The Citizens' Charter National Priority Program (CCNPP) was an essential step toward achieving the Government's goal of self-reliance. It aimed to establish a partnership between the Afghan Government and its many communities.
Problems and Purpose
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Afghanistan, a country in conflict, is confronted with numerous difficulties, including insecurity, corruption, insufficient capacity to provide services, and a low level of trust citizens have in the Government's ability to meet their basic needs. Most of the population resides in rural villages and encounters various obstacles, such as inadequate health services, substandard education, limited access to electricity, inadequate water facilities, insufficient economic opportunities, and more.[i]
The Citizens' Charter National Priority Program (CCNPP) aimed at achieving self-sufficiency for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This program was a partnership between the Afghan Government and thousands of villages to provide essential services based on people's priorities in all cities and villages throughout Afghanistan. The Program was one of the Government's commitments to its citizens. This Program focused on financial planning and reporting for each united village. The villagers monitored their development goals and service quality and reported any complaints to the authorities and civil society. The CCNPP enhanced inclusive development and accountability at all governance levels. It served as the voice of vulnerable groups, including women, returnees, and people experiencing poverty. The Program demonstrated the positive presence of the Afghan Government in areas previously affected by lawlessness and poverty. Furthermore, The Program aimed to improve the provision of vital infrastructure and social services for the affected villages through the strengthened village development councils in Afghanistan.
[i] The Word Bank official website page: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services (worldbank.org)
Background History and Context
Since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, Afghanistan has undergone a significant reconstruction effort. This effort had undergone several phases, with the peace and reconstruction agreements reached in Bonn being a crucial step. These agreements resulted in establishing a national constitution, a restructured executive branch led by a president, and an elected national parliament where nearly a third of the representatives were women. The initial reconstruction phase was launched promptly, with donors pooling funding through the World Bank-managed Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) to support critical national governance and service delivery programs. As part of their reform agenda, the Government introduced the Citizens' Charter National Priority Program in September 2015—the Program aimed to create core community services to ensure inclusivity and representation in Community Development Councils.
The NCCPP included a sub-program called "Cash for Preservation and Care and Construction." This Program addressed seasonal work and situations where multiple employees were needed simultaneously. It helped over one-third of families in rural areas, particularly those struggling financially due to high numbers of returnees and displaced people. The Program provided opportunities for these families to earn income during unemployment and low income.
The project encompassed the following areas:
Rural areas: Access to Clean Drinking Water, Access to Rural Infrastructure. Choice of:
- Road access
- Electricity (in areas not reached by the grid)
- Small-scale irrigation
Urban areas: Access to Urban Infrastructure. Choice of:
- Potable water
- Street upgrading and drainage
- Lighting, electricity
- Park, recreation area
- Solid waste management
- Household numbering
- Livelihood projects for women
MoPH Health Standards
- Health facilities complying with required open hours, staffing, and mandated health services
- In urban areas, pharmacies were registered and met basic MoPH requirements
MoE Education Standards
- Teachers with a least grade 12 education
- Students had 24 – 36 hours per week of education [i]
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The CCNPP program was a collaborative effort between various ministries to improve both rural and urban areas. The Ministry of Finance leads the Government's working group on the Citizens' Charter, with the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance overseeing the rural and urban components, respectively. Other working group members include the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Public Health, and Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock.[i]
The CCNPP was a ten-year project that received funding from the government budget, ARTF, and World Bank/IDA. The Charter Citizen Afghanistan Program (CCAP) supported the first four-year phase of the CCNPP. The project has benefitted around 8.5 million people directly and indirectly in roughly one-third of the districts across all 34 provinces. [ii]
The International Development Association (IDA) has provided $227.7 million in grant financing for the CCAP, and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which is a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank on behalf of 34 donor partners that have contributed a grant of $444.3 million. The CCAP was implemented by the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.[iii]
[i] ReliefWeb: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services, 2020: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services - Afghanistan | ReliefWeb
[ii] Document of The World Bank. Citizen's Charter Afghanistan. Project. The report, 3017: https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/585561497645848502/pdf/AFGHANISTAN-CITIZENS-CHARTER-PP-06022017.pdf
[iii] The Word Bank official website page: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services (worldbank.org)
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Citizens' Charter was a formal agreement between the Afghan Government and its people, with the guidance and support of elected representatives, who worked together to reduce poverty. The Government and the people had responsibilities, with the Government providing necessary resources, support, and advice and the CDCs and Cluster CDCs/GA acting as participatory institutions. By working together, they ensured fair and equitable allocation of resources and focused on benefiting poor women, men, and children equally. Including elected women members in planning and implementation ensured that women's development needs were addressed. The goal was to provide a minimum level of services to all Afghan citizens, enabling them to live healthier lives and reach their full potential. Through this component, the Citizens' Charter aimed to build strong institutions, from national to district to village levels, capable of managing their development. This was achieved through capacity building, technical assistance, and community facilitation services, with support from various government ministries, including MRRD, IDLG, MAIL, MoE, MoPH, MoF, and others, explicitly focusing on sub-national capacity-building.[i]
Under the Citizen Charter National Priority Program, Village Development Councils were elected democratically and trained to implement initial development projects. The Ministry of Finance transferred the funds for the projects directly into the bank accounts of each Village Development Council. The Ministry of Rural Development and Rehabilitation supervised rural areas' activities and local bodies' independent administration. At the same time, the Village Development Councils were responsible for implementing projects in their respective villages, including in urban areas.
The National Citizenship Charter Program and the National Solidarity Program differed in their approach to services. The Program set a minimum service standard and provided access to essential services for village people. The village people monitored these services and reported them using scorecards.
Methods and Tools Used
The Citizens' Charter was a comprehensive initiative that connected rural and urban communities, districts, provinces, municipalities, and the main level. It was the first inter-ministerial and multi-sectoral Program where Ministries worked together under presidential supervision. The Program was created in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), the Ministry of Education (MoE), the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD), the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), and coordinated by the Ministry of Finance (MoF). A working group at the deputy-minister level reported directly to the President on progress, while a technical-level working group focused on the technical design. The close coordination of the multi-ministerial working group helped to ensure that the Citizens' Charter received full support from all levels of Government. Civil society organizations and NGOs, especially those who have previously implemented community-driven development projects, were consulted to learn from best practices and provide relevant recommendations for the Charter. The Program's design also considered the opinions and perspectives of CDC representatives, as outlined in the CDC Declaration from the Autumn 2014 CDC Jirga.[i]
The CDCs and Cluster CDCs/GA played a crucial role in implementing the Citizens' Charter strategy. They served as the leading organization for community development and supervised sectoral associations or shuras as sub-committees. The CDCs/clusters were responsible for providing essential services like education, health, and agriculture. In rural areas, CDCs were grouped into 4 to 8 Cluster CDCs (CCDCs), while in urban areas, 4-5 CDCs were combined to form Gozars.
The Citizen Charter Program has a complaint-handling mechanism that allows individuals, groups, and villages to bring forward any concerns or complaints regarding the Program's development performance. This mechanism operated at all levels, from the lowest to the highest, and aimed to resolve any adverse or unfair effects the Program may have on these communities. Additionally, employees and other community members could use the mechanism to raise complaints about program management, including recruitment, procurement, and finance. This mechanism limited conflicts in villages or between them and prevented future conflicts. It demonstrated that the Government was prepared to address the concerns of its people by solving and responding to complaints, which increases trust in the Government. [ii]
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Afghan Government's "Realization of Self-sufficiency" policy document introduced the national citizenship charter. Afghanistan has over 15 years of successful village development experience, with the national solidarity program being a prominent example. Other government and non-government programs that have worked with villages have also contributed to this experience. These successful collaborations strengthen the Citizen Charter program, which aims to transform individual projects into sustainable programs nationwide.
Reducing Poverty: The Citizen Charter's National Program aimed to reduce poverty through various strategies that promoted collective action in utilizing human and economic rural resources. The Program analyzed the resource distribution within the village, considering different social categories such as the rich, middle-class, poor, and very poor. Additionally, the Program identified the work season and wages, seasonal hunger, and ways to address it, as well as the income and expenses of low-income families. The results of this analysis were used to develop the village development plan, which considered the critical issues identified during the review process.
Livestock and agriculture: The goal of the Community Livestock and Agriculture Project (CLAP) was to enhance agricultural and livestock production and boost food security for approximately 17,000 rural families across selected districts in Kabul, Parwan, and Logar provinces—additionally, the CLAP project aimed to improve the socioeconomic status of women. The project aimed to increase the productive assets, skills, services, technology, and income opportunities of target families, including farmers with minimal land and poor farmers, landless families, women, families led by women, and settled and travelling nomads. The project consisted of three main components.
A. Village development: including production infrastructure and essential strengthening: This component aimed to strengthen the capacity of villages by supporting small infrastructures to increase agricultural yields. It was also responsible for improving the capacity of rural organizations and local government offices to address issues related to ownership and sustainability. The village development component focused on enhancing the capacity of villages by providing support for small infrastructures that can boost agricultural productivity. Additionally, it aimed to improve the capacity of rural organizations and local government offices to tackle issues related to ownership and sustainability.
B. Livestock and agriculture development: The project focussed on reducing poverty and improving food security, particularly for families led by women and vulnerable/marginalized groups in rural areas. They introduced suitable livestock and agricultural methods, packages, value chain development, and market connections. Additionally, they provided support for businesses in the area.
C. Solution for immigration issues: The National Citizen Charter program aimed to assist areas with high numbers of immigrants by offering services and employment opportunities and creating a welcoming environment for resettlement. This Program utilized a general and inclusive development model, ensuring that all groups, including returnees, internally displaced individuals, and prominent village members, could benefit from development activities. To avoid competition for resources, the National Citizenship Charter Program provided the necessary funding for essential services needed by returnees, internally displaced individuals, and original village residents.
The project management component aimed to improve project coordination and provide technical support to the project support team. It also included funding for professional youth programs, policy support, and special financial facilities. Its goal was to elevate the level of youth professional policy and programs.[i]
Village Development Councils: The National Citizenship Charter Program focused on the development councils of villages, which planned, negotiated, and managed development investments. Across Afghanistan, 35,000 village development councils have been created through the national solidarity program. These councils have spent almost two billion US dollars on infrastructure projects, with an average return of 35% on the capital invested. Additionally, the villagers have provided about 30% of the costs and labour, demonstrating their trust, popularity, and interest in these projects. The councillors received training in financial management, record keeping, and fundamental principles of transparency, participation, and accountability. Multiple independent evaluations have demonstrated that the National Solidarity Program (NSP) is unmatched in delivering cost-effective services on a large-scale basis in remote rural areas.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Afghanistan's development programs greatly benefited from consolidating service delivery under the Citizens' Charter. By using a coordinated approach to community partnerships, resources were used more efficiently. This approach allowed for community-built and managed infrastructure, which proved more cost-effective than nationally-led projects. Communities were also more willing to contribute land, labour, and cash to proposed projects, resulting in higher satisfaction rates, accountability, and less corruption. Community-led projects benefit from extensive local knowledge, which improves performance and reduces disputes.
Additionally, community-led programs prioritized women's involvement in local decision-making, a government policy objective. Broadening their remit and oversight further advance this goal. Finally, transferring resources and responsibilities for local-level management to communities reduced the burden on Afghanistan's overstretched agencies, allowing them to focus on mandated technical programs.
Also, the Citizens' Charter delivered necessary services and encouraged civic engagement and cooperation within communities to achieve development outcomes without relying on external funding.
- Over 13,000 new Community Development Councils (CDCs) have been elected, with the majority in rural areas. These CDCs have developed plans to promote community development. It is noteworthy that 50% of the CDC members were women. Additionally, hundreds of thousands have access to electricity, renewable energy, irrigation, roads and bridges, water supply and sanitation services.
- Livelihood projects for women: As part of the Gozar grant, a portion of the funding was set aside for women's projects focused on their economic activities that align with the needs of the local urban market. The Citizens' Charter worked closely with the Government's National Priority Programme for Women's Economic Empowerment to establish business skills training centers exclusively for women. Additionally, they partnered with existing community-based women's lending and business groups to provide financial and business skills training and access to credit.
- Strengthened Institutional Capacity Building,
- Developed the Urban and Rural areas,
- Natural Resource Management: The Government and MAIL acknowledge the significance of sustainable management of natural resources to promote agricultural growth without harming the environment, society, and economy. Forests, rangelands, and protected areas benefit local communities by providing social and economic incentives while ensuring long-term sustainability through proper management and utilization. The NRM sector's organizations and associations demonstrated practical, community-centred approaches to managing forests, rangelands, and protected areas,
- Ensured a Safe and Positive School Environment,
- Education: The Citizens’ Charter ensured the delivery of quality education in public schools as part of MoE’s existing education standards11. Citizens monitored that: Teachers had at least grade 12 education, and students had 24 hours per week of education in grades 1-3, 30 hours in grades 4-6 and 36 hours in grades 7-12.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Over the past 14 years, The project team has learned valuable lessons in implementing the community development model in Afghanistan, which have been utilized in creating the Citizens' Charter. Working with communities and their representative bodies has proven a successful method for the Afghan Government to provide services. Through the NSP, CDCs have demonstrated their ability to plan and manage development activities when given control over resources. The community-driven development (CDD) approach was also more cost-effective and sustainable due to reduced transaction costs resulting from community involvement in development planning and execution of subprojects. Additionally, communities take ownership of the work and maintain the infrastructure.
Despite efforts toward socioeconomic progress, Afghanistan faced significant security threats that hindered development prospects. Decades of conflict have weakened government institutions and created social and ethnic divisions. Ethnic and tribal identity, rural versus urban divides, and differing beliefs on the role of women in politics and the economy are significant issues. Fragility and conflict threaten personal safety, public services, and private investments. The UN reported that civilian casualties have increased, and access to districts for civil servants is at its lowest since 2007. This lack of security made delivering services across the country's 34 provinces extremely challenging and affected the daily lives of Afghan citizens. 
 Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Citizens’ Charter National Priority Program. December 2016: https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/5b28f2ed4.pdf
 The National Citizen Charter program's official website: https://www.ccnpp.org/DefaultDari.aspx?#Score
 The National Citizen Charter Program, Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Grievance handling mechanism. 2018: https://www.ccnpp.org/DefaultDari.aspx?#Score
 Document of The World Bank. Citizen's Charter Afghanistan. Project. The report, 3017: https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/585561497645848502/pdf/AFGHANISTAN-CITIZENS-CHARTER-PP-06022017.pdf
 The Word Bank official website page: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services (worldbank.org)
 ReliefWeb: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services, 2020: Afghanistan's Citizens' Charter Program: Empowering Communities for Better Services - Afghanistan | ReliefWeb
It is important to note that the Citizen Charter National Priority Program was created for Afghanistan's long-term sustainability and development. Unfortunately, the program has been halted due to the political crisis since 2022.