World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Henry G. Kerali
Henry G. Kerali
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Updated 04 December 2020

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”  


Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat

NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, January 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, January 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Updated 20 min 16 sec ago

Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat

NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, January 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
  • President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the US will again fund the WHO
  • Trump's US halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of badly needed cash as it was battling a health crisis

GENEVA: The United States will resume funding for the World Health Organization and join its consortium aimed at sharing coronavirus vaccines fairly around the globe, President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic said Thursday, renewing support for an agency that the Trump administration had pulled back from.
Dr. Anthony Fauci’s quick commitment to the WHO — whose response to the pandemic has been criticized by many, but perhaps most vociferously by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a more cooperative approach to fighting the pandemic.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told a virtual meeting of the WHO from the United States, where it was 4:10 a.m. in Washington. It was the first public statement by a member of Biden’s administration to an international audience — and a sign of the priority that the new president has made of fighting COVID-19 both at home and with world partners.
Just hours after Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, he wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres saying the US had reversed the planned pullout from the WHO that was expected to take effect in July.
The withdrawal from the WHO was rich with symbolism — another instance of America’s go-it-alone strategy under Trump. But it also had practical ramifications: The US halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of cash from the country that has long been its biggest donor just as the agency was battling the health crisis that has killed more than 2 million people worldwide. The US had also pulled back staff from the organization.
Fauci said the Biden administration will resume “regular engagement” with WHO and will “fulfill its financial obligations to the organization.”
The WHO chief and others jumped in to welcome the US announcements.
“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “The role of the United States, its role, global role is very, very crucial.”
The two men hinted at a warm relationship between them, with Fauci calling Tedros his “dear friend” and Tedros referring to Fauci as “my brother Tony.”
The White House said later Thursday that Vice President Kamala Harris had discussed many of the same themes as Fauci raised in a call with Tedros.
But she emphasized the need to beef up the global response to COVID-19, “mitigate its secondary impacts, including on women and girls,” and work to “prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic,” the White House said in a statement.
“In addition, the vice president emphasized the importance of making America safer through global cooperation,” it added, highlighting the new tone out of Washington.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the renewed commitment “great news” in an email. “The world has always been a better place when the US plays a leadership role in solving global health problems including the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio and other diseases,” he said.
Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke wrote on Facebook: “This is going to have a huge impact on the world’s ability to fight the pandemic. It is decisive that the United States is involved as a driving force and not a country that is looking for the exit when a global catastrophe rages.”
Fauci also said Biden will issue a directive Thursday that shows the United States’ intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world — whether in rich or poor countries.
Under Trump, the US had been the highest-profile — and most deep-pocketed — holdout from the COVAX Facility, which has struggled to meet its goals of distributing millions of vaccines both because of financial and logistic difficulties.
WHO and leaders in many developing countries have repeatedly expressed concerns that poorer places could be the last to get COVID-19 vaccines, while noting that leaving vast swaths of the global population unvaccinated puts everyone at risk.
While vowing US support, Fauci also pointed to some key challenges facing WHO. He said the US was committed to “transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic.”
One of the Trump administration’s biggest criticisms was that the WHO reacted too slowly to the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and was too accepting of and too effusive about the Chinese government’s response to it. Others have also shared those criticisms — but public health experts and many countries have argued that, while the organization needs reform, it remains vital.
Referring to a WHO-led probe looking for the origins of the coronavirus by a team that is currently in China, Fauci said: “The international investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it.”
He said the US would work with WHO and partner countries to “strengthen and reform” the agency, without providing specifics.
At the White House later in the day, Fauci quipped to Jeff Zients, who is directing the national response to the coronavirus, “You can imagine the comments we were getting from the people in the WHO.”
Then he added, his voice trailing off, “They were lining up to thank ...”