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EITI: Afghanistan achieves transparency despite barriers

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(Last Updated On: October 30, 2020)

Following its second Validation, Afghanistan has made meaningful progress in implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Standard.

Afghanistan has been a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative since 2010, but its membership in the organization was suspended due to its inadequate implementation in 2014 and 2017.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in a statement on Thursday said that Afghanistan has improved its transparency of licenses and contracts, state-owned enterprises and quasi-fiscal expenditures. As a result, Afghanistan’s temporary suspension has been lifted.

EITI board congratulates Afghanistan for addressing shortcoming identified in its first validation through systematic disclosures of data delivered by concrete reforms in government systems. 

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani noted the important role the EITI plays in the country. “Every citizen has the right to know who is developing the country’s natural resources and how the government is managing the revenues from these industries on their behalf,” he said. “The EITI is one of the tools that is helping us achieve this policy objective. It has been instrumental in supporting our institution-building efforts in a sector critical to the economic future of Afghanistan.”

The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum announced Thursday that Afghanistan has rejoined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Building transparent institutions and systems

Afghanistan’s government has embraced open data platforms, establishing online reporting systems to enhance transparency of extractive sector management and to address shortcomings identified in its first Validation. This has been achieved in an evolving political environment marked by presidential elections in 2019 and intra-Afghan peace negotiations in 2020. The World Bank underscored the EITI’s value in driving public finance management reforms in a context of fragility and violence.

In 2018, the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MOMP) launched a new Transparency Portal, providing information on licenses, fiscal terms, legal and beneficial ownership information, production data and non-tax company payments to government. Since then, the portal has become even more comprehensive.

Taking action to improve accountability

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are important players in Afghanistan’s extractive sector, accounting for nearly two thirds of government extractive revenues between 2008 and 2017. Two SOEs – Afghan Gas Enterprise and North Coal Enterprise – are strategic for the government’s plans to improve revenue generation from the sector.

In 2019, Afghanistan undertook the landmark achievement of auditing the two SOEs for the first time. This exercise highlighted gaps in the SOEs’ record-keeping and financial management, and was a necessary step in the government’s plans to corporatise the enterprises. Moving forward, the government will need to ensure auditing becomes regular practice, drawing on EITI support to follow-up on findings.

Afghanistan’s government has legislated for beneficial ownership information to be made public for mining, oil and gas licenses. The country began publishing ownership data on its Transparency Portal earlier this year. Yet more work needs to be done to ensure that all beneficial owners are publicly disclosed, including politically-exposed persons and owners who control companies through non-equity means.

Strengthening multi-stakeholder oversight

EITI Board Chair Helen Clark commented on the significance of Afghanistan’s recent progress. “Afghanistan has made concrete achievements in improving transparency despite challenging circumstances,” she said. “The priority should be to draw on this emerging transparency for policy-making in the sector. This is key to broader economic development efforts and ensuring that all citizens have an opportunity to engage in debate on the governance of the sector.”

Data from EITI reporting – spanning several legislative changes and wide commodity price fluctuations over the past decade – provides a key resource to support further research and analysis. But despite proactive dissemination efforts, including in provincial capitals, there is a lack of data use by diverse stakeholders.

Yet an initiative by Integrity Watch Afghanistan stands out. The civil society organisation is expanding its community-based monitoring programme to include extractive activities, empowering host communities to track the impacts of extractive projects in their areas. Stronger engagement in EITI implementation by government, industry and civil society could lead to more such innovations.

Afghanistan’s informal mining sector is one area where there is a high demand for data. While the government collects USD 45m a year in mining revenue, it is estimated that more than six times that amount is being lost through unmonitored, small-scale mining activities. There is strong interest, particularly from civil society, to use EITI reporting to shed more light on unrecorded mining and support efforts to formalise the sector.

According to EITI Afghanistan will have 18 months (28 April 2022) to address the remaining five “Corrective actions” in its implementation of the EITI Standard.

The Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum said that the ministry renewing its commitment to implement the corrective actions of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is an international organization that ensures transparency in the country’s mines, gas and oil.

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Passenger flights between Iran and Afghanistan resume

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Iran has resumed regular commercial flights to neighboring Afghanistan following a month-long hiatus, Iran’s state run al-Alam TV channel reported.

An Iranian Mahan Air aircraft landed in Kabul on Wednesday with 19 passengers onboard after departing from the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad.

“At present, this airliner is returning to Mashhad with passengers,” the semi official Fars news agency later reported.

Regular passenger services between the two countries stopped after the Islamic Emirate gained power in Afghanistan a month ago.

Previously, Mahan Air – the second-largest Iranian airline – had operated two flights per week between Mashhad and Kabul.

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Army chief warns against ‘defending American democracy’

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Chief of Army Staff Qari Fasihudin Fitrat said Wednesday a strong and orderly army would soon be established to independently defend Afghan territory.

Fitrat also stated that the Islamic Emirate would suppress anyone who tried to defend gains made in the past 20 years and American democracy.

He warned that “such people are violating public order and leading the country towards a civil war.”

“We will not allow anyone to disrupt the security of the people in the name of ethnicity, fear and defending the achievements of the last 20 years and American democracy,” Fitrat stated.

Afghanistan had around 300,000 active military personnel in its security forces that disintegrated on August 15 as the former government collapsed.

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Ghani’s escape derailed latest Taliban deal: Khalilzad

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(Last Updated On: September 15, 2021)

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s decision to flee the country last month shattered a last-minute deal with the Islamic Emirate that was designed to negotiate a political transition.

In an interview with the Financial Times, his first since the US pulled out of Afghanistan, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said according to the plan, Ghani would have remained in his post until an agreement was reached on a future government – even as the Islamic Emirate’s forces were at the gates of Kabul.

However, Khalilzad said the power vacuum left by Ghani’s unexpected escape on August 15 led to the fall of his government and the takeover by the Islamic Emirate.

He said this, in turn, sparked a chaotic evacuation of civilians and troops and effectively ended the talks in Doha.

“Even in the end, we had an agreement with the Taliban (Islamic Emirate) to [them] not go into Kabul,” Khalilzad told the Financial Times adding that at no time did this include Ghani fleeing the country.

Khalilzad’s comments echo those made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told US lawmakers this week that he had received assurances from Ghani on the eve of his escape that he agreed with Washington’s plan.

Kabul’s security forces disbanded at the news of Ghani’s disappearance, Khalilzad said.

“There were public order issues in Kabul after Ghani’s flight. . . The Taliban (Islamic Emirate) [then]. . . say, ‘Are you going to take responsibility for the security of Kabul now? . . . And then you know what happened, we were not going to take responsibility,” he said, adding that he attended a pre-arranged meeting that day with the US regional military commander, General Frank McKenzie, and senior Islamic Emirate leaders in Doha.

Khalilzad rejected claims of a tacit or explicit agreement that allowed the Islamic Emirate to enter the presidential palace in Kabul on August 15.

“We didn’t give them any kind of green light or anything like that. What we said is what the mission of the US forces was,” he told the Financial Times, referring to the evacuation of the airport.

Khalilzad first discussed the agreement with the Kabul government on August 12 and reached an agreement with the Islamic Emirate two days later to safeguard the integrity of the city, Financial Times reported, citing US officials.

However, Ghani was unlikely to have been part of any future government because his resignation was a precondition set by the Islamic Emirate, FT reported.

On August 13, Islamic Emirate forces were surrounding Kabul after taking control of most of the country.

According to Ghani, he fled the country as his life was in danger and to “avoid bloodshed” in Kabul.

Responding to criticism of Washington’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, Khalilzad said: “The fact that they didn’t [negotiate peace] or one side disintegrated, that is not the responsibility of the United States. It is not my responsibility.”

Khalilzad said, however, that he regretted the failure to reach a political agreement with the Islamic Emirate years earlier.

“There will be a lot of introspection,” he said.

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