The Afghanistan Municipal Strengthening Program (AMSP) focused on strengthening the municipal governments in eleven provincial capitals: Tirin Kot (Uruzgan province), Khost (Khost), Bazarak (Panjshir), Charikar (Parwan), Sharana (Paktika), Gardez (Paktia), Jalalabad (Nangarhar), Asadabad (Kunar), Kandahar (Kandahar), Ghazni (Ghazni), and Nili (DaiKondi).
Initially, the program provided technical assistance and training to city administrators and to laborers in each city in the areas of sanitation management, road rehabilitation, water management, electricity supply, park rehabilitation, and street-side "greening"—that is, planting bushes along roadways in barren sections of the city. Small infrastructure improvements were initiated, and the work plan included a temporary worker/training program that especially targeted youth. Young people were also the key audience for special recreation programs and community events to build their connections to the areas in which they live.
The program was carried out with a series of activities undertaken in partnership with the capital cities, and one of the critical strengths of AMSP was the level of cooperation and the degree of commitment demonstrated by the partner municipalities. Prior to providing services, AMSP and each municipality entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that delineated the responsibilities and resource commitments of both parties. The efforts of each municipality were significant, including contributions such as these:
- Providing office space (and in some municipalities, staff residences) for AMSP staff in the municipal building or buildings owned by the municipality
- Providing trucks and laborers
- Sharing expenses for the maintenance of trucks and equipment (except for fuel)
- Providing for the security and storage of the trucks and equipment
- Facilitating the hiring of short-term day laborers from the local community
- Participating in determining locations for dumping solid waste
- Promoting projects within the theme of "Our City is Our Home."
AMSP approached each municipality with trained AMSP staff to be embedded in the mayor's office and a plan featuring a predetermined set of activities that could (1) be started quickly; (2) generate short-term employment; and (3) improve the municipality's image to its citizens through enhanced public services. ICMA typically worked first on trash collection and the construction of cobblestone streets—activities that have a high profile, can employ many citizens, and provide a foundation on which ICMA and the municipalities could prepare for the more challenging areas of water and electricity supply. Typical activities included:
- Solid waste management
- Cleaning street and roadside culverts and drainage ditches
- Paving streets with cobblestones
- Restoring and expanding the water supply system
- Rehabilitating and expanding the electrical system.
The lack of trained and competent municipal staff proved to be a constant in all municipalities. Accordingly, as each MOU was designed, the mayor worked with the AMSP staff to identify areas in which AMSP staff members would augment the existing municipal staff. These AMSP employees worked in the municipal facilities not only to implement the desired activities, but to serve as "change agents." A typical AMSP augmentation team in a municipality included the following positions/functions:
- Provincial coordinator
- Senior engineer
- Site engineer
- City manager
- Finance/administration assistant.
To set the stage for quick, high-impact activities, ICMA opened operational field offices in the provincial capitals as well as a management center in Kabul, where staff members coordinated and oversaw activities throughout the country and trained ICMA employees in the provinces. Though the security situation in some provinces posed challenges, ICMA was able to overcome the difficulties through a solid partnership with the cities' mayors and the provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs)—military missions that provided security and support to the provincial capitals in Afghanistan.
While the initial focus of the AMSP was on highly visible and tangible results, the longer-range goal was sustainability—enabling municipal leaders and their staffs to take on the challenges of stabilization and ultimately growth in the areas of public services and the municipal economy. The program provided significant training in municipal management topics and employed a "learning by doing" approach to build local capacity to sustain the improvements made during the course of the program.
As AMSP evolved, dozens of projects were completed and turned over to the municipalities—markets, coffee houses, parking lots, public latrines, foot paths, culverts, parks, renovated municipal buildings, and other amenities that improved the quality of life for residents.
While addressing the needs of the leaders in the partner municipalities, the ICMA program also undertook an aggressive awareness program for local youth. The growth and development of local youth, through an understanding of the principles of good governance, were based on the same topics and content as the training and technical assistance provided to municipal leaders. The youth program was customized, however, to make it age appropriate, with an emphasis on sports activities, city clean-up days, and training in computer and English-language skills.
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