The Citizens’ Charter Afghanistan Project (Citizens’ Charter) is a national program to provide every village and city in Afghanistan with basic services, such as water, roads, and electricity—based on decisions made by the community.
When we first started activities in Jalalabad city, the capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar, people were not familiar with community driven programs in urban areas; and there was no tradition of cooperation among different members of the community to jointly solve issues. Their relations with local government, especially the municipality, were weak since it could not address many of their basic needs, like access to clean drinking water.
As the Citizens’ Charter Communication and Outreach Officer in Jalalabad, I initially felt that community members were not feeling empowered and, therefore, didn’t see the value of working together to increase the prosperity of their community.
Before the project started in 2017, there were no organized councils that people could turn to, to address their shared problems. Shir Mohammad, a resident from Jalalabad’s District 5, told me: “It was so hard to gather people to discuss an issue in the area.
No one felt accountable to each other and residents didn’t see how acknowledging and discussing problems in their areas, such as the lack of water and electricity, would help solve them.”
However, since the Citizens’ Charter established Community Development Councils (CDCs) in municipal districts, things are beginning to change. “People bring their development priorities, such as paved streets, drainages, sidewalks, and solid waste management to the CDC, and together, we solve them,” said Shir Mohammad, who is now the head of the Istiqlal CDC in Jalalabad District 5.
The Istiqlal CDC is implementing a community decision to pave streets and build drainage in the district. “Through the CDC, residents [can] solve their social and communal issues, as well as oversee or implement development projects in their area,” Shir Mohammad says. “This is a result of providing training and information on the benefits of organizing a CDC for the community.”
Shir Mohammad also said he and CDC members have learned many new things through the training under the Citizens’ Charter, including how to prepare community development plans and learning how to balance their income and expenses.
Shir Mohammad is happy it is the government working directly with the community instead of scattered development initiatives by many parties, such as private or nongovernmental organizations. With the government implementing community development projects, like potable water, streets and drainages, electricity, solid waste management, and women’s employment, communities feel the government is more accountable to them, he said.
He also believes direct communication between the local government and its people increases trust. Under the Citizens’ Charter, community members contribute 25 percent of the cost of project activities, and he feels that this reflects increasing trust and cooperation between the people and local government.
Citizens’ Charter activities in Jalalabad city started in April 2017 under the Independent Directorate of Local Governance. The project is currently active in six out of nine municipal districts in the city, having established 128 CDCs as of October 2018. Women have stood equally alongside men in the creation of the CDCs, where the deputies and secretaries are women in each council.
To date, 50 Jalalabad CDCs have started their development projects, such as street paving and lighting, clean drinking water, separate recreation parks for men and women, and sewing workshops for women.
People’s expectations are high when it comes to the Citizens’ Charter, and they hope it can help them improve their lives. Through awareness campaigns held by the Citizens’ Charter in the municipal districts, the local governance knowledge of the population has increased. People in these areas understand much more about their responsibilities and how to hold government more accountable. When people face challenges, they gather to solve the issues or bring it to their local government for support to resolve them.
In addition, there is more transparency, as CDCs implement the development projects themselves.
Through CDCs, the Citizens’ Charter is bringing communities and local government closer.
It has given people a sense of ownership of their local development projects. The cooperation between communities and among men and women has increased not just in work related to the Citizens’ Charter but in other social activities too.
“We hope to make our area a better place to live with support of the Citizens’ Charter,” said Shir Mohammad.
The Citizens’ Charter is supported by funds from the government budget, as well as the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), managed by the World Bank on behalf of 34 donors, and the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries.