HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Afghan Drug Body Hit By UK Funding Reversal
Pubdate: Mon, 25 Feb 2008
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2008
Author: Jon Boone, In Kapisa Province


The Afghan ministry set up to tackle the drugs trade is  facing a
staffing crisis after the UK, on the  instructions of the Kabul
government, withdrew funding  for salaries.

The best-educated workers at the fledgling ministry of
counter-narcotics, which is intended to play a key role in reducing
the country's poppy crop, have been looking for other jobs after pay
for senior staff dropped from $1,500 (=801,011, UKP762) to $200 a month.

The ministry said 30 senior workers had left since November when pay
was cut.

One official, a senior aide to counter-narcotics minister General
Khodaidad, said he could no longer afford the rent on his Kabul flat
and was trying to find an information technology job in one of the
NGOs in Kabul, which pay far more than government jobs.

Other staff members claim to have received no pay since

Britain, "lead sponsor" of anti-drugs efforts in Afghanistan, withdrew
its subsidy as part of a process designed to bring pay into line with
other ministries. Gen Khodaidad said the move would "obviously affect
the work of the ministry" and called for greater international funds
to be made available.

An official at the British embassy in Kabul accepted that the changes
had created difficulties for the ministry but said the UK was
committed to supporting Kabul's efforts to create a sustainable public
pay structure.

The reform process, which was intended to increase public sector pay
overall and reduce government corruption, has proceeded so slowly that
senior staff have suffered big pay cuts.

Speaking in Kapisa province, Gen Khodaidad said Afghanistan's efforts
to reduce opium and heroin production were also hampered by the web of
ministries and agencies involved in tackling the issue.

The country's narcotics economy has grown in strength in the six years
since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, which had successfully
banned poppy cultivation in 2000.

Last year Afghanistan produced its biggest harvest, with output up 17
per cent on 2006. It has also moved into the lucrative business of
refining raw opium into heroin inside its own borders.

This week the International Monetary Fund said poppy production was
worth $1bn to farmers. The value to the drug refiners and traffickers
is far greater.

Counter-narcotics ministry officials said better news was expected
this year, with more provinces set to be declared "poppy free".

However, they said choking cultivation in the province of Helmand,
where the Taliban insurgency is at its most violent and production is
at its highest, would be hard.
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