Of Interest: another SIGAR report.

So, I cannot help it.

I love anything to do with Rule of Law, especially anything to do with Afghanistan, because I learnt a lot from my Afghan colleagues AND I always wonder how the US Government’s justice sector program is progressing.   There was a time when I would read and dissect what SIGAR was stating, both for my employer and my Afghan colleagues.  Nowadays, I hope there are others who are on top of this, doing the same thing.  Here is the latest SIGAR report:  https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-10-30qr.pdf.

I cannot find anything that gives me information about Rule of Law issues in Afghanistan.  Zilcho, zero, nada.  Maybe I am doing the wrong Google search…  because the only thing I find are articles written by implementers.  Which I find is a disservice to those who take working on Rule of Law issues seriously.  Even USG-funded websites that described what the USG was doing in Afghanistan in the justice sector have been obliterated.

The USG changes contractors, periodically.  So, whatever the previous contractor did -at the USG demand/direction- is totally forgotten when the new  contractor wins the contract.  Who cares, right? Yet, whoever has been trying to be a “historian”, or “curator” of the project, is all of a sudden left without any historical background.  Why?  Because, understandably so, the new contractor does not want to recognize the enormous work the previous group performed.

Luckily, the Internet is forever.  IMHO, it is my Afghan counterparts who need to weave the story of what the USG and the Afghan Government accomplished for many, many years.  I will just share what I think ought to be checked by anyone doing some research.  There is so much available, if we dig deep enough.  I wish someone would have done this for me…

Of Interest: SIGAR’s Audit Report on PROMOTE Program in Afghanistan.

The name of the audit says it all, don’t you think?

“Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote):  USAID Needs to Assess This $216 Million Program’s Achievements and the Afghan Government’s Ability to Sustain Them”

There was so much excitement at the time of the program’s announcement by the then USAID’s Administrator at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), which I remember well.   It was a grandiose $216 million project with the expectation that other international donors would contribute an additional $200 million in funds.  SIGAR’s recommendations are three:

1. Conduct an overall assessment of Promote and use the results to adjust the program and measure future program performance….

2. Provide written guidance and training to contracting officer’s representatives on maintaining records in a consistent, accurate manner. …

3. Conduct a new sustainability analysis for the program.

Of the SIGAR recommendations to USAID above, I find #2 quite sad, because in my experience, record keeping has deteriorated to the point of oblivion.  Institutional knowledge has waned in many organizations, whether they belong to the private sector or the public one.

Anyone involved in government contracting work ought to read this audit, because it highlights some major flaws in how we run (or not!) multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded programs.

You can read more about the audit at the Stars and Stripes.

Of Interest: SIGAR’s New Lessons Learnt Report on Afghanistan

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released at the end of May 2018 its latest “lessons learnt” report covering the period 2002-2017.  It is chock full of information for anyone who is interested in “development” work.

For those who follow “rule of law” issues, and especially for those who actually are working in Afghan-related projects, the following excerpts strike, at least to me, a very familiar chord.

Even within dispute resolution, the U.S. government chose to focus on formal rule of law, rather than informal rule of law, also called traditional dispute resolution (TDR). TDR in Afghanistan employs a varying mixture of traditional, community-specific norms, and Islamic legal principles, or sharia. 1015 As early as 2007, international legal experts highlighted the coalition’s inattention to informal justice, even though an estimated 80–90 percent of Afghan disputes are handled through TDR, and many Afghans have more faith in it than in formal dispute resolution. 1016

The U.S. government spent more than $1 billion on rule of law programming in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2015, of which less than $100 million (approximately 10 percent) was spent on enhancing informal rule of law. 1022 State’s 2009 rule of law strategy—the only one it drafted—recognized the importance of TDR to Afghans, even calling it a “pillar” of the coalition’s effort; however, the balance between funding for formal and informal rule of law programming did not seem to reflect this recognition. 1023  Worse, the kind of dispute resolution promoted by formal rule of law programming was not only considered corrupt, but also foreign to most rural Afghans.

In my many years of working in international settings doing “development” work, I have found that one of the biggest problems is overcoming individual egos and the posturing that comes with those egos.  “Development” work is not just altruistic:  there is a lot of money to be made and prestige to be gained.  There is a door that is always “revolving” between the implementer, the donor, the supervising entity, the inspecting authority, the academicians, and other intellectuals.  It is human nature.

However, once in a while, it is good to read that some of the lonely and knowledgeable individuals who pointed out some of the flaws in design were vindicated.   Note that I don’t use the term “expert”, because, in my work, most experts are really “Rupertos the “expertos””.  (My own label for the last few years has been “subject matter expert”!).

Of Interest: Tiffany Paper Flower Petals.

 

A very long time ago, when I was in college, I worked at Tiffany & Co., when it was the epitome of elegance and grace in everything, from design to service.  I once accompanied the T&Co. salesman (who appeared in the famous movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) on a trip to deliver a magnificent almond-shaped diamond, and we lived through an adventure worthy of a Pink Panther episode.

I spent much time working for the then Chairman, Walter Hoving.  I was very lucky to have been exposed to true gentlemen and titans of industry when I was very young.  It shaped me as a person and a worker.  I learnt lessons then that are still applicable today.

I have fond memories of Tiffany’s, so I was absolutely enthralled with its new Tiffany Paper Flowers campaign that plays on the long ago Breakfast at Tiffany’s themes with a modern twist.

“Believe in Dreams” is Tiffany & Co.’s new video that launched the whimsical Tiffany Paper Flowers promotional campaign on May 3rd, 2018.

Imagine my disbelief when I studied the Tiffany paper flowers to discover that the 2018 Tiffany petals are a rearranged version of my sister’s 5-petal flower design, which is circa 1992. Wow.  Just WOW!

The Diolun Designs items that my sister has created are all done using what is called the Greek/Roman Lost Wax method of casting, meaning that you sculpt the piece by carving it in wax, which is then used to create a rubber mold.

The wax melts, hence the “lost” in the name of the method. Once you have the rubber mold, you pour the noble metals, which become an individual one-of-a-kind piece. Once the piece comes out of the mold, you must polish it and finish it…one by one. Therefore, no one piece is exactly the same as another, because the jewelry is not machine stamped, the way most jewelry is done today.  It is an artistically laborious process and a labor of love.

What all this means is that each item in Diolun’s collections have their own lines, curves, nuances and the like, which make each individual piece totally and truly unique. It is not like precision/laser copying done with a machine that might take a flower and go through its contours and reproduce it exactly the same. My sister sculpts by hand, not by precision machinery.

I used to believe in what Oscar Wilde said, that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…”.

 

Beautiful Azerbaijan: The Bibi-Heybat Mosque.

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This is the Bibi-Heybat mosque in the outskirts of Baku. It is a reproduction of the ancient one that Alexandre Dumas father, he of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers fame, visited in the 1800s.

Why a reproduction? Because the Soviets under Stalin destroyed this beautiful mosque to smithereens. According to my Azeri guide, it was rebuilt in the 1990s by Iranians and Ukranians,.  The Ukranians provided construction material and labor.  ( I may have lost something in translation between Russian and hand gestures…). Fatima, a direct descendant of Mohammed is,presumably, buried here, behind the beautiful bars as seen in the photo. The history of this mosque is further complicated because of the Sunni-Shia narratives that sometimes diverge.  I am grateful I was able to visit this beautiful place.

SIGAR’s Lessons Learned from Public Sector Development Support in Afghanistan.

SIGAR* has released its 3rd lessons learned report on Afghanistan’s public sector development.  It makes interesting reading if you follow Afghanistan, care about international development, and pay attention to how international aid funds are managed.

The lessons learned, which are summarized below, are U.S. Government- and Afghan-specific, but they can apply to any “development” policy and program implementation considerations.  There is nothing new under the sun:  (i) we always fail to take into consideration the magnitude of the projects involved, (ii) we are arrogant in our determination that we know better -even if we have never lived abroad and have zero sense of what other cultures are like (and, mind you, you can never quite know about this unless you live among them and learn from them)-,  (iii) donor countries’ government official “experts” come and go way too quickly to make much of a difference, (iv) we always underestimate the extent that corruption -as we define it- might be someone else’s way of life, and, (v) “change”, if there is going to be any, is a painful process that threatens many, making them feel extremely vulnerable and reticent to engage in it.

From my limited experience, any “development” process needs to ensure that the rule of law is the foundation.  You cannot develop a justice sector dealing with just the “criminal” side of justice.  Commercial, economic, private sector, education, infrastructure, land rights, health, etc., development programs have to have the proper legal foundation first.  You cannot create the program first and then develop the regulatory framework later.  Further, you cannot ignore the children and their schooling.  Whatever “development” programs are accepted by the host country (whether they involve building a dam, helping women obtain micro loans, or drafting a new penal code), the underlying premises that will make the programs sustainable need to be introduced at an early age.

LESSONS

This report identifies 12 lessons drawn from the U.S. experience with private sector development and economic growth in Afghanistan.
1.  It is not realistic to expect robust and sustainable economic growth in an insecure and uncertain environment.
2.  Establishing the foundational elements of an economic system at the beginning of a reconstruction effort sets the stage for future success.
3.  Any new economic system which represents a break with a host nation’s past knowledge and practice must be introduced carefully and with sufficient time to ensure adequate buy-in and the development of the robust institutions required to maintain it.
4.  Spending too much money too quickly can lead to corruption and undermine both the host nation and the goals of the United States, while too abruptly reducing funding can hurt the economy.
5.  Inadequate understanding and vetting of the webs of personal, sometimes criminally related, networks can allow elites to control economic activity at the expense of open and competitive markets.
6.  Successful private sector development efforts must be nested within the development of the rule of law and overall good governance.
7.  The choice of a model for economic growth must realistically acknowledge a country’s institutional and political environment and its physical endowments.
8.  The provision of grants and below market rate loans can undermine commercial banks and other market-oriented institutions and create unsustainable businesses.
9.  Support to businesses and government institutions needs to be tailored to the environment.
10.  Clear agreements on institutional roles, responsibilities, and lines of authority, reinforced by human resource policies that fit a post-conflict environment, are necessary for an effective private sector development strategy and for overall development.
11.  Rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and analysis, which transcend individual projects and programs, are necessary to understand the effectiveness of private sector development interventions.
12.  Investments in human capital have significant returns, although it may be years before they are realized.

___________________

*Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction