Petter Matthews, Director of CoST International Secretariat, and Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, Afghanistan's Ministry of Economy, announcing the country’s membership in CoST.Overview of transparency in the construction sector
Construction and reconstruction can often take place under great political pressure in post-conflict states. Financial expenditure can be used, erroneously, as an indicator for real progress. With Afghanistan receiving a substantial aid flow (up to 95% of its GDP) from a number of international donors, the lack of transparency regarding its spending, inadequate safeguards and limited coordination between donors and government severely limit its effectiveness. Moreover, the technical and managerial capacity of government agencies to plan and deliver infrastructure is very low, and transparency and accountability at the local level have not yet proved effective.
In Afghanistan, where road construction is a major absorber of aid money, the cost of upgrading Kabul's symbolic airport road, Bibi Mahro, was estimated to be ten times that of other road projects in the country. With a lack of monitoring mechanisms, high levels of financial waste have been recorded in public construction projects.
While limited accountability and transparency remain an issue, there is a number of organisations working with local civil society in Afghanistan to reverse the trend. Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA), for example, is a small organisation that has succeeded in holding the government – and the country's many donors – to account for their actions and their spending on infrastructure.
The Afghanistan Government has made a series of commitments to fight corruption and improve governance at the ‘Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan’ in 2012 and in return, it received pledges of $16 billion in aid from the donor community.[i] These commitments form the backdrop to various Government efforts aimed at improving transparency and fighting corruption including joining CoST.
Afghanistan joined CoST in October 2013 following recommendations made by the Afghanistan Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) on the need for greater transparency in the construction of infrastructure. The CoST Afghanistan programme is led by the Ministry of Economy with the process of disclosure and assurance initially tested by Afghanistan Reconstruction and Development Services.
A Multi-Stakeholders’ Oversight Committee was recently established and met for the first time in February 2014. It is tasked with developing an action plan, monitoring implementation and ensuring compliance with CoST principles. Ministry of Economy officials are now preparing a funding proposal to help establish a CoST Afghanistan Secretariat that will ensure the effective management and coordination of the programme.
 Jalal, M. (2013). 'Aid Effectiveness at Sub-national Level: A Study of Provincial Development Committees (PDCs): Provincial coordination, planning and monitoring'. Integrity Watch Afghanistan. December.
 McClanahan, P. (2013). 'Transparency in Afghanistan'. The Guardian. June 13.