Afghan president says his country’s problem is the opposite of D.C.’s — and he doesn’t mean it in a good way
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani hasn’t had an easy time since his election last year. His government is facing a renewed Taliban insurgency as well as a growing Islamic State presence. A combination of security and economy woes have led many Afghans to give up hope after 15 years of chaos, with many of the country’s brightest and best fleeing to Europe or elsewhere.
In an interview conducted for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)’s quarterly report to Congress, Ghani explained that one of Afghanistan’s biggest concerns was actually the opposite of a familiar Washington, D.C., problem.
“No taxation, no representation,” Ghani said to SIGAR’s director of research and analysis, Deborah Scroggins, in an interview conducted in September. “But we have representation without taxation, the opposite of D.C.’s slogan!”
The United States capital’s slogan isn’t supposed to be a good thing, of course. D.C.’s “taxation without representation” motto is designed to highlight the fact that D.C. residents pay taxes but are not entitled to the political representation that residents of U.S. states get.
Ghani, on the other hand, is saying that his country has a representative democracy. What it doesn’t have, he says, is the revenue from taxation.
“When assistance was generously provided, it weakened the obligation, and now we need to ensure that taxation and representation go together,” Ghani said.
SIGAR’s Special Inspector General John F. Sopko has previously suggested that the U.S. helped Afghanistan to build an army, police and government that it couldn’t afford. When asked about it in the SIGAR report interview, Ghani didn’t dispute it. “I agree that a key criteria of independence is not [simply] to have an army and a civil service; the key criteria is to be able to pay for it,” he said, before adding that he hoped Afghanistan could reach autonomy by utilizing its own assets.
Ghani is far from the first to express concern about the negative effects of foreign aid on Afghanistan’s politics. Four years ago, the World Bank estimated that the Afghan government would need $7 billion a year in aid to pay for its expenditures — that same year, foreign aid accounted for almost 92 percent of all public spending in the country. Worse still, that aid has begun to dry up, leading the Afghan economy to lose an estimated third of its value in 2014. The growing insurgency has further strained the Afghan government’s finances, with warlords stepping in to fill the void left by the state in some areas. Some are even collecting their own taxes.
Part of the problem has been high levels of corruption in tax collection. A 2014 SIGAR report noted that customs duties were an area of considerable concern, with tens of millions of dollars in customs revenue missed. That report hypothesized that “eliminating or significantly reducing corruption in the customs process could potentially double the customs revenues remitted to the central government.”
According to SIGAR’s latest report to Congress, the problem remains pronounced. Domestic revenues have accounted for 39 percent of total budget expenditures so far in 2015, the report found, with donor contributions making up the rest.
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