KABUL, Afghanistan, April 4 - President Hamid Karzai and his top ministers made an urgent plea to international donors at an annual aid conference in Kabul on Monday to shift their focus to helping the country's struggling private sector and to let the Afghan government take a controlling lead in development planning.
Mr. Karzai said his government considered building the infrastructure - including energy, aviation and telecommunications - to be an urgent priority to provide the foundation for private sector development. Urban development, completely neglected in the past three years, would be a priority too, he said.
The conference follows months of debate and recriminations over why the billions of dollars in aid that have poured into Afghanistan since the former Taliban rulers were ousted more than three years ago have accomplished so little.
The government contends that private aid groups, which control much of the donated money, have squandered it. Many business leaders say corruption and the lack of staff trained in government are largely to blame.
The government will insist on a national unified budget for 2006, said the finance minister, Anwar ul-Haq Ahady. More than 93 percent of Afghanistan's annual budget comes from international donors, but only a third of this year's $4.7 billion budget will go through government hands, he said. "Let this government take full responsibility for our country's development," he told the donors.
Muhammad Iashaq Naderi, the government's chief economic adviser, said at the conference that the government would insist on greater control over foreign assistance flowing into the country and greater coordination with donors and private aid groups. Aid organizations will be monitored for the cost-effectiveness and impact of their programs, he said.
Mr. Karzai said he had promised the Afghan people that he would raise the annual per capita income to $500 from $200 and reduce poverty during his five-year term. "We must now work together to overcome chronic poverty, and build Afghanistan into a stable and thriving economy in the region," he said. "We are keenly aware of our people's expectations, and our responsibility towards them."
The three-day conference was not aimed at raising more money for Afghanistan, because $8.3 billion of financing was pledged at a donors conference last year to see Afghanistan through 2007. The United States ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced though that the United States planned to double its assistance for the current year, to $5 billion, if Congress approves a supplemental spending request, in addition to the $10 billion planned for American military operations in Afghanistan.
Mr. Ahady also called for government to take a greater role in providing social services, replacing the international aid groups, which have provided much of the health and rural development services during the past 25 years of conflict.
Last week, the cabinet approved a law that bars nonprofit aid groups from competing for government contracts. The contracts would be offered instead to private sector groups that would pay taxes back to the government.
The law alarmed donors and the aid groups and forced Mr. Karzai to meet with ambassadors the day before the conference. The government appears to have backed down, establishing a commission of ministers to examine the issue further. But Mr. Karzai still issued a harsh rebuke to the aid groups in a statement on the eve of the conference.
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign