Saturday, 25 November 2017

The southern Afghan Province of Kandahar uses the power of technology to improve transparency and credibility of public offices

The use of technology in Afghanistan’s government offices is not yet the norm. However, in the Directorate of Ministry of Finance (Mostofiat) in Kandahar Province, a province associated more with insecurity than with technology, we have used the power of technology to improve transparency and credibility of government offices. 
Finance is the backbone of any country’s economy. Therefore, it is very important for it to be transparent and credible so that citizens as well as donors feel committed to the development process. With this in mind, we decided to implement the Afghanistan Financial Management Information System (AFMIS) and Standard Integrated Government Tax Administration System (SIGTAS), with the help of the Public Financial Management Reform (PFMR), a project implemented by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) with support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). SIGTAS was also supported through the ARTF Incentive Program.
Since 2007, when we started using AFMIS, we have been able to manage and execute budget-related activities, collect revenue, and pay salaries on time. A computerized system, AFMIS enables multiple users to access financial information and records, whenever and wherever they want. This was not possible with manual records.
Given the success of AFMIS, we also implemented SIGTAS in our revenue office in 2016. This system has really helped us. Earlier, with manual entries, the revenue department used to struggle with incorrect entries and this would lead to reporting delays. I remember we used to have to deal with a huge number of disorganized documents from our archives even for simple things. It took up so much time to search for one document.
We had a database with the taxpayers’ registration number but every taxpayer had to pay taxes separately in each province because the database was not on a general server. All registered organizations and individuals needed to fill in two or three declaration forms for tax clearance and this created the potential for corruption or at least corruption charges.
I had heard about SIGTAS when I was in Kabul and in September 2016, when I became the Mustofi (head of finance directorate) in Kandahar, I decided to implement this software in Kandahar too. When we introduced the system, I used to sit with my team to provide them information. We also conducted training to equip the team with the skills to use the software.
Now, revenue collection has become standardized and efficient. This system has also established a high sense of trust in taxpayers. As Haji Mohammad Younos Momand, a businessman in Kandahar Province once said to me, “The revenue department is much better than in the past. As they have an electronic and computerized system, their work is more transparent and fast, which helps us to do our work efficiently and trust the authority much more.”
As a result, tax collection in the province has improved. For example, in 2016, our target was 1.230 billion afghanis (about $14.8 million) but for the first time in more than 10 years, we collected 1.233 billion afghanis, 3 million more than our target.
Photo credit: Taimani Films/World Bank
We have benefited from having met our target as the government is paying more attention to the province. For instance, the government has invested more than $10 million in solar power in the province, which will provide more opportunities for development and businesses to grow. Indeed, the tax administration systems have enabled progress toward a more efficient and transparent future.
Indeed, the tax administration systems have enabled progress toward a more efficient and transparent future.