At the third go, the Lower House of parliament finally approved the government’s general budget for the Afghan year 1392 (March 2012 to March 2013) on 20 January 2013. The so-called qatia report – the final account for the previous fiscal year – however, revealed that many ministries had again failed to spend a significant amount of their development budgets, providing a tool for MPs to start the impeachment process for as many as eleven ministers. But this turned out to be harder than the Wolesi Jirga (WJ) had assumed. Before the house went into its long winter recess, it referred the matter to a commission. Thus it has completed only half of its recent agenda, instead focusing much – maybe too much – on these two issues, as AAN’s researchers Obaid Ali and Ehsan Qani report.
The approval of the government’s budget and the related threat of an impeachment of another set of – this time eleven – cabinet ministers (1) dominated the last sessions of the Wolesi Jirga before it went into its long, 45-day winter recess on 19 January 2013. On the last day before the break, Minister of Finance Omar Zakhilwal, in an extraordinary commission meeting, saved the ministers, for the coming weeks at least; this joint commission was chaired by the head of the finance and budget committee, Amir Khan Yar, and joined by the speaker of the Lower House as well as representatives of its 18 regular committees.
The first two times the government submitted the budget (on 8 Qaws 1391 or 28 November 2012 and on 1 Jaddi 1391 or21 December 2012; read here), the legislators raised major objections with regard to what they see as insufficient allocations for underdeveloped provinces, a lack of funding for income-generating and job-creating projects as well as for some infrastructure construction included in the 1392 budget. (2)
The budget included, in the MPs’ view, insufficient funds for the construction of the Gardan Diwal highway, (3) the Kabul ring road, health clinics in Kabul and protective embankments along Amu River in the north. The MPs also contested the allocation of a high sum for the presidential office – USD76 million – which is more than the funds for the legislature and the judiciary (USD64 million) put together. And they had difficulties swallowing a USD70 million payment to cover the Kabul Bank (read our previous blog here). This long budget process is not unusual. In the previous year, it also took two months of negotiation and three drafts before the WJ gave its green light for the budget (see here and here).
When the third draft of the budget was being prepared, legislators proposed that specific projects for the eleven least-developed provinces be identified, and insisted that food and drug testing laboratories -meant to guarantee the quality of imports to Afghanistan – should be established on the Afghan borders. They also pushed the Ministry of Information and Culture to secure funds to rebuild historical places in Kandahar. The lawmakers also did not neglect their own interest and pushed for salaries and privileges equal to those given to cabinet ministers.
When Zakhilwal briefed the MPs on the third draft of the budget, he promised to fulfil some of their suggestions. Apparently convinced by Zakhilwal’s exposition, the joint commission meeting finally decided to present this draft for approval in the general session on 20 January 2013. Considering the strong previous resistance, this time it was approved by an overwhelming majority, with 128 out of 130 votes (read here and here). However, the necessary quorum, out 249 members of the house, was barely reached for this crucial vote (something unfortunately not unusual in the WJ).
The draft budget presented for 1392 (2012–2013) includes AFN196.3 billion (USD3.82 billion) under the ordinary budget (running costs) and AFN157.7 billion (USD3.07 billion) as the development budget (for projects). According to Zakhilwal, the government proposed a higher development budget of AFN170 billion (about USD3.20 billion), and a slightly different sum (AFN196 billion) as ordinary budget. According to him, 70 per cent of the development budget would be based on aid pledged by the international community, while the remaining 30 per cent would be financed through the government’s own revenues. Similarly, national revenues will account for 55 per cent of the ordinary budget, with the remaining 45 per cent covered by foreign aid.
The biggest part of the budget has been allocated for the security sector, with 39.6 per cent. The education sector follows with 15.1 per cent; 9.6 per cent will go to agricultural and rural development; 4.2 per cent to good governance and the rule of law; 3.8 per cent to public health; 2.8 per cent to the economy and 1.0 per cent to social security. The presidential discretionary fund, however, has been allocated at 8.3 per cent (readhere).(4)
Now, with the budget approved, the suggestions from the legislators do not seem to have completely been adopted in the third draft either. The lack of appropriate management in the Wolesi Jirga and the chaotic atmosphere and disagreement among its members may be why the government was nevertheless able to obtain its goal, to pass the budget. Some MPs described the administrative board of the chamber, and particularly the speaker, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, as a policy tool for the government. Some MPs accused him of accepting bribes from the government in exchange for helping the budget through. Among the angriest MPs was a Kandahari representative, Muhammad Naim Lalai, who rushed into the arena on 20 January denouncing the chairman’s role in favouring the government as ‘treachery’ (see a short report here). Indeed, the speaker seemed to have pushed for the approval of the third draft: he protected Minister Zakhilwal by allowing him to leave the general session as some MPs were about to start asking him questions.
While it is apparent that the Lower House is unable to make sure that the government respects and does not constantly overrule its decisions, it has developed its own way of hitting back. This is by impeaching ministers. Currently, the MPs are targeting eleven ministers who failed to spend more than 50 per cent of their development budget for the previous year 1391. (5) The legal basis for this step was provided by the Control and Audit Office (an independent agency appointed by President Karzai) that had submitted the so-called qatia report – the final account for the previous fiscal year – to the finance and budget committee of the Wolesi Jirga in December.
On 12 December 2012, the Lower House voted to start the impeachment proceedings against the eleven ministers. Later, however (on 31 December 2013) the WJ changed its plan to impeaching only seven of them. This decision pitted the lawmakers against each other and divided them into several groups. Some MPs accused their colleagues of violating the house’s internal rules of procedure;(6) others urged that they should have the option to vote separately on each minister about whether to impeach him. The discussion and disagreement among lawmakers ended in the decision to go back to the original idea of impeaching all eleven ministers.
On 14 January 2013, the WJ expected the eleven ministers to attend its general session to explain to the MPs their failure to spend more than half of their development budgets, and thus possibly to face an impeachment vote. However, the government only allowed seven of them to go to the WJ. Based on article 77 of the Afghan constitution, it argued that four ministers (for higher education, defence, interior and urban development) had only recently been appointed to their positions (see our previous blogs here and here) and were not responsible for the shortcomings of their predecessors. However, the Wolesi Jirga insists that its application for the impeachment of eleven ministers is lawful, based on article 92 of the Afghan constitution which does not specify conditions, such as the length of a minister’s tenure. Again, after several hours of discussion in the Wolesi Jirga plenary session, the result turned in favour of the government. The WJ referred the case to the (non-parliamentary) Commission for Implementation and Monitoring of the Constitution.
Disagreement among MPs resulting from their own political or personal commitment to some minister or other left them unable to implement their impeachment decision, at least not before the winter recess. It remains to be seen whether they pick up the issue again in March, when the house reconvenes, and show some political consistency, or tacitly drop the issue – which would be a sign that the WJ is merely a paper tiger and the government is still able to manipulate and influence it on major issues.
The real conflicts around issues like the impeachment of ministers and the approval of the national budget often revolve around personal loyalties and ethnic, regional or political affiliation, rather than reflecting true concerns about the matters at stake. During its last session, the Wolesi Jirga consumed most of its time debating these two issues which, given everything else that needs to be solved by the WJ, ultimately can appear comparatively marginal. In fact, the reform of the electoral law is still pending. It already has proved highly controversial, with the WJ voting against President Karzai’s decision to ‘Afghanise’ the Election Complaints Commission by deleting UN-nominated international members. The MPs will have some time to reflect on this during their 45-day long winter recess.
Photo: On the old Gardan Diwal road (winter 2004) — by Thomas Ruttig
(1) On 4 August 2012, the WJ had successfully impeached the ministers of the interior and defense, the main reason being last summer’s Kunar missile crisis, when Pakistan shelled Afghan territory (read our previous blog here).
(2) The definition of Afghanistan’s fiscal year was recently changed. Previously, it started with the Afghan calendar year, on 20 March. Now it has been brought into accord with the practice in most countries of the world. According to the Afghan shamsi (sun) calendar, Afghanistan’s fiscal year will now start on 1 Jaddi (21 December) and end on the last day of the month of Qaws (20 December of the next year). This change is implemented from the current year – the 1392 fiscal year.
(3) Also called Chaghcharan-Bamian-Kabul highway, an 850 km-long road project, it is considered a major item on the budget, and many MPs (in particular Hazara representatives) rejected the scant funding for it in early drafts.
(4) Comparing the budget for 1392 with that of the previous year, slight differences do appear. Security and education, which in 1391 were also the two major recipient sectors, saw a further increase in their allocated share: from 31.9 per cent to 39.6 and from 13.6 to 15.1 per cent respectively. On the other hand, the budget allocation for sectors like public health and good governance and rule of law, which in 1391 amounted to 4.6 per cent each, dropped this year to 0.8 and 0.4 per cent.
(5) These are the Ministries of Defence, the Interior, Commerce, the Economy, Counter-narcotics, Water and Energy, Education, Urban Development, Mines, Higher Education and Information and Culture (read here). The spending of these ministries’ particular development budgets are as follows:
– Defence: 9 per cent
– Interior: 44 per cent
– Commerce: 17 per cent
– Economy: 40 per cent
– Counter-narcotics: 20 per cent
– Water and Energy: 49 per cent
– Education: 48 per cent
– Urban Development: 47 per cent
– Mines: 26 per cent
– Higher Education: 35 per cent
– Information and Culture: 12 per cent
(6) According to these MPs, the process of impeachment should be put under the authority of the finance and budget commissions of the WJ, on condition that it has the approval of 50 MPs.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020