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INTEGRITY WATCH AFGHANISTAN


Newsletter
May 2016


TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND INTEGRITY
Integrity Watch Afghanistan Team wishes you a blessed Ramadan
News:
The First Training for Integrity Champions Concluded in Kabul
A Call for Government Determination Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan
Access To Information Law Still Not Implemented
To end corruption, start with the US and UK. They allow it in broad daylight
Meet Integrity Watch Afghanistan Integrity Champions!
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Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director
Spotlight: Transparency commitments of President Ghani: From Words to Action

Recently, President Ghani made unprecedented transparency commitments in Afghanistan during London Summit in May 2016 hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The commitments, if implemented, are expected to ensure the transparency environment Afghanistan badly needs to stop the culture of misuse and impunity. Some key points included publication of beneficial ownership of companies, implementation of open contracting standards and open data charter, endorsement of EITI 2016 standards, establishment of the High Council for Governance, Rule of Law, and Anti-Corruption (HCGRLA) and establishment of Counter Corruption Justice Center (CCJC).

What do these commitments mean for Afghanistan? Well, publication of beneficial ownership of companies means that the links between influential individuals, particularly politically exposed persons, who might have influenced government institutions to get contracts for the companies they benefit from, will be exposed. The open contracting and data standards will ensure that the public have access to useful information about contracts before, during, and after implementation that would enable civil society and media to expose corruption in government contracts. The endorsement of EITI 2016 standards means that Afghanistan will now have to pass even tougher transparency standards in the extractives sector, including the beneficial ownership, to pass the validation of becoming an EITI member before the end of 2016. The establishment of HCGRLA means that anti-corruption efforts of the government agencies would be better coordinated and overseen by a high level body. And the establishment of Counter Corruption Justice Center (CCJC) means that high profile corruption cases will now be dealt with special investigators, prosecutors, and judges under the same roof to expedite prosecution and sentencing.
 
However, from words to action there is a long path to be walked. The government has to establish legal frameworks and take other measures to turn transparency commitments into action. In addition, establishing yet another anti-corruption institution (HCGRLA) is not only resource intensive but also requires clarification of roles vis-à-vis other existing institutions. The establishment of CCJC will require donor support and political will to work. Ensuring CCJC’s independence from political interference and providing accountability through external oversight would be a daunting challenge.

While President Ghani’s transparency commitments during London Conference are major steps into the right direction, equally important are tracking and implementation of those commitments. The role of partner countries and civil society to support the government in this process and to hold it to account is the key. Therefore, a framework for the government to systematically engage with partner countries and civil society is the need of the day. The Open Government Partnership provides such a framework that would help Afghanistan track and implement its transparency and anti-corruption commitments.



 

Monitoring of Courts in Bamiyan, An Effective Step Toward Building Trust

Interview with Amin Alipoor, Bamiyan Provincial Coordinator for Integrity Watch Afghanistan


 

One of the greatest challenges that our court monitoring program, highlighted in this article, faced (even more challenging than securing court authorization for local monitors to attend court sessions) was the challenge of convincing citizens that they had a role to play in   enforcing transparency and accountability guidelines at trial proceedings. Convincing them that they could impact the implementation of such guidelines by simply being there to monitor these judicial sessions.

When we decided to launch the program in Bamiyan in 2012, we went to a village on the outskirts of the city. We knew no one there, but met and talked to a villager standing in front of the mosque.  We told him that we would like to speak with the villagers about some issues. He left and returned with five or six people. I remember that most of them were initially under the impression that we were there to talk about launching a construction project in the village.

We began our discussion with a slow, yet deliberate approach. We talked about corruption in the courts. We asked them to share with us their experiences with corruption. One said that he had a case pending in court and that they have not been able to proceed because court officials are involved in some sort of scam.  Another said his case has also been stuck at the prosecutor’s office for no reason. Everyone had a story to tell.

That was a perfect time for us to open discussion about the monitoring of the courts.  We started with the law assuring them that they are allowed to participate in an open court and monitor its process. We continued our discussion and indicated that if they do so, the court would, in response, slowly begin to observe the law and carry out legal procedures in a timely manner.

The participants started to chatter among themselves. Most of them did not believe us. One of the participants raised his hand and said “How can we monitor the work of the judiciary? It is none of our business”. Another got up and said, “How can we get to courtrooms?” And yet another commented, “Monitoring of courts is useless, focus and work on something else!”

We responded by admitting that, while all these changes may not happen overnight, we needed to raise awareness regarding our rights as citizens and then seek accountability on the part of judicial authorities. .

The discussions continued accordingly. Finally, some of the participants agreed to volunteer for Integrity Watch's court observation program in Bamiyan.

As we began implementation of the monitoring program, the judges were reluctant to discuss public hearings. They constantly hedged us in and were dismissive in their initial response.  Finally, we decided to meet with the head of the Appeals Court. There was a judge named Mr. Nasro Minallah Rahimi who sat on the appeals court in Bamiyan city. He met us and promised to introduce us to other courts in the city. The first public court hearing was held in 2012, albeit with great difficulty. I remember, one of the first sessions we attended. It was held under the chairmanship of the head of the Appeals Court. There were three female local monitors with us as well. The court case had to do with counterfeit money. This particular session was held according to the standards and guidelines we had in mind. After issuing the verdict, the judge turned to us and said that “despite the fact that the court is an independent institution, I would like to ask one of the women who is accompanying you for her opinion about the session”. He asked if the trial process was fair. My companion asked why the accused did not have an attorney. The judge explained that the accused had requested to present his own defense. .

In fact, there were only four defense attorneys in Bamiyan in 2012. Two of them were court appointed public attorneys (appointed by the government for defendants who could not afford attorney’s fees).  This means that even if the accused wanted to hire a defense lawyer, there were no attorneys in the area to represent them in court.

As I said earlier, the primary courts refused to allow local monitors under various pretexts. Sometimes our Local monitors were turned away because they were told that the case was domestic.  . We had no choice but to revisit the head of the Appeal Court. The head of the Appeals Court decided to install a notice board at the front gate of the Courthouse with the information and details related to the cases. That's why the public got a lot of information about the sessions and they slowly began to attend the public sessions of the court.

Monitoring of the court's public sessions progressed slowly; and, we started collecting reports from our local monitors. I should also mention that the focus of our observation was limited to procedures. We did not monitor or comment on the substantive issues such as the fairness of verdict etc. We began identifying and sharing problems that were extracted from the notes kept during the court proceedings.  We shared them with the head of the appeals court. In order to make sure that problems were addressed, we tried to attend the judiciary meetings. According to a presidential decree, these meetings are held every month. They are attended by judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies in the Court of Appeals under the chairmanship of the head of the Appeals Court. We asked the head of the Appeal court to grant us membership in these forums which comprised of the Police chief prosecutor, a representative from the governor's office, advocates, Justice Directorate, Human Rights Directorate, a representative of NDS and others from the security sector.  Our request was granted quickly.

Another strategy we employed in an effort to establish our monitoring status in the courts was mobilization of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).  In those years, the Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) made a presentation in which he criticized the judicial institutions.  After this, Bamiyan courts effectively banned our local monitors from attending the public court sessions.  I went to see the head of the Appeal Court. He said that they did not expect us to generalize about Afghanistan's court system, but rather that we would confine our judgments to Bamiyan courts. Other judges also had complained about this. The meeting produced no results. We therefore decided to meet other Civil society Organizations including UNAMA and raise the issue with them. After getting the support of other CSOs, we called the head of the Appeal court in order to request permission to resume the monitoring process. When court authorities saw the unity among the CSOs, they agreed. 

Since 2012, significant improvements have been made in the observance of procedural guidelines in the courts of Bamiyan.  For example, the Judiciary Committee is now composed of three people. Also, cases are often heard in the presence of advocate defense attorneys. In most of the cases, the sessions are held publicly and are decided according to the legal procedure and finalized within the designated time. I should mention that the judges now welcome the presence of our local monitors. Some of them even say that if the monitors are not present, the entire judicial process is faced with serious flaws.

Since 2012, the people are more assertive in monitoring and criticising trial proceedings. For example, in the beginning, people were experiencing some reservations as they sat through trial proceedings. Now they freely and boldly assert their right to participate in the monitoring process. These days it is not easy to dissuade local monitors from showing up in court. For example, once a courtroom was filled to standing room only capacity and the police were not allowing any additional people to enter. The people asked why the court session had been announced publicly and people invited to attend if there was not adequate space. After a little back and forth, the police finally allowed people to enter the hall so some were able to stand and observe the session.

Finally, I have to say that because of the monitoring that now goes on in the courts and the working relationship between the monitors and officials, the people now believe that achieving the goal of  transparency and accountability in the criminal court system is not an impossible dream.  However, building the same confidence in civil cases will continue to require a great deal of work and persistence.

 


Dream of Administrative Council of Mawlavi Faiz Mohammad Shahid School Realized
Story from the Field

Mawlavi Faiz Muhammad Shahid School in Kapisa province struggled with many problems that had actually caused the students facing numerous difficulties. The school was only lacked textbooks and professional teachers, but also did not access enough chairs, doors and windows of the classes that indeed had affected the quality of the teaching process.
Two of Integrity Watch local monitors working in school and court programs who were also members of the administrative council of the school identified the problems and decided to ask the locals and businessmen for their contribution to the school.
The Administrative Council organized a gathering for assistance to the school that was attended by 150 people including local elders, a number of governmental officials, religious scholars, local influential people and members of civil society.
 The program was organized in the hall of the school and representatives from each of the groups talked about the problems and different methods were explored and discussed to address the problems. One of the participants suggested that each of the families whose children are in school to pay 50 Afghani monthly to the school. Other speakers also asked the people for their contribution. The locals warmly welcomed this initiative because they in fact found it in their own interest. At the end of the program some of the participants willingly paid their contributions to the representative of the council  and those contributions also were recorded in the journal of the council.
After this meeting, the council called for an emergency meeting to count the collected money. A committee composed of three members of the council was assigned to solve the identified problems and were instructed to collect the receipts during purchasing of the goods.  For transparency purposes, the Council also decided that all three members of the committee must be present when goods are purchased.  
Other initiatives were also implemented to improve the lay out of the school yard. Some of the teachers and students volunteered in greenery of the school by planting of trees and flowers as well as painting of the school. The efforts were praised by the civil society and directorate of information and culture. The volunteers also received appreciation letters.
Mawlavi Faiz Muhammad Shahid School is one of the schools in Hesa-e-Dowome Kohistan district. Its council has been the most active and efficient one which has always had considerable achievements through solving of the school’s problems. The efforts of the council include but not limited to painting of the school, praising students and teachers, developing greenery of the school by planting of a variety of trees and flowers and taking problems of the school the Department of Education.
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ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN AFGHANISTAN
A Preliminary Review
The research publication on Access to Information was carried out to establish the current arrangements for access by the general public to service information from public institutions. The recommendations from this assessment are intended to inform efforts to reform Afghanistan’s nascent Access to Information Law. The two service areas assessed were the public health sector and electricity provision in Kabul. The proxy for the health sector was a selected number of hospitals in Kabul. For electricity provision De Afghanistan Breshna Shirkat (DABS) in Kabul was approached directly.

The data for this report were collected through a desk review of available literature including legislation and official reports on access to information, key informant interviews with selected government officials, journalists, rights-based civil society organizations, prominent individuals, and healthcare and energy sector professionals, focus group discussions with community members at the hospitals and DABS, and participatory observation through making requests for information on services at hospitals and DABS by the researchers.

This report finds it is too soon to conclude whether or not the implementation of the Access to Information Law has been a success. However, the report also finds that the main challenge in implementing the Law is one faced by all other forms of legislation in Afghanistan. That is, this Law will be of little or no consequence in practical and immediate terms without effective implementation.

The most significant finding from this pilot assessment is that right / access to information by the public is undermined by the two main factors of the public lacking awareness of its right, and those in authority, especially in the health sector, showing a tendency to act with hostility toward members of the public seeking help. To download the full report click here.
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Database of Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA),

Accurate Data Collection for Effective Change


Interview with Qurban Ali Sadid, Integrity Watch Afghanistan M&E Manager

Since its inception, the monitoring program of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, with effective use of data collection for advocacy purposes has always been a subject of debate and interest. In 2014, the management of Integrity Watch Afghanistan decided to develop a database. The database was designed to ease the process of collecting information upon which accurate and systematic reports could be generated.  The content of these reports could then reflect, in a concise manner, extremely valuable data collected in the field.

One of our partner organizations called Integrity Action had already developed such a database. Through cooperation and communication with them we gained the tools which enabled us to develop a similar but more customized database for Integrity Watch. We should mention that the database of Integrity Action (although its key focus is on construction projects) is now relying on our data collection system.  Thus, we have found some new grounds for mutual sharing of information that is relevant to the goals of our respective organizations.

This database was originally designed only for internal use. In 2015 the management decided that this information should be also be accessible by the public. After a lot of effort, we launched a public website wherein information on projects and their locations could be accessed by our local monitors and the public in general. The data includes imagers and addresses of numerous projects throughout the cities and districts. Some pictures of projects which are being monitored, show problems identified and solved by the local monitors, graphical locations for each project. Also explained are the methodology and tools used for monitoring.  The website also has the ability to communicate effectively with visitors.

The reports recorded in the system are going through three phases of control and verification by our colleagues in the provinces and at the headquarter.  We absolutely insist on accuracy of the data, as we believe that it reflects accuracy of our work and promotes transparency. When we claim something and we are petitioning for change, we should have enough documented evidence at hand to present as we address relevant authorities. When we trust our own data, we can be better advocates. If the data is not accurate and reliable, the credibility of the entire process is questionable.

Our employees can generate reports at will on any program being monitored. This website will be up and running very soon. We will also launch a mobile application to enable everyone access to needed information.

This database is a tool that encourages people to be involved in the observation process and seek government accountability; especially, in communities where a project is underway. People can plan ahead and demand in advance and bring changes in implementation of the projects and public service deliveries.

A Database a collection of structured and systematically organized information. These databases are usually stored in a form that is readable and accessible for devices and computers.

 







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Integrity Watch Afghanistan · Kabul, Afghanistan · Kabul 00000 · Afghanistan

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