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Dominic d’Angelo

Economic Development and Reform
16 January 2013

Working within a developing country's Government system as a ministerial adviser provides a quite different insight into day to day realities compared to, say, working for a donor organisation or implementing agency.


Working in Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), responsible for economic growth affecting the 75% of the population who live in rural areas, each day brings fresh challenges, whether at the strategic, policy or operational level (often, all three).


One day might involve looking at medium- and long-term donor funding after 2014 - when international military troops here end ground operations, to be replaced by Afghan security forces. Another might require looking at the constraints to creating an enabling environment for growth, such as revitalising Afghan's state-owned enterprises through private sector investment. A third might involve anything from checking the language used in ministerial letters to assessing how high-value long-term development programmes can cease reliance on donor funds and begin drawing on Afghanistan's tax income: currently, tax income covers only one-third of the Government's operational costs, like paying teachers and nurses, let alone investment to repair infrastructure or build schools.


In the background, there’s the task of capacity building among Afghan colleagues, with the ultimate aim of making myself redundant. Among returnees to Afghanistan and the country’s young graduates, many talented individuals already work in the civil service, for donor organisations and in development programmes. But their obvious commitment to building peace and prosperity needs to be matched by a civil service structure (in particular) that pays enough (rather than too little), embraces targeted and outcome-based change (rather than preventing it), and sees new thinking as an opportunity (rather than threat). Whether coping with specific daily challenges, mentoring talented individuals, or planning for long-term structural and organizational change, this remains an exhilarating, exhausting, but hugely enjoyable place to work.