While Afghan municipalities have evolved in recent years because of targeted support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donor programs, Afghanistan’s municipal governments are still not performing at the level they must to meet rising citizen expectations and service delivery needs or to sustain (much less expand) recent gains in performance.
As Afghanistan enters the Transformation Decade (2015–2024), and as Afghan citizens have the opportunity to select the heads of their local governments, it is particularly important that municipalities be prepared to move forward on their own resources and capacity. Changes in leadership, policy, and personnel put a strain on governance institutions, challenging them to maintain existing performance gains, let alone continue to improve performance.
USAID launched the three-year Strong Hubs for Afghan Hope and Resilience Program (SHAHAR) to help fully realize the national government’s vision for a nationwide municipal governance system that supports individual municipalities with standard policies and procedures; monitor municipal progress in improving capacity and performance; and provide technical assistance when progress lags. It will link individual municipalities together for information and knowledge sharing, as well as better linking them with their provincial and national counterparts.
The overall objective of SHAHAR is to create well-governed, fiscally sustainable Afghan municipalities capable of meeting the needs of a growing urban population. Targeted support to municipal governments, as well as the General Directorate of Municipal Affairs (GDMA) and Municipal Advisory Boards (MABs), is designed to lead to improved municipal financial management, urban service delivery, and citizen consultation in 20 provincial municipalities across the country.
As a major subcontracting partner, ICMA supports Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) in implementing the three components of the program:
1. Assistance to GDMA: SHAHAR will further coalesce a system of municipal governance in Afghanistan, with GDMA at its center, and will build GDMA’s human and institutional capacity to function as intended. As a result, GDMA will have the capacity to oversee the performance of all SHAHAR municipalities through a networked financial information system, promulgate guidance and standard operating procedures for municipal functioning nationwide, furnish training and technical assistance to municipalities, and properly fulfill its mandate under Afghan law.
2. Assistance to Mayors and Municipal Administrations: At the same time, SHAHAR will build the institutional and human capacities of Afghan municipalities to enable them to participate in a linked municipal governance system held together by GDMA at the center. With SHAHAR support, municipalities will develop the institutional resilience to effectively meet citizen priorities and service delivery needs in a manner that is transparent, accountable, and fully representative of citizen interests. The municipalities will have strategic plans developed in consultation with their citizens; a modern financial management system; and the tools, technologies, best practices, and professional networks that will facilitate the ongoing development of municipal leadership and staff long after SHAHAR assistance has come to an end.
3. Assistance to Municipal Advisory Boards: By supporting the Municipal Advisory Boards, SHAHAR will help lay the groundwork for elected municipal councils as permanent fixtures of Afghan municipal governance. This component of SHAHAR furthers the development of institutions that support an essential ingredient in municipal governance – the ability of citizens from all walks of life to collectively register their voices to municipal decision-makers and to hold them accountable for their actions.