KABUL, Afghanistan, June 23, 2015 - Assisting Afghans in building their capability and capacity is a top priority for Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan, and a subject matter expert, or SME, program does just that for Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior.
The program was started in 2012 as an agreement between CSTC-A and the Ministry of Interior, or MoI. It was initially designed to provide civilian SME trainers for policemen in technical and administrative jobs, particularly in financial management and procurement.
"Over time, what we found was that these folks that were hired as trainers were actually more capable of doing the work than serving as advisers or trainers," said Laithe Haik, the senior adviser for the MoI SME program. "So the program is now directed toward providing actual SME workers to the MoI, mainly in the administrative capacity building areas such as procurement, logistics, facilities, human resources and finance."
Creating civilian positions not only adds continuity, but also provides the necessary technical and educated expertise needed to sustain an organization.
"We were experiencing the same problems of process, lack of computer skills, limited background or experience in the uniformed ranks of the staff," said Col. David Trotter, the chief of staff for the deputy adviser to MoI. "They were missing the continuity of process and procedures that the civilian work force brings to the organization."
Together with the MoI, CSTC-A designed a program to create entry-level civilian jobs and hire technical experts to fill the positions. While the program had initially begun by providing workers mainly in the financial management and procurement areas, advisers realized the value of SMEs. Positions were added in functional areas across the ministry to include key areas such as logistics, procurement, human resources, and information technology. In all, about 360 positions were approved in more than 10 different functional areas.
"The uniformed members aren't ready yet to assume the complexity of the various functionalities," said Mark Peterson, director for the resource management essential function under NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. "A lot of these jobs that are needed are technical support functions for the MoI."
The majority of positions created deal directly with complex resource areas, such as finance and procurement, but there are also more technical jobs, like engineers, that require additional skills and education. The addition of technical, educated employees is a big step toward civilianization and increased transparency for the ministry.
"What the police are doing out in the provinces and their ability to conduct joint operations between the (army and the police) is critical to (Resolute Support), but our primary concern is the development of the institution so they can enable police properly," said Trotter. "Whether it's financial, whether human resources, whether it's strategy ... it's all of those things where you need to have qualified people at the worker level, capable of performing and producing the right kinds of products so that leaders can make the right decisions."
While the program is funded by CSTC-A, the money is managed by the Afghan government. They have to track and account for the money spent on the program through their own system, the Afghan Financial Management Informational System, or AFMIS, which allows the country to maintain its own budget and work to reduce corruption.
"We have a specific line within AFMIS that's just for the workers so we can track the money," said Peterson. "We know how much should be in the account at any particular time. All of them are paid electronically. It goes straight in their account through the Ministry of Finance."
Another way corruption is kept out of the program is through the extensive hiring process, which is a joint venture between the MoI and CSTC-A. Collaboratively, the two organizations decide which positions are required and where the jobs should be placed. Once the job requirement is determined, the job is announced on the MoI Web page (www.moi.gov.af) and a site popular with Afghan professionals (www.jobs.af).
" jobs are announced, applicants submit resumes, and if qualified, they're invited for testing, which is written and conducted by CSTC-A," said Haik. "When the tests are completed and graded by CSTC-A advisers, then we do interviews with the potential employees. We bring in our MoI partners, we sit around a table to conduct Western-style interviews together, and selections are made collaboratively."
The requirement that both CSTC-A and the MoI must agree on hiring candidates creates checks and balances, ensuring both sides of the table are kept honest in their selection. It is based solely on the performance of the applicant during the testing and interview process.
Once hired, the SMEs themselves are also conduits for rooting out corruption from Afghanistan, particularly when it comes to the money spent by the international community. SMEs perform critical tasks in accounting for funds and assets provided by donor nations, which ensures donor confidence remains high. The high caliber of the SME employees and their ability to perform sophisticated assignments helps to bolster trust in the asset management ability of the ministry, said Haik.
Instead of seeking work outside of Afghanistan, this program provides an opportunity for the younger educated Afghan citizen to remain in the country, which increases its capacity.
Of the approximately 360 planned positions, the team has already hired 138 civilian experts. Each position has a minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree, and they are all contracted directly by the MoI.
The success of the program is seen in the almost 100 percent retention rate. They have only lost a few individuals, and the majority of those are to higher paying jobs here in Afghanistan. These SME jobs within the MOI are good jobs, but they are entry level positions. They are designed to be that way to ensure continued capacity building in Afghanistan in the next generation.
"What we need to do is make sure we're not forming a shadow government, that we're forming a capacity that could maybe one day become the civilian core of these jobs, but to do that we had to adjust the pay scales," said Peterson. "We adjusted the pay scale that would still make a civilian job attractive in a few years. We're the entry level and we're providing the experience. If we keep 50 percent of them in the SME program I'll be happy, we're training and they're moving on, and if they're staying in Afghanistan we're doing exactly what the president wants us to do, we're building capacity within the country."
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's goal is to transition the uniform headquarters into a civilian headquarters at the Ministry to build up not only the capacity of the ministry, but also of the country as a whole.
"Taking a uniform headquarters and transitioning into a civilian headquarters is a long process, and I think you must approach the task methodically over time," said Trotter. "You can create the civilian force that the president desires without disrupting the ministry. We have to step-by-step, incrementally adjust the force. What the SME program does is create a civilian population that, during the time we transition, will learn about the MoI, will understand the MoI, and eventually be able to run the MoI."