Government of caretakers, a conundrum that increases corruption & undermines rule of law

Under the incumbent president, most Afghan ministers ran their offices as caretaker ministers. The continuation of works of the caretaker ministers, some believe, is a deliberate act by the leaders of National Unity Government.

On September 29, 2014 when President Ghani took oath of office, he pledged that he would complete his cabinet members within 45 days. Ghani’s term is already over and he is now running for 2019 presidential election — leading a presidential ticket named “state builder.” Over the course of the five years President Ghani, however, failed to complete his cabinet even for a short term.

Under Ghani’s presidency, most of the ministries were administered by acting ministers and as many as 15 ministries—Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Ministry of Information and Culture, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Ministry of Urban Development and Land, Ministry Energy and Water, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, Ministry of Transport—are all currently run by acting ministers.

The case, however, goes beyond the ministries as many deputy ministries, directorates, independent authorities, high council of supreme court, provinces, provincial police departments have most often been administered by caretakers.

Many expert on governance, however, blame Mr. Ghani for a deliberate hand in affairs of the ministries. They believe that in the presence of caretaker ministers— who cannot exercise full authority as he or she is acting—in the ministries, Ghani can easily manipulate affairs such as appointment and dismissals of high-ranking positions in the ministries.

On his second day in office, President Ghani issued a decree, in which he ordered all ministers and directors to continue their works as caretakers. Two days later, he issued another decree, in which he ordered all governors to work as caretaker governors until next directives.

The National Unity Government (NUG) leaders, however, replaced the acting ministers with new caretaker minister, after the Afghan MPs harshly criticized the policy.  

On January 19, 2015, the NUG, under pressure by MPs, introduced its cabinet members to the Parliament for vote of confidence.

But under NUG only the ministries of justice, refugees, women affairs, and public health were run by ministers who took vote of confidence and the rest of ministries were run by acting ministers.

According to the Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA), lack of faith on the Afghan constitution coupled with lack of will in leadership level of the NUG are a main factor behind the case. With the Afghan parliament losing legitimacy in public eyes and with most Afghan MPs being involved in financial corruption, the government leaders easily can secure their trusted men in ministerial positions without having the vote of confidence by MPs, IWA said. According to IWA, the political leadership have reached to a conclusion, believing that the ministers who win vote of confidence will not remain flexible to illegitimate demands by political leaders.       

In the meantime, Mahiuddin Mahdi, a former member of parliament, is of the opinion that Mr. Ghani, who has a selective approach on governance, makes appointments or dismissal of the ministers on basis of his personal interests. “This is time-consuming for the current parliament to give votes of confidence to candidate ministers. The president avoided to introduce [the candidate ministers] to the previous parliament as the parliament did not vote for [his] selections,” he argued.

The Presidential Palace, however, blames the parliament for the conundrum of caretaker-ship in the government. The Parliament is part of the problem, according to the Presidential Palace. “We were waiting for opening of the new parliament and we will send the list of new candidate ministers to the house whenever the parliament ask for,” it stated.

As per the law of the country, a caretaker minister does not have the same authorities as a minister can exercise.

Having a close oversight on the performance of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and Kabul Municipality, the IWA said that both institutions have failed to do their basic duties as they were run by the caretaker minister and mayor. “Afghanistan’s mines sector has faced serious challenges like illegal mining, lack of transparency in monitoring implementation of the contracts and collecting revenues, providing capacity, and creating a legal platform,” the IWA said, adding that Kabul Municipality has not been able to provide the very basic urban services.

According to Mahdi, the problem of caretaker ministers has contributed to increasing corruption, undermining rule of law and governance in the country.