Afghan projects, officials in limbo with delay of cabinet

Afghan projects, officials in limbo with delay of cabinet
An Afghan day labourer look on as he works at a coal yard on the outskirts of Kabul on November 29, 2014. Afghanistan's economy has improved significantly since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 largely because of the infusion of international assistance.

KAREZMIR, Afghanistan - On the outskirts of Kabul, contractor Saif-ul Rahman Sherzad overlooks a half-finished road leading to Afghanistan's north and pronounces much of the US$5 million (S$6.53 million) spent on it a waste.

Afghanistan's government has not released the funds needed to lay two more layers of asphalt to finish the road, meaning the coming winter snow and ice will likely destroy most of the work already done, Sherzad said.

He blamed the shortfall on the government's delay in appointing ministers, more than two months after President Ashraf Ghani was sworn in following an election dispute that ended in a power-sharing deal with rival Abdullah Abdullah, who took up a prime-minister-like new role as chief executive. "The new government is busy dividing positions among themselves and does not care what situation the country is in,"said Sherzad, owner of Elyas Wais Construction and Road Company.

The delay in forming a cabinet has raised worry that the government could break down in squabbling, adding to the many troubles of a country mired in war with the Taliban.

Failure to agree on new ministers threatens to dent aid-donor confidence just as the country is appealing for more funds to meet a budget deficit.

Afghanistan depends on foreign assistance for two-thirds of its US$7.6 billion budget. It is having trouble meeting its own share of the budget because political uncertainty has dented business and tax revenues.

Revenue collection was down 24 per cent in January-October compared with a 15 per cent rise last year to US$1.8 billion. The government faces a shortfall of US$375 million, said Finance Ministry spokesman Abdul Qader Jilani. "The cabinet must be in place as soon as possible," Jilani said.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

Ghani's ascent to power has fuelled hope the former World Bank technocrat would work with Abdullah, also known as a pro-Western reformer, to improve weak and corrupt government.

With the United States and its allies withdrawing most troops by the end of this year and long-time leader Hamid Karzai out of office, the time seemed ripe for a revamp.

Yet, Ghani and Abdullah are heading to an international conference in London this week without naming one cabinet member. Ghani initially promised a line-up in 45 days.

Officials and businesses complain the delay is holding back projects and hurting the economy. "No one is responsible for anything," said Khan Jan Alokozai, deputy of Afghanistan's Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

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