Strengthening institutions in Afghanistan


Despite the disruptions caused by 25 years of conflict in Afghanistan, Government ministries still continued to function and employed civil servants. However, they lacked the capacity to conduct common institutional functions, such as planning, financial management, procurement, and human resource management. The problems included limited leadership, fragmented policies, lack of formalised management systems, and limited knowledge sharing and exposure to best practice. This resulted in low levels of budget execution and poor delivery of services.

One of the immediate Government and development partner responses was to bring in expertise from the region and globally to conduct institutional functions such as policy making, budgeting and procurement. Very rapidly the Government realized that the ‘Afghanisation’ of institutions was a critical strategy to build a credible state, develop country ownership and create sustainable institutions whilst reducing transaction costs. The Independent Administration Reform and Civil Service Commission was established and charged with planning and overseeing the transition to an efficient, stable and adaptable Civil Service made of qualified national staff.


The Afghan Government approached UNDP to help strengthen national leadership in public institutions through knowledge, lessons learnt and exposure to different institutional models needed to underpin transformation in key ministries. The UNDP’s Civil Service Leadership Development Programme allowed senior staff to benefit from an introduction to strategy, planning and management approaches and skills.

UNDP was also asked by the Government and development partners to manage the “Making Budgets Work” programme in the Ministry of Finance and to link it to other institutional development interventions. The programme responded initially by replacing internationally recruited staff in the Ministry of Finance with Afghan nationals with targeted training. In the next phase twelve Afghan graduates were recruited into the ministry to become main beneficiaries of the programme and to allow the gradual phasing out of contractual staff.

In the process the Government identified two additional problems. First, how can senior and middle managers in ministries be supported and coached to enable them to apply their knowledge and skills to design, lead and implement institutional reforms in priority ministries and agencies? Second, how can Afghan expertise from the diaspora be attracted and retained? Partnering with the World Bank and the Independent Administration Reform and Civil Service Commission, UNDP supported the establishment of a Capacity for Afghan Public Service entity.

The Capacity for Afghan Public Service entity responded to specific capacity development needs identified in each ministry and agency. Rather than using international experts to substitute for capacity gaps, it used line managers in functions where the capacity was low. The approach enabled individual development and contributed to institutional reform through strong local understanding and ownership. Coaches and trainers were drawn from a large pool of experts with relevant experience in institutional change.

UNDP also brokered cooperation with the Indian Government that provided senior civil servants with relevant experience and qualifications to supplement Afghan Government coaches. In addition to support from the Indian Government, UNDP mobilised funds from Canada and across the United Nations to provide 39 regional and 44 national coaches. This allowed best practice to be accessible to relevant staff in 22 ministries and agencies and ensured that the solutions were tailored to the Afghan reality.


UNDP’s Civil Service Leadership Development Programme provided leadership techniques and skills across Afghan institutions. The Capacity for Afghan Public Service entity ensured that experienced regional and national coaches were able to work alongside 22 ministries and agencies to implement institutional reform. The following two examples are good cases in point:

  • The Ministry of Youth Affairs asked the Capacity for Afghan Public Service entity to help develop strategies for vocational training for poor young people. One strategy was to develop partnerships with the private sector, whereby the ministry provided infrastructure and technical support and the private sector provided financing over a period of four years. These partnerships between the pubic and the private sector provided the opportunity for poor young people to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
  • Kabul’s International Airport requested help in strengthening security so that it could become an international travel hub. The Capacity for Afghan Public Service entity worked with the airport authority to identify best options and best practice in airport security, to prepare terms of reference for the desired services and negotiate with key ministries the contracting out of security service delivery. This change management process has resulted in outsourcing security services at Kabul International Airport in May 2009.
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UNDP Capacity is Development: Stories of Institutions

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