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SIGAR urges tighter VIP control to stop cash smuggling through airport

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2021)

Despite efforts by the Afghan government to reduce the flow of cash out of the country’s busiest international airport, significant control weaknesses continue to exist at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported Thursday.

Cash counting machines, which were funded by the US government, are not being used for the purposes intended and the only cash counting machine confirmed to be working is in the arrival entrance, instead of the departure area where strict cash controls are most needed to help prevent cash smuggling, SIGAR reported.

In addition, the machines lack connectivity to the Internet, which in turn prevents Afghan investigative authorities from tracking currency suspected of being laundered.

“The absence of fully functional and strategically positioned cash counting machines, and declaration forms in the VIP section along with the limited screening of VIP passengers – who are most likely to have large amounts of cash – severely limits the Afghan government’s ability to fully implement its anti-money laundering laws at the airport,” John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated in the report.

To improve screening procedures at Hamid Karzai International Airport, SIGAR suggested the Afghan government take the following two actions:

1. Fully integrate cash counting machines with functioning Internet capability into the normal customs process both at the non-VIP and VIP terminals to better ensure that all declared and detected currency is counted, and serial numbers captured, for use by FinTRACA and its international partners.
2. Strengthen controls at the VIP terminal by requiring all VIP and VVIP passengers to fill out customs declaration forms, and have airport staff count any cash declared and send serial numbers to FinTRACA.

Sopko stated: “We provided a draft copy of this report to the [US] Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) for comments on December 21, 2020, and the Afghan government for comments on December 22, 2020.

“DHS provided technical comments for incorporation in the report on January 8, 2021, which we
incorporated as appropriate. The Department of State informed SIGAR on January 8, 2021 that it does not have any technical comments.

“As of the publication of this report, the Afghan government did not provide any comment on the report nor on the matters for its consideration,” Sopko stated.

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Ghani tells ECO Summit peace is critical to region’s future

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(Last Updated On: March 4, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani said at the 14th ECO Summit held virtually on Thursday that Afghanistan is poised to serve as a roundabout between central, east, south and west Asia and a platform of international and regional cooperation.

Ghani said internationally managed and monitored elections to elect the next president is critical in ensuring a balance between constitutional continuity and change.

Ghani said Pakistan has an especially significant role to play in supporting a lasting peace process, for it is the country most likely to suffer from the adverse consequences of a failed peace process.

Addressing the virtual gathering, Ghani said: “We, the people and government of Afghanistan and our international partners, have a true sense of urgency to make and build peace. Your support for a comprehensive ceasefire to accelerate the negotiations in Doha is essential.”

He said for forty-two years, “we have been denied the fundamental right to peace. It is time to stop the violence that has turned our beautiful country into a killing field.”

The 14th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) was chaired this year by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The theme of the Summit “Regional Economic Cooperation in the Aftermath of COVID-19” saw leaders of regional countries share their perspectives on COVID-19 challenges.

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Ghani scraps NTA salary scale system

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(Last Updated On: March 3, 2021)

President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday instructed the Ministry of Finance to stop the National Technical Assistance (NTA) salary scale system, effective at the start of the new solar year, the Presidential Palace (ARG) said.

According to ARG, Ghani also said that the NTA positions will be changed to contract posts and a salary increase will be given to low-ranking employees.

“The NTA process will continue until the new year and in the next leadership session of the government, the mechanism (of the change) will be made,” said Fatima Morchal, deputy spokeswoman for the president.

Currently 24,000 government employees are employed on the NTA salary scale system and affects those earning between 38,000 and 250,000 AFN a month.

Members of the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) said government should share their plans with them.

“Government should complete its investigation and send their plan to parliament,” said Sayed Azim Keberzani, a member of the Wolesi Jirga.

This comes after MPs recently refused to approve the budget for the new fiscal on the grounds that government workers needed a pay increase.

As a result, government approved a pay rise, and stated that it would increase salaries by 2,000 AFN from the new solar year

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Efforts underway to safeguard Afghan women’s property rights

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(Last Updated On: March 2, 2021)

Through the Afghanistan Land Administration Project (ALASP) the government of Afghanistan has started distributing property Occupancy Certificates for land owners with priority for women.

World Bank reported that while Afghanistan’s laws give women equal rights to own land and property, ignorance, weak law enforcement, and social norms have combined to deprive Afghan women of their property rights.

According to the article, experts estimate that less than five percent of land ownership documents in Afghanistan include the name of a female owner.

Given the social, economic, and cultural importance of property ownership, equitable access to land is key to empowering Afghan women.

In the article it stated that excluding women from owning land or property has led to their marginalization in political and economic spheres and limited their decision-making roles at home and in communities.

As such, equal access to land ownership is key to empowering Afghan women, the article stated.

The Ministry of Urban Development and Land (MUDL) however has reportedly been improving land administration and promoting better access to registration services, especially for women.

Supported by a number of agencies, and financed by the World Bank, this project has so far resulted in MUDL having issued 34,370 Occupancy Certificates (OC) and more than half include a woman’s name.

These initiatives have helped many Afghan women acquire certificates that prove their rightful ownership and protect them from eviction, encroachment, or dispute. The legal documents also guarantee they can pass on their property to their children and shield them from homelessness, the World Bank article stated.

The article also stated that consistent with the new legal framework, co-titling for occupants of state land is mandatory, and husbands are now required to include their wives’ names on the certificates.

In addition, there is also now dedicated help desks in eight provinces to support women seeking an Occupation Certificate, encourage female enrollment, and facilitate co-registration.

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