IWPR investigation finds that district government chiefs are rarely at their desks.
One morning in May, 21-year-old Atifa says her father, Ali Mohammad, raped her. She says her father returned from the local market in Alizai village, in the Balkh province of northern Afghanistan, and found her at home alone.
She says he took a rope lying in the courtyard, tied her up and assaulted her. According to Atifa, none of the neighbours came to rescue her despite her screams.
Atifa and her mother Sakina decided to report the incident to the local government. They prepared a complaint and visited the district government office in Chimtal every working day for three weeks, without success.
The district sub-governor, Gul-Ahmad Payman, is mandated with ensuring security and justice for residents.
The only answer offered to Atifa and Sakina on their frequent visits to his office was, “The sub-governor is not in his office, and nothing can be done until he is here.”
Payman argues that he would fall prey to the Taleban if he frequents his office too often.
In the meantime, hundreds of people wait outside offices seeking legal remedies for their problems, only to be let down at the end of the day.
Sub-governors are appointed representatives of the government for their respective districts. The Afghan government allocates them six bodyguards and a monthly salary of 450 US dollars, plus another 450 dollars a month for expenses, along with a car worth approximately 20,000 dollars.
The job description for sub-governors, developed by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, IDLG, makes it clear that these officials, like all civil servants, must be in their offices from 8 am to 4 pm every working day to deal with public grievances.
But a recent investigation by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting in Balkh province showed that 12 out of the 15 sub-governors there rarely appeared at their workplaces in 2011 between March and August, even though Balkh is considered one of the safest provinces in Afghanistan in terms of security threats and Taleban presence.
Salaries for all civil servants are based on forms compiled by the administrative employees of district governments. Records indicate that all Balkh province sub-governors received their full monthly salaries from March 21 through September 21, 2011. The forms indicate that the sub-governors were in their offices every working day.
Mohammad Isaq Sarwari, the finance director for Balkh province, was asked why his department found that these sub-governors were eligible to receive their salaries when they had rarely appeared in their offices over six months.
“I don’t know about this. I don’t check whether the sub-governors go to their offices or not,” he replied.
Rais Khan-Jan, head of Baba-Avaz, a village in Sholgara district, says district sub-governor Nimatullah Masab visits his office only once a fortnight.
Over the last two years, local residents have sent six pages’-worth of complaints to Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor, accusing sub-governor Masab of extorting money from people. To date, the Balkh governor has not replied to these complaints.
An IWPR investigation showed that the Sholgara sub-governor had purchased two houses in Mazar-e Sharif during the two years he has held the post. One of these houses is in Mazar’s Karte Zeraat neighbourhood and the other in Guzar-e Mirza-Ghasem. The two houses are worth an estimated 1.5 million dollars, according to a local real estate expert.
It took an IWPR reporter 30 days to arrange an interview with Masab. When he was finally reached at his house in Mazar-e Sharif, he was asked why he did not go to his office.
“It’s enough for me to appear once a month at my office,” he replied. He admitted that fear of the Taleban affected his attendance rate.
Aside from fear of the Taleban, sub-governors in Balkh province give other reasons for absence from their offices.
Shir-Mohammad Abu-Tariq, the sub-governor of Marmul, says he stays in Mazar-e Sharif because his wife and children don’t like Marmul. Kishindih sub-governor Abdul-Ghafur Hamrah says he does not like the district because it is surrounded by mountains. Kaldar sub-governor Abdul-Matin Khwaja-zada says the road between Mazar-e Sharif and Kaldar is long and in poor shape, so he does not want to go to the district every day.
Taimur-Shah Payiz, sub-governor of Balkh district, gives a totally different reason, arguing that his numerous contacts with politicians mean he has to spend a considerable amount of his time in Kabul.
Sub-governors in Balkh province, many of whom have ethnic and political affiliations with the provincial governor, do not seem worried about the prospect of a government agency looking into their attendance records.
Marmul sub-governor Shir-Mohammad Abu-Tariq was asked what problems his absence from the local government office might create for residents, and replied that he did not care about people and was not responsible for solving their problems.
“The governor in Mazar placed me here, and I am answerable to him,” Abu-Tariq said.
Abdul-Matin Khwaja-Zada, sub-governor of Kaldar district, was asked why the local government office closed while he went with his family on a fishing trip along the river Amu-Darya for several days. As the reporter left his house, Khwaja-Zada handed him a white envelope containing 200 dollars, requesting that the interview not be published. The reporter turned him down.
Zabihulla Akhtari, director of technical services in Balkh province, told IWPR that a recent examination by his agency concluded that ten sub-governors were inefficient, and that Balkh’s provincial governor had warned the sub-governors of Chimtal, Sholgara, Kaldar and Kishindih that if local people filed any more complaints against them, he would report them to the provincial prosecutor’s office.
Akhtari said his agency was aware that many Balkh sub-governors did not go to work. When they did, he said his office’s assessment was that up to 70 percent of the tax money they collected was not sent to the government treasury.
Recruitment and dismissal of provincial governors and sub-governors is one of the main tasks of the IDLG, established three years ago by the Afghan government.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for a sub-governor not to appear in his office,” IDLG director Abdul-Khaliq Farahi said when told that 12 sub-governors in Balkh had not been going to their workplaces for the last six months. Farahi blamed Governor Atta Mohammad for not supervising his sub-governors properly.
“Sub-governors failing to report at their offices must be immediately laid off and reported to the prosecution office,” Farahi said.
Atta Mohammad told IWPR that he “swears to God” that if a single one of the sub-governors fails to go to work, he will force him out of his position at once, even though he did not have the authority to do so.
Atta Mohammad said six sub-governors are under suspicion. “By not going to their offices, they create a distance between people and government,” he said in an interview.
When Atifa, the alleged rape victim, finally gave up on reaching sub-governor Payman, she and her mother went to district police headquarters and filed their complaint. Police were quick to arrest Ali Mohammad and put him in the district prison – only to release him five days later.
Atifa and her mother claim his release was due to pressure from the sub-governor. Ali Mohammad is, they say, an old acquaintance of the sub-governor, going back at least 20 years to the time of the anti-Soviet resistance.
Atifa now lives in a safe shelter in Mazar-e Sharif run by a private NGO with financial support from USAID. She says that when her roommates go to sleep, she takes out her embroidered handkerchief and wipes away her tears.
She states that one week before the alleged attack, she became engaged to a fellow villager, but that as soon as the man got wind of the accusation involving the father and daughter, he revoked the engagement.
Her father, Ali Mohammad, has now joined a village vigilante force. He has been given a Kalashnikov assault rifle by the Balkh police department, and stands guard at night from the rooftop of his house. The government pays him a monthly fee of 5,000 afghanis.
Atifa’s mother Sakina has taken refuge in her father’s home in Mazar-e Sharif because she fears her husband may try to kill her.
Jawed Bakhtari is an IWPR-trained reporter in Afghanistan.