Afghan drug body hit by UK funding reversal
By Jon Boone in Kapisa province
Published: February 25 2008 02:00 | Last updated: February 25 2008 02:00
The Afghan ministry set up to tackle the drugs trade is facing a staffing crisisafter the UK, on the instructions of the Kabul government, withdrew funding for salaries.
The best-educated workers at the fledgling ministry of counter-narcotics, which is intended to play a key role in reducing the country’s poppy crop, have been looking for other jobs after pay for senior staff dropped from $1,500 (€1,011, £762) to $200 a month.
The ministry said 30 senior workers had left since November when pay was cut.
One official, a senior aide to counter-narcotics minister General Khodaidad, said he could no longer afford the rent on his Kabul flat and was trying to find an information technology job in one of the NGOs in Kabul, which pay far more than government jobs.
Other staff members claim to have received no pay since November.
Britain, “lead sponsor” of anti-drugs efforts in Afghanistan, withdrew its subsidy as part of a process designed to bring pay into line with other ministries. Gen Khodaidad said the move would “obviously affect the work of the ministry” and called for greater international funds to be made available.
An official at the British embassy in Kabul accepted that the changes had created difficulties for the ministry but said the UK was committed to supporting Kabul’s efforts to create a sustainable public pay structure.
The reform process, which was intended to increase public sector pay overall and reduce government corruption, has proceeded so slowly that senior staff have suffered big pay cuts.
Speaking in Kapisa province, Gen Khodaidad said Afghanistan’s efforts to reduce opium and heroin production were also hampered by the web of ministries and agencies involved in tackling the issue.
The country’s narcotics economy has grown in strength in the six years since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, which had successfully banned poppy cultivation in 2000.
Last year Afghanistan produced its biggest harvest, with output up 17 per cent on 2006. It has also moved into the lucrative business of refining raw opium into heroin inside its own borders.
This week the International Monetary Fund said poppy production was worth $1bn to farmers. The value to the drug refiners and traffickers is far greater.
Counter-narcotics ministry officials said better news was expected this year, with more provinces set to be declared “poppy free”.
However, they said choking cultivation in the province of Helmand, where the Taliban insurgency is at its most violent and production is at its highest, would be hard.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008