Afghanistan and the United States: Partners in Building CapacityAmbassador Randall Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
Remarks at signing of memorandum regarding Afghans' Building Capacity ("ABC") Program*
May 21, 2006
* At meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan Finance Minister Dr. Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, and Afghanistan Communications Minister Amirzi Sangin
President Karzai, honorable Ministers, Ambassador Neumann, ladies and gentlemen; good morning, I am honored to be here with you on this occasion.
In the less than five years since the Taliban was driven from power by coalition forces and brave Afghans standing shoulder to shoulder in the opening battles of the Global War on Terror, the progress made by the Afghan people has been nothing short of remarkable.
President Karzai, your leadership has been instrumental to your nation’s progress, and its monumental achievements – as Secretary Rice noted at the signing of the Afghanistan Compact earlier this year – are an example of what the world can achieve when we all work together.
Afghanistan is undergoing a transformation – from a state the Taliban had turned into a terrorist haven, to a nation brimming with people who see a hopeful and democratic future for themselves.
We know governments that rule justly, encourage economic freedom and opportunity, and invest in their people – the hallmarks of democracies – do not produce or tolerate terrorists. When it comes to foreign assistance, the best way to help build and sustain such states is to deliver it in ways that demonstrate to those we seek to assist that our efforts are rooted in partnership, not paternalism.
Less than two weeks before the U.S. signed the Afghanistan Compact, President Bush and Secretary Rice asked me to take on a new role – serving concurrently as Director of United States Foreign Assistance and Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development – charged with reforming United States foreign assistance.
Mr. President, as you know, since early 2002, the U.S. Congress has appropriated more than $10 billion in assistance to Afghanistan. But the American people’s financial commitment is not the only reason I chose to visit Afghanistan on my first trip abroad in this new role. I wanted to see for myself the challenges and opportunities faced by the Afghan people as they continue rebuilding, with the support of the international community, a proud nation that has only recently emerged from over two decades of conflict and turmoil.
A crucial element of the overall equation in helping people help themselves–one too often overlooked–is the role of host governments. In past years, the international system, including donors like the United States stepped in, often creating parallel systems of service delivery that have shifted citizens' expectations away from their own governments to international donors. While the international donor community has an important transitional role to play–which may take years–outsiders cannot, with sustainability, secure citizens' health and safety, educate a critical mass, or create the conditions needed for economic growth-all of which are necessary for development. Those are the responsibilities of host governments themselves.
As President Bush has said, development must engender lasting economic, social, and political progress through a transformation of institutions, economic structures and human capacity so that nations can evolve to sustaining further progress on their own.
Since 2003, a large portion of US assistance to Afghanistan has been focused on rebuilding roads, schools, clinics, and power generation capacity. But the need for rebuilding also applies to a nation’s institutions and human capital. With the overall objective of fostering, supporting, and accelerating the transformation taking place in Afghanistan, I am very pleased to announce this morning a major new US-funded program called "Afghans Building Capacity" or "ABC" in English.
"ABC" is a multi-year capacity building program valued at up to $125 million. It will become the largest and most comprehensive such USAID effort in perhaps 20 years anywhere in the world. The program will assist the Government and the people of Afghanistan as they develop physical and human capacity in the public sector, private sector and civil society, both in Kabul and the provinces. After all, democracy is not just about having an elected government – it's about teaching people to participate, and how. It's about empowering them, supporting their ideas, and providing the right tools-and appropriate incentives-to support their leadership and responsibility to sustain further progress on their own.
This, President Bush, Secretary Rice, and I believe, is what United States foreign assistance must be all about. Sustainability means helping people develop the tools for independence. It means helping them address not only the conditions they face, but their ability to access and use resources, and to organize and participate in democratic decision-making. The "ABC" program provides the primary vehicle through which the US will help Afghans address the challenges they face.
In practice, this means strengthening the Government’s ability to procure goods and services and financially manage funding to assure donors and citizens alike that scarce resources are used as intended. These capabilities will foster both larger domestic revenue generation from taxation, and donor contributions made directly to the Government’s treasury.
The ABC program will include a U.S.-Afghanistan-India partnership to target both national and provincial governments with public administration training. The Government of Afghanistan will adopt internationally accepted accounting standards for monitoring funds and disbursements in selected ministries, which will encourage donors to consider disbursement of funds directly into the government’s core budget. Assistance under the ABC program will help ministries develop the capacity to adopt and maintain these standards.
In addition to helping Afghanistan build capacity in the public sector, ABC will strengthen skills in the private sector and civil society to engage Afghans in the transformation process, which will ultimately result in greater use of local procurement of goods and services.
ABC will also support efforts in the use of technology through a District Communications Network, by which the Ministry of Communications is providing a telecommunications node at each district to serve the district government and local residents through a public call office and cyber café. Over time these nodes will increasingly be operated by entrepreneurs through a franchise type of arrangement. It is my hope that the Network will be one of many success stories resulting from ABC.
As Secretary Rice stated when we signed the Compact, "the transformation of Afghanistan is remarkable but, of course, still incomplete…the Afghan people…when they have the right tools, will be able to stand on their own two feet in the international system, and that should be our goal." America is proud to stand with you, Mr. President, and the Afghan people as you continue to work toward long-term success in achieving that goal.
Thank you very much.