Official corruption has been likened more than once to cancer—it’s a disease that destroys systems from the inside out, betraying everyone—and Afghanistan has one of the worst reputations in the world. But a CSTC-A effort aims to help President Ghani cut out that cancer by taking an operational approach.
by Col. Charles Worshim III
Establishing a legitimate procurement system for Afghanistan has been a major initiative of President Ashraf Ghani since he took office in 2014. He has taken the reins of a nation where trust in the national unity government remains low because of the volatile security environment across the country, and where the cancer of corruption runs deep within the government. Ghani’s fight is not only with the Taliban, but also against the corruption in the procurement system of Afghanistan. On March 5, 2015, Minister of Interior Noorulhaq Uloomi identified corruption as a greater threat to the national security of Afghanistan than the Taliban, Daesh (otherwise known as the Islamic State group) or the Haqqani network.
Long-term procurement reform—coupled with transparency, accountability and oversight—is the only chance Afghanistan has of winning its war against corruption. Procurement reform in Afghanistan reduces the opportunities that public officials have to steer contracts to selected companies that have paid bribes to win them, instead of conducting fair and open competition. Promoting fair and open competition legitimizes the procurement system in Afghanistan and instills confidence among international donors that Afghanistan is making much-needed change.
Instituting a functioning rule-of-law system that holds public officials accountable for breaking Afghan procurement law will have the greatest impact. Accountability will serve as a forcing function for behavioral change among bad actors in the system and send a clear message to the citizens of Afghanistan that no one is above the law—not even public officials.
AN AGENT FOR CHANGE
Established in late 2014 within the Administrative Office of the President, the National Procurement Authority is the agency charged with bringing about procurement reform for all 64 ministries and procurement entities across Afghanistan. The agency’s goal is to foster institutional reform to provide better goods and services for Afghanistan through an effective, efficient and transparent procurement system.
Reforming or changing a dysfunctional system is never easy, especially one viewed as having corrupt individuals in senior leadership positions. In understanding Ghani’s vision for the Afghanistan procurement system and the role of the National Procurement Authority, the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) established the Procurement Reform Branch in the Contracting Enabler Cell in September 2015 to train, advise and assist the authority on its efforts. One of the underlying challenges facing the National Procurement Authority is how to bring reform to a system fraught with corruption for decades, and still keep a functioning procurement system during a time of war.
In a perfect world, a radical approach might be best—just dissolve the current procurement system and start over—but that’s not realistic when Afghan soldiers and policemen are losing their lives every day to bring security to their homeland. They need a functioning procurement system to provide them with the goods and services necessary to continue the fight.
Under the leadership of Dr. Beth Rairigh, deputy director of the Contracting Enabler Cell, the Procurement Reform Branch is tasked with helping the National Procurement Authority develop a plan allowing for incremental reforms at the tactical and operational levels that have significant strategic impacts on the larger Afghanistan procurement system. The uniqueness of this CSTC-A train, advise and assist effort is that the impacts reach beyond just the Afghan national defense and security forces. The reforms proposed by the National Procurement Authority ultimately affect every procurement entity within the Afghan government.
In partnership with the authority, Rairigh and her team took a page from Joint Publication (JP) 5-0, “Joint Operation Planning,” and used an operational approach to map out Ghani’s vision for procurement reform. For such an approach to succeed as envisioned in JP 5-0, elements of the operational environment must be synchronized. Thus the team focuses on achieving unity of effort for all procurement entities across Afghanistan by synchronizing elements within the procurement system with the goal of enduring reform. The unified team agreed that lasting procurement reform in Afghanistan would best be achieved by addressing four lines of effort: people, processes, policy and transparency. These four lines of effort would be crosscutting: Multiple actions could take place simultaneously in different functional areas to create enduring procurement reform.
UNIFIED EFFORT, IMPACT
Each line of effort offers Afghanistan a chance at real procurement reform. Addressed individually, each creates a singular approach to reform. Linked together, they create opportunities for unified actions to occur along each line of effort that focus directly on procurement reform.
When assessing the current conditions of the Afghan procurement system, the National Procurement Authority, along with CSTC-A’s Procurement Reform Branch, identified multiple shortfalls that contribute to the system’s inefficiency and ineffectiveness and foster a culture of corruption. Antiquated procurement law, a purely paper-based, lengthy bureaucratic process, untimely planning, lack of adequately trained professionals, lack of systemic accountability and a lack of contract management and oversight are just some of the many challenges the team must address in order to reform the corrupt and ineffective procurement system.
As the change agent for Afghan procurement, the National Procurement Authority has fully championed enduring reform and is committed to confronting the challenges. In the authority’s short existence, it has made great progress in implementing systems and processes across all four lines of effort in order to get changes moving in the right direction.
The National Procurement Authority conducts regularly scheduled training sessions and professional development courses to enhance the procurement workforce. It is also creating the Afghanistan National Procurement Institute to replace the Public Procurement Training Center, and is updating curricula to incorporate recent revisions to public procurement law and the rules of procedure for public procurement. In addition, the Procurement Reform Branch has opened discussions with the Defense Acquisition University to develop a certification program for Afghan procurement professionals, similar to the one for DOD acquisition professionals.
In modifying Afghanistan’s procurement processes, the National Procurement Authority has been instrumental in streamlining them for greater efficiency, while still maintaining the appropriate level of oversight to identify and eliminate potential corruption. As one of its major duties, the authority serves as the final quality control mechanism for all procurements of goods and services over $300,000. By serving as the independent agent for Afghan procurement, the authority identifies inconsistencies with contract packages that could be associated with potential corruption and makes recommendations to Ghani’s procurement commission on the award of the contract. Transparency in the procurement system provides the citizens of Afghanistan the assurance they need to begin the initial steps in trusting the government.
Changes in policy proposed by the National Procurement Authority have been instrumental in attempting to curb corruption. The changes have strengthened oversight and accountability in the procurement system throughout all of the procurement entities in Afghanistan. The updated procurement law also established the Disputes Resolution Commission, a body specifically designed to allow vendors to bring procurement irregularities and disputes forward for resolution. Before the commission’s creation, vendors who had procurement complaints didn’t have a viable system to pursue a lawful resolution.
The changes in policy and procurement laws are long overdue and will take time to penetrate the procurement system, but the foundation is being laid for lawful reform.
The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan must realize a transparent procurement system if there is any chance of legitimacy taking hold in the country. In the absence of a transparent system, Afghanistan will always struggle to break free of its designation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The National Procurement Authority has taken great strides to increase the transparency of the public procurement system in Afghanistan, but more work is needed.
The operational approach developed between the National Procurement Authority and the Procurement Reform Branch offers Afghanistan the best chance at creating the long-term unity of effort that is needed to make Ghani’s vision a reality for Afghanistan’s procurement system. Contrary to popular belief, the national unity government is moving Afghanistan in the right direction with the governance to make the country a viable, independent nation providing security and economic prosperity for all its citizens.
For more information, go to the National Procurement Authority’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/National-Procurement-Authority-833952173357446/.
COL. CHARLES WORSHIM III is director of CSTC-A’s Contracting Enabler Cell. He holds a Master of Strategic Studies degree from the U.S. Army War College, an MBA in computer information systems from the University of Texas at El Paso and a BBA from Texas A&M University – Kingsville. He is Level III certified in program management, test and evaluation, and information technology, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
This article was originally published in the April – June 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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