Working with the government is one of most important factors for the success of Community-based monitoring programs. This is because one of the KEY GOALS of CBM is to improve the relationship between the state and citizens. Integrity Watch works as a facilitator between the community and government or donors. It is not our responsibility to replace the government. Rather, the program is meant to enhance the government capacity to collect, hear and respond to the concerns of communities.
Since Afghanistan is a highly centralized state, often the provincial line departments and officials do not have a lot of funds or people to effectively monitor all ongoing infrastructure projects. CBM is thus, a way to help them by bringing monitoring data from the field to their offices.
Here are some tips on contacting government officials.
CONTACTING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
You have to have an official issue in order to contact high ranking officials. Usually you first send an introduction of your organization and ask for a meeting. For smaller issues it is difficult to contact them, unless you have some personal contacts or have friends in similarly high positions who can put you in contact. Otherwise, it is better to set up appointments with lower-ranking officials first. Meetings with ministry officials in Kabul are even trickier. This is because if a meeting with a Minister goes badly, it can reduce your chances of working with that ministry in the future.
WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL PROCEDURE FOR SETTING UP A MEETING?
Through their secretariat or through a personal introduction. The content and the purpose should be specified before the meeting.
EMAIL OR PHONE CALL FORMAT
Introduce your work, place it in context and explain the purpose of the meeting. The email should be simple and should contain the points that will be discussed. Sometimes you have to justify why it is important for them to meet you.
WHAT ARE THE BARRIERS TO CONTACT
Some can be willing to meet, others not. Usually officials who are ‘targets’ of your work, may be reluctant to set up an appointment. For example, since Integrity Watch is a watchdog organization working also on justice trials, attorneys who are the targets of repeated criticisms do not like to meet. Also a meeting brings some obligations to the targeted person/institution: it is expected from them to take some action after the meeting. In such cases, it may be more convenient for them to not have a meeting at all.
The reputation of the organization, the person and his private relationships facilitate contacts in Afghanistan. It also depends who within the organization is sent to the meeting: the higher her/his position, the more effective the meeting will be. However, if the government official believes they will benefit from the program, then a meeting will usually be easier to obtain.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT BARRIERS FOR AFGHANS VS. FOREIGNERS IN TALKING TO GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
It somehow believed that foreigners have more access to government officials. Many foreigners occupy important positions in the country. Afghan hospitality can, in this case, somehow also nurture discrimination and foreigners can get better treatment then Afghan citizens. However, a well prepared Afghan can gain access through their personal contacts or an Afghan and an expatriate can make a good team.
HOW DO YOU USE PERSONAL CONTACTS TO OVERCOME BARRIERS AND ARRANGE MEETINGS
These should be used only if it strictly necessary, for example in order to arrange high level meetings for the first time. Personal contacts are also used to ‘calm down’ a particularly problematic issue (a criticism of a government official). For example, before publishing any reports or going to the media, the high ranking officials are notified in advance, so they have some time to think about the issue and respond. It makes things smoother because you have respectfully included them before making issues public.
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE PERSONAL CONTACTS, HOW DO YOU ARRANGE MEETINGS
This is strongly influenced by the subject you are going to discuss with her/him. The personal secretary should be contacted. However, using official channels may not get you the same treatment. Another possibility would be preparing a statement or asking donors to put you in contact.
WHAT ARE THE REASONS/ADVANTAGES FOR CONTACTING OFFICIALS
In order to get their official support, inform them about the progress of a program/issue, to solve problems (like a stopped program) and get advice on how to proceed. When contacting officials, usually more strategic decisions are undertaken and rarely implementation or similar technical issues are discussed. Contacting them usually gives access to additional contacts.
INFORMING OFFICIALS OF YOUR WORK
How do you inform officials of your work? Through different channels. Media, newsletters, through meetings, invitations to seminars, workshops, and positions that the organization can put forward. Sometimes they can be informed by donors or out of work in informal conversations or events.
WHEN DO YOU NEED TO CONTACT THE GOVERNMENT
For advocacy purposes, relevant updates, for protection against threats and risks, when programs are blocked, when you want to launch a new program or a new project and they are somehow involved (usually a MOU or memorandum of understanding can be signed). It is advisable to contact high ranking officials when you encounter a problem, especially before it becomes uncontrollable and political. Never hide problems: expose them, while providing solutions to tackle them. They can be also invited to join the organization in conferences outside the country.
SHOULD YOU KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THEM ON A REGULAR BASIS
It is not usual to keep regular contacts. It highly depends on the kind of agreement you have with them. However, it is advisable to regularly provide them with information, even if they do not respond to it. They will appreciate this.
HOW DO YOU DISCUSS PROBLEMS IN PROJECTS WITHOUT BEING TOO CRITICAL OR EVEN OFFENSIVE
You should be critical and at the same time propose solutions to the problems encountered. Criticisms should not be too harsh and should include some praises of their work (you should be always able to find some, even if there is nothing praiseworthy in their work!). Also explain the consequences for not acting.
HOW DO YOU AVOID CONFLICT WITH THEM, BUT STILL GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS
Explain the impact of not moving forward and expose their gains if they move in your direction. Try to show other examples of other people who support you (be careful in case there is some animosity between them). Try to discuss issues basing your ideas on facts and ‘measures’ and not on gossip.
ASK FOR THEIR SUPPORT & INVOLVEMENT
How do you convince them to support your monitoring program? If their agenda matches yours, then it is an easy job. Explain how monitoring improves their services. CBM is very successful in convincing the ministries because it has produced tangible results. You can also show the changes monitoring brings (providing some data) and who else is supporting the program.
Sometimes the officials’ mindset can be problematic. Some may not believe that people are able to monitor and they see them as an obstacle for achieving the desired results. It is however funny to note that they can support people in monitoring of issues that do not involve the government directly, like monitoring of aid. Therefore, the reasons for why communities should be involved have to be clearly presented to the potentially suspicious officials.
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT DO YOU ASK FOR?
High ranking officials can be addressed for all sorts of support, from various certificates to introductions. These include: letters of permission, support for access to contracts, support in issues that involve media, direct participation in meetings, formalization of organization’s work through their participation or official support, request of special teams for monitoring, to expose a non-collaborating company, etc.
OUR EXPERIENCE WITH OFFICIALS
It depends on the official. Some agree to fully cooperate with us, some do not, and others do even more than what you have asked them to do. It depends on the integrity of the person and on her/his political gains. Generally, officials tend to support the projects or at least they don’t do anything to oppose them.