret deals and most probably the share of every person involved in the chain of the processes would be paid due to their administrative hierarchy, including some members of the parliaments will benefit from this deal, whose individuals are employed in key positions.

In the opening ceremony of the Customs Academy on 15 Qaws 1395 (5 Dec 2016), Mr. Eklil Hakimi explicitly stated that annually US$ 3.8 million of the revenue from customs is pocketed into corrupt people. He added that bidding for recruitment in every key position in the Customs and Revenue departments are approximately of US$ 100 thousand at the beginning and later on SU$ 20 thousand are paying monthly. He did not elaborate that how he could find this secret. Who paid and who received these sums? It is amazing that such an important remark has never been followed up by prosecutors and other intelligence agents. The only thing that is clear is that, even after Ministers statement, still the key positions of the Customs and Revenue departments are in the monopoly of the same group. And the appointments of the key positions are done as before with presenting a Pishnehad and approval either by Minister of Finance or President. No merit based recruitment based on competition[1].

Interestingly, Mr. Salaam Rahimi, Chief of Staff of the President’s office, writes in the Pishnehad in regards to the registration of Ministry of Finance’s recruitments based on Pishnahads (Recommendation) the following note: “Chief of Staff: President’s approval that is directly endorsed, after registration should be circulated.”

It means that Mr. Hakimi has a direct link to the president.

In addition to that, the ex Minister of Finance, had monopolized all appointment, changes, and dismissal of all staff specially of the Customs & Revenue departments to himself, based on letter # 19313 dated 18.09.1394. All 4 Deputy Ministers did not have the authority in terms of employee and recruitment authorities i.e. recruitment, transfer, dismissal or any other disciplinary decisions. In addition to that, around 1,300 people are recruited based on National Technical Assistance (NTA) program that their annual salary totals was around US$ 7 million annually while most of them do not have proper academic records and work experience.

As a result, the negative and corrupt changes put its adverse effect on the state revenue and Ministry of Finance booked lower revenue in FY 1395 in comparison to previous years, as below:

Customs: IMF target by International Monetary Fund (IMF) was AFN 69.2 billion while they achieved AFN 64.9 billion.

Mustofiats: IMF target was AFN 15.4 billion while they achieved AFN 13.8 billion.

Large taxpayers (LTO): IMF target was AFN 19.6 billion while they achieved AFN 17.1 billion.

Medium taxpayers (MTO): IMF target was 12.6 billion while they achieved AFN 12.3 billion.

Small taxpayers (STO): IMF target was 2.9 billion while they achieved AFN 2.6 billion.

Despite that the Business Revenue Tax (BRT) has increased from 2% to 4%, and 10%VAT on telecommunication subscribers was applied as new taxes and revenue, but Ministry of Finance fell AFN 9 billion short of revenue based on the planned target.

At the same time, Ministry of Finance could not fulfill its commitments to the World Bank (WB) as mentioned below and lost US$ 151.2 million from WB’s incentive funds:

  1. Reform of the Human Resource Department, Ministry of Finance, US$ 22.8 million
  2. Improvements in the Customs Departments, US$ 30 million
  3. Reform of the Pension system, US$ 22.8 million
  4. E-payment system, US$ 22.8 million
  5. Lands and properties management, US$ 30 million
  6. External audit, US$ 22.8 million

The second challenge is the lack of Modern and innovative technology system in the taxation sector of the country. Someone, maybe at the Ministry of Finance, will claim that we are using the most updated computerized system to collect taxes i.e. ASYCUDA, SIGTAS and AFMIS, but the main problem is lack of technical and vulnerability assessment, accurate and precise the problems, and how to use technology efficiently, and proposing a suitable and practical solution to enhance service delivery and reduce corruption in the system.  A very good example can be the implementation of current systems which cost US$ millions, but they are installed and launched as isolated information islands and they are not connected to each other in digital world. The customs information generated by the ASYCUDA system does not match with the data generated either by the AFMIS or SIGTAS systems at the same time and they show different figures. In many cases the reconciliations are doing manually by printing on the papers. These are paving the way for corruption in the taxation system of the government. On the other hand, there is no effective mechanism to ensure accurate information of the clients and investors is recorded. Although any system established at the Ministry of Finance is not supported and not welcomed by the junior and senior management levels which ultimately led to the failure and inefficiency of outcomes.

Another example was the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). The system showed the time lapse in regard to a certain document from the time initial recorded by the Archive System, sent to the related department for execution, and responded back to the sender. By the digital management and accurate oversight of the process, no one could keep a letter, proposal letter or application more than a specific time period i.e. one week unprocessed, that consequences reducing the level of corruption. On the other hand, one could easily find out which department has pending work to do and could compare average of time lapse and performance level of any department in a specific time period. This way, it was easy to take account of the performance and efficiency of managers. Although EDMS was installed in every department of the headquarter of Ministry of Finance, but Customs & Revenue departments refused to use the system and to track the documents while many documents, letters and application remained pending in their office for months and no one was accountable and responsible.

During my service as the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, I was informed that tax was calculated traditionally in the telecommunication sector, and I felt sorry for that. While all the private telecommunication companies had their own systems (e.g. state of the art billing systems) and they automatically and precisely calculate all accounts for every subscriber, but unfortunately, neither Ministry of Communications and Information Technology nor Ministry of Finance put any step forward to establish a central billing system during the last 13 years that through which government could receive accurate data and figures from the private telecommunication companies. When I proposed a solution, the Real-Time system, to this resolve problem and I presented to the Cabinet meeting, I faced resistance in the meeting[2]. Then, every time the Real-Time system proposal was going to be included in the agenda of the other meetings (such as sub-cabinet economic council), ex-Minister of Finance, Mr. Hakimi invited people to the meeting who were relative or friends to the owners of the private telecommunication companies. The president has never noticed my objection in regard to the conflict of interest between the participants of the meeting and their opposition against the “establishment of Real-Time system (and additional measures such as SIM card registration)”. The only option that I had was to try to include the Real-Time system in the law which named “10% telecom fees law”. When the Real-Time system was included in the law and the establishment of such system became compulsory, but still there were a lot of resistance and obstacles i.e. lack of financial allocation and funding to launch the system as well as rejection all MCIT Pishnehads by National Procurement Authority. Despite all these pressures (for the last three years) but the Real-Time system still has not been established. It was expected that with the implementation of the Real-Time system at the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology, other governmental departments would have benefited including municipalities, transport, civil aviation, small and medium enterprises and businesses, mines, and state owned properties. The Real-Time systems are the only solution that they can book revenue and calculate tax accurately.

The third example was to prevent equipping the revenue sector with the modern technology i.e. the inactive status of scanners in the customs offices[3]. This important issue has been never followed up by the AGO prosecutors and the intelligence agencies although those authorities who stopped the process are still working for the Ministry of Finance.

The third challenge is why the judicial departments are still silent in regard to the existing corruption in the revenue departments and specifically about the ex-Minister of Finance, Mr. Hakimi? The first reason is the President’s uncertainty over the culprits and even his blindly support to some of the members of his cabinet, i.e. the ex Minister of Finance, Mr. Hakimi. In a cabinet meeting and later on by letter # 14027 dated 16.06.1394 had explicitly ordered to all security and intelligence department including the Attorney’s General Office, the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption, the National Directorate of Security (Department 062) and Intelligence Directorate of Ministry of Interior Affairs that they cannot oversee the affairs and issues of Ministry of Finance, more specifically the Customs and Revenue Departments. The President’s order is in contrary to the article # 134 of the Afghan Constitution and against the legal authorities of the security, intelligence and overseeing bodies of the Afghan Government. While the situations in other Afghan ministries and departments were quite the opposite. Sometimes there are several agents from different departments who are engaged to oversee and investigate the works of other ministers and making inquiries from officers and create trouble for them if they do not have any political support or relation with senior government officials. As an example, when I was the Minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology I was the witness of the President’s advisor, Mr. Malikzai, who was not a prosecutor but he had authority by president order to question me and my subordinates, which is quite in contrary to the article # 134 of the Afghan Constitution.

At the Ministry of Finance, like other Afghan Government Ministries there is an Internal Audit Directorate General. During Mr. Eklil Hakimi’s service, none of the key positions were recruited by competition. Only two positions were open for applicants to compete that one of them was the DG Internal Audit. When Eklil Hakimi did not find his favorite candidate for this position, he interfered and cancelled the whole process. Later on, he drafted a Pishnehad to favor a person who was very close to him – he had assisted Eklil Hakimi in the Parliament and was campaigning for him during his nomination as the Minister of Finance. The guy was also accused to corruption – and then he got approval from the President. Thus, in a monopolized system that none of the security and intelligence departments were allowed to oversee and investigate, the DG Internal Audit was employed by the Minister of Finance, and the most corrupt people are well placed in the key positions in the tax and revenue department, this was the time to do whatever Mr. Hakimi wanted. As a result, anyone can conclude that those people who are the most culprits and they have gathered together have misappropriated the revenue from customs, and most of the MoF revenue has disappeared. To elaborate this, let’s have a look on the closing government financial report of FY 1396 (named Qatia). The report states that the withholding tax on income has decreased 10% based on the IMF target. On the other hand, almost the total revenue from customs duty is calculated based on US dollars. As a result, the devaluation of 16% increase on USD-AFN exchange rate during the FY, has directly affected the revenue from customs duty(when the custom duties calculate on the US-dollar price but the duty collected in AFN). In comparison to the last year, the total revenue from customs duty has declined 25% which results a total sum of AFN 9 billion. Such a shortfall in the taxation system of the government during a year is deemed to be a sever disaster. Similar to this analysis, if we have a look on other sectors i.e mines, industries, energy (including fuel and power), construction, telecommunications, civil aviation, transport, education, health and others, for sure that we will confirm the figures reported by the Integrity Watch claiming that US$ 6 million is paid as bribery to the Nation Unity Government authorities everyday.

The fourth challenge is in regard to the problems in the existing laws which has to be reviewed and comprehensive study must be undertaken. Some of the laws are up-to-dated and concurrent, but parallel to them there are many laws which are outdated. For example, the Procurement Law is the most recent and up-to-dated, but in parallel for some items i.e. “sales bidding” there is no specific law, or “auction” has an out-dated regulation which is from the time of half a century, and some of the laws are not compliant with Afghanistan’s current situation i.e. Valued Added Tax (VAT) Law. However, the main problem is non-compliance of the existing laws as well as violation of law.  Here are some examples that can elaborate further.

First example: President Protective Service (PPS) in two incidents, the first at the Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology and second at the Ministry of Energy and Water, in the absence of police and attorney general representatives sealed and locked the offices of both ministers. One week ago, another incident happened in Herat province, a young man wanted to claim against some his unsolved problems while President was delivering speeches the PPS beat him in front of camera and took him in their custody.

Second Example: The Attorney General Office has suspended my duty as the Minister of the government in contrary to the Special Law for the cabinet members, while based on the law, the specific time to complete their questioning and investigation was two months, but their questioning and investigation took two years and still the case is not decided.

Third Example: It is many years that the Civil Service Law is in place, but some of the ministers who are close to the president has bypassed the law and recruited dozens of employees without competition, and they have employed certain people in the key positions. Breach of the law is not only in regard to the recruitment, but also other laws are violated. Government has always been proud of the “Access to Information Law” which is one of the best in the world, in compliant to the law I personally went to the Access to Information Commission to get the documents by which my duty was suspended, and submitted many complaint letters against the Attorney General Office and Administration Office of the President, but with no result. Even though Mr. Afzali, the head of the Access to Information Commission has promised me that based on the current law they have the authority to either issue a warning letter or punish them in order to cut a 10 day salary of the Attorney General and Director of the Administration Office of the President due to negligence their letter, but the commission could not get a copy of the document including the President’s Order. This example can demonstrate that if the law is the best in the world, but government authorities can violate it.

Fourth Example: As this point was discussed in the earlier paragraphs, the Telecommunication Charges law has been breached. In the tenth article of that law, six month time was given to the Ministry of Finance and Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA) to establish the “Real-Time” system. It is three years that the system is not established, but still Ministry of Finance and ATRA are collecting the taxes and they prevent the system. However, after completion of six month time that is estimated in the law, no more days are absorbed to delay the launch of the “Real-time” system. At the meantime, the delay in the launch of the Real-Time system government bears millions of Afghanis loss to the government revenue. The closing report of FY 1396 (Qatia), page 164, clearly indicates that with the lack of “Real-time” system the revenue from telecommunication subscribers has declined 19% below the target which totals to almost AFN 1 billion.

Perhaps the most significant example of the violation of Afghan constitution is the formation of the current Afghan National Unity Government, but breaching the law might be the basic rationale for this government and it has been institutionalized. Among many decrees issued by the President, in regard to the decree about the collection of telecommunication tax and violation of the articles 42 and 79 of the Afghan Constitution, I clearly expressed my opposition in the Cabinet Meeting. In my response, the President said angrily that this issue is none of my business and that is the Minister of Justice to take care of it. In the meeting, the second Vice President, who has background as a lawyer and legislator, and the Minister of Justice were silent and did not express their view. Finally, with my insistence the supervision mechanism, the Real-Time system, was included in the approval of the Cabinet Meeting, and the task was given to the Ministry of Finance.

The Fifth Challenge as a tangible example, the purpose of the establishment of “Real-Time” system was to inform subscribers about the telecommunication tax. It was requested that after topping up their account, every subscriber had to send the serial number of the top-up card to code # 997. The “Real-Time” system was to match the top-up serial number with the information that was provided by the service providers to the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology. If it was proved that the service provider did not report the accurate data or has abided to provide the information to the ministries, they would be fined. The amount collected from the fined amounts, a specific percentage would be given to the telecommunication subscribers as a prize for sharing the information. Therefore, people would be informed of whatever they have paid as telecommunication charges to the government.

In case this mechanism is established in other sectors, citizens, in a state of trust, would contribute as the human resource actively beside the government. They would be part of the supervision body of the government and take part effectively to support the economic sector and be eyes, ears, hands for the government. Government could pay AFN 100 million incentive and prize to subscribers, and in return earn billions of Afghanis revenue and add it to the government revenue.

Innovation might be needed to reduce corruption and put effective steps toward financial independence if government has a strict intention and will. Unless any innovative plan and practical step forward in regard to reducing corruption and increasing transparency in the tax collection and revenue sector would fail.

I believe that Ministry of Finance is the heart of the government, to any extent that the corruption is reduced there, other sectors would be affected. As long as merit based recruitment is not in place in the key position  of Ministry of Finance and the basis for employment becomes merit based on best talent, commitment and independence, with no consideration of ethnicity, language, and race, law enforcement becomes equal to every citizen. We need strong supervisory authorities such as SIGAR to be established. Until the technology would be in place in routine duties of government office, the data produced in the government departments would be analyzed and used for effective planning, this is far way for the government to get the passing points from a corruption-free nation with their unrealistic slogans and dramatic performance.

In the last months of the Nation Unity Government, Ashraf Ghani is trying to gain the lost trust of the people with his dramatic actions, but apparently this time his dramatic performance would have no buyer among citizens and it will be immediately criticized. President’s Office, ARG, has been so discredited among people if a piece of material is published in regard to government’s performance in the social media, it will be severly criticized and will be even welcomed with insults[4]. The government’s discredit has spread widely to the extent that even positive work of the government is conceived as a ridiculous, as there is a local expression among people “put soil in the eyes of people”.

President does not have enough time to rebuild his lost trust. He should realize that the golden opportunity has ended up and should not expect a passing score on the last months of his presidency.

If Ashraf Ghani thinks that he would be able to cheat people again and become the future president of Afghanistan, he would double the current problems which would not be handled.

The last point that everybody conclude that Ashraf Ghani is not a charismatic leader, and people believe that he is not successful manager or a technocrat. At the meantime, he has been criticized very badly, with his harsh behavior with his subordinates, very close colleagues, news reporters and audience, especially the behavior that he had with reporters and journalists, People criticize the President with his harsh behavior and he is known as a dictator. But I believe that if he is dictator, he is the most failing dictator of the era that he would be a shame for all other dictators of the history.


References

[1] Peshnehad # 38 and approval # 659 dated 06.03.1395 to recruit Mr. Reshad Popal as DG Customs, against the Civil Service Law

Peshnehad # 116 and approval # 1317 dated 15.07.1394 recruitment of 11 people in these positions (Acting DG Customs, DG Law enforcement of Customs, DG Small taxpayers, DG Customs Operation, DG Customs of Farah Province, DG Revenue, DG Customs of Nimroz Province, DG Fiscal Policy and Macroeconomics, DG Customs of Balkh Province, DG Large taxpayers & DG Small taxpayers)

Peshnehad # 5 and approval # 5 dated 08.01.1395 to recruit DG Customs for Aqina Port without competition

Peshnehad # 110 and approval # 1633 dated 27.05.1395 to recruit DG Customs Operations without competition

Peshnehad # 77 and approval # 1144 dated recruitment of 6 people in these positions (Acting DG Customs technical, Acting DG Customs for Khost Province, Acting DG Customs for Herat Province, Acting DG for Kabul Mostufiat, Acting DG Customs for Kabul Province & Acting DG Customs for Farah Province)

Letter # 13447 dated 28.04.1395 from office of the Chief of Staff to recruit Acting DG Customs for Kundoz Port

Peshnehad # 78 and approval # 732 dated 20.04.1394 recruitment of Acting DG Large taxpayer & Head of the Customs Academy with a base salary of AFN 200 thousand

Peshnehad # 116 and approval # 1317 dated 15.07.1394 to recruit DG Customs

[2] Cabinet Meeting dated 13.03.1394

[3] In 2006, the American Armed Forces provided security equipment with a total value of US$ 12.1 million to the military border checkpoints. They were provided to prevent smuggling narcotics and also to increase customs revenue of the Afghan Government.

After they become operational, the total cost of training and maintenance totaled to almost US$ 62.2 million. Based on the reports published by SIGAR, the equipment installed in several places are not operational. The authorities has reported that the equipment worked for less than two years.

[4] What they write under the Facebook post of Government? (8:00 a.m. newspaper, Saturday, 24 Qaws 1397)

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Author

  • Abdul Razaq Vahidi, served as the Minister of Communication and Information Technology in the National Unity Government of Afghanistan in 2015. Previously he was the Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Finance.