Poaching staff in Afghanistan

Alliance magazine

Do international organizations’ staffing policies distort the non-profit labour market in poor countries such as Afghanistan and thus undermine civil society development? This seems to be a danger whenever international agencies pour into a country that has just undergone a cataclysmic change, as in the former Soviet bloc countries after 1989 and now in Afghanistan. One person who has been extremely concerned about the situation in Afghanistan is Terence O’Malley, chairman of Irish NGO SAFE.

‘I spent April and May in Afghanistan and Peshawar and was there again more recently, and I was appalled at the way UN and the international aid agencies were poaching staff from national Afghan agencies. I have read numerous statements regarding protocols on staffing, but on arrival found that such statements were no more than empty words.

The UN was offering $1,000 a month for a driver and $1,300 and upwards for an Afghan to work in administration. A senior executive in an indigenous Afghan NGO earns a mere $600 a month. The UN was not the only guilty party, however. New agencies arrive in Kabul with almost an open cheque book, and several were quite blatantly and consciously recruiting Afghans from Afghan agencies. The amount spent on a UN staff meeting would fund a three-day workshop for 30 people. It is a frequent comment among Afghans, even those working for the UN, that UN funds are largely spent on wages, salaries, rents and vehicles. In this situation organizations that have been working in Afghanistan for years find staff disappearing. One national agency had lost just over 50 staff – middle to lower management, drivers, etc. Another told me that they were just managing to cope.

Afghanistan has become a dollar economy, rather like the Cambodia dual economy, and it is the Afghans who suffer. Rents are also highly inflated and this has served to deter many Afghans from returning home to Afghanistan and made life still more difficult for struggling Afghan NGOs.’

Terence O’Malley is Chairman of SAFE. He can be contacted at kabul@indigo.ie

Founded in 1992, SAFE (Support for Afghan Further Education) is the only Irish charity whose sole function is to help Afghanistan. It has no paid employees at home and sends no expatriates to work in Afghanistan, but works through local partners and international agencies.


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