Lawmakers in Afghanistan’s House of Representatives on Wednesday accused the government “of hostage-taking the budget” as the two sides have failed to resolve their disputes on various aspects of the draft budget for the year 1400 (2021) on time.
Parliament speaker Mir Rahman Rahmani alleged that a specific circle within the government is trying to put pressure on the parliament to approve the ‘oppressive draft budget’. Rahmani however clarified that the lawmakers will not surrender to pressure.
Reduction in Central Bank’s revenues:
The state-owned Central Bank’s revenue was nearly Afs 900 million ($11.5 million) in the fiscal year 1399 (2020), showing an Afs 28 billion ($357 million) reduction compared to the fiscal year 1398 (2019), in which it collected Afs 29 billion ($370 million), an official of the bank said Tuesday.
Reacting to the reduction in the revenues, the lawmakers said that corruption in the bank has been a key factor of the revenue reduction.
Over the past few days, there are some rumors that the rejection of the budget by Parliament was related to oil contracts involving Rahmani. But Rahmani has rejected the allegations and said that President Ashraf Ghani has taken the budget hostage.
“Some people say that the issue is rooted in the cancellation of contracts for oil, Mr. Speaker, could you please clarify that,” said MP Sayed Ahmad Selab.
“The president has taken it hostage,” said Mir Rahman Rahmani, speaker of Parliament.
Meanwhile, some other lawmakers suggested that the government is not taking responsibility for the budget, and the Parliament should enter into a dialogue with the donor nations and Afghanistan’s financial partners.
“Let designate a delegation to enter into talks with the EU envoy,” said Ghulam Hussaini Naseri, a member of parliament.
Andreas von Brandt, ambassador of the European Union in Afghanistan, said that the Parliament has the legal authority to criticize the budget, adding that it is the responsibility of the government to come up with a constructive approach and seek support from the majority of the lawmakers in the approval process of the budget.
“I think it is the duty of Parliament to criticize the government, and it is also the duty of the government to find a majority to get ahead with its proposals; however, this has to be in a professional and forward-looking and in a constructive way,” said EU envoy Andreas von Brandt.
He said Afghanistan today needs unity more than anything else.
“At this moment, the country needs unity--that does not mean you have to agree on everything, but it has to be an approach that is not stalling, not blocking progress,” added the EU envoy.
Why has Parliament rejected the budget?
The Afghan parliament has rejected two drafts of the budget for the current fiscal year that started on December 21, 2020, and the situation is becoming a serious face-off between the two branches of the state.
This is the first time that a draft for the budget has been rejected two times by the Parliament. The Parliament this time has set some “red lines” for its stance on the budget. One of those redlines is equalizing the salaries of government employees, as MPs think the current wage scale of public servants is unjust.
The MPs have listed 19 issues in the draft budget to be fixed. They are as follows:
1. It allocates more funds to an already-criticized discretionary fund that is solely at the president’s disposal.
2. Many proposed amendments by MPs were not even considered.
According to MPs, Afs 21.6bn ($280m) was allocated for the budget, which makes up 4.8% of the entire government budget.
3. The wage gap (advisers are paid thousands of dollars a month while a teacher is paid around 100 dollars).
4. President Ashraf Ghani has included a food distribution program of $280m despite Parliament’s rejection of the scheme and a previous COVID-response food program that was accused of widespread corruption.
5. Afs 4.3bn ($55m) was allocated to a huge construction unit formed under the Office of the President, which has been criticized for signal-sourcing big contracts.
6. Provincial projects were removed from the budget, including ongoing projects.
7. MPs proposed to suspend budgetary funding to institutions run by voted-out caretakers, but the proposed budget does not reflect that.
8. MPs demand guidelines to streamline benefit packages of government officials, including house rents and salaries, which is a common practice in the government.
9. No clarification on internal financial resources.
10. More money allocated to non-development budget than development budgets.
11. The creation of new government institutions without Parliament’s consent.
12. Plans were included to cut 13,000 jobs in government despite an increase in the non-development budget.
13. It showed a lack of proper guidelines for the payment of salaries, expense accounts and house rent for government employees.
14. There was a lack of attention to MPs’ proposed amendments in the use of internal financial resources.
15. No clarification on internal financial resources.
16. An imbalance in national and development budgets and the addition of Afs15B ($194M) to the non-development budget.
17. Addition of new institutions to the budget plan without Parliament’s consent.
18. Problems in the proposed budget for municipalities.
19. The inclusion of the government’s capacity-building program, which MPs oppose.
The second draft has an estimated Afs 470 billion (nearly $6 billion) from which Afs 311 billion is for a regular budget and Afs 161 billion is for the development budget.