Private Sector to Elect Provincial and National Leadership
The new Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) is preparing the largest ever business community elections in the country. Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, CEO of the national chamber, explained in a meeting on June 6, 2008, that all registered members in 21 provinces will be invited to vote for their delegates to the national ACCI High Council in July, 2008. Voters include members of the former Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI), the former Afghan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC), and a large number of business people who were previously not affiliated with either chamber. The former chambers had decided in a March 2008 Joint Assembly to merge both organizations and hold elections as soon as possible.
The national and all provincial chambers of commerce are currently validating their membership lists and accepting new membership applications. Voter lists are being prepared. According to ACCI Membership Director Fraidoon Watanyar, more than 10,000 voters were already registered by June 6, 2008. At the current rate of membership applications and verification, about 12,000 members are expected to cast their votes in July and elect more than 120 delegates for the national High Council. The High Council will then convene in Kabul in August to elect the new Board of Directors of ACCI.
Key objective of the merger and the elections is the creation of an ACCI High Council that is accepted and supported by a strong majority of the Afghan business community as their leading representative organ, and that is also able to build opinions and make majority decisions internally, to then unanimously advocate these decisions externally.
The ACCI Board of Directors has established an election schedule for the economically active provinces, as well as procedures for the nomination of candidates and the actual voting. Nomination and elections will be free, fair, and transparent. The event will be a unique opportunity to introduce democratic procedures many members are not yet familiar with.
Nearly 500 top business community representatives from all provinces of Afghanistan assembled in Kabul on March 9th, 2008, to set a strong signal for private sector development by establishing a new, united Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (new ACCI). They formally confirmed the merger of the two former chambers, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (former ACCI) and the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (former AICC).
The assembly, chaired by Hakim Malyar, also discussed and agreed on a transitional by-law. The delegates of the private sector elected a temporary Board of Elders to decide on the transitional leadership of the new chamber until democratic elections have been carried out in all provinces. The elders decided to ask the complete Chamber Merger Committee (CMC), that had prepared the assembly, to act as Transitional Board of Directors of the new ACCI. Mahmood Karzai, Chairman of the CMC, will be the Transitional President, and CMC Head of Secretariat, Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, will be the Transitional Chief Executive Officer.
Minister of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Mir Mohammad Amin Farhang, expressed his full support for the new ACCI, but also promised that the government will not get involved in its internal affairs. “The new chamber must represent the democratic decisions of the business community vis-a-vis the public, foreign organizations and businesses, and also vis-a-vis the government”, he told the entrepreneurs. “This chamber is your own house!” He also suggested for the new ACCI to join international chamber organizations such as the Islamic Chambers of Commerce and Industry as soon as possible.
The ambassadors of Germany, Dr. Hans-Ulrich Seidt, and of Saudi-Arabia, Said Ghorm Malhan, were honorable guests of the assembly. The USA and Germany have been supporting a strong, efficient, and representative chamber system in Afghanistan for several years. Their development agencies were represented by Zdravko Sami of USAID and Shafic Gawhari of GTZ. The presidents of Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, Omar Zakhilwal, and of the Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan, Suleman Fatimie, representatives of international organizations and of the national and international media also participated as observers in the meeting.
The assembly was a joint session of all elected delegates of the former ACCI and the former AICC, extended by numerous well-known private sector representatives who were previously not affiliated with either chamber. New ACCI President Karzai appreciated the strong engagement of the entire business community. He explained that the CMC was surprised by the enormous interest in the new chamber. “Until the last day before the assembly session, we kept receiving requests of business groups and famous entrepreneurs of all provinces to be included in the new chamber. Of course we are very happy about their interest, and despite our difficulty to organize these last-minute changes, we did not want to turn them down.” In a controversial discussion, regional and sectoral interest groups within the business community had voiced their concern about appropriate representation in the first regularly elected leadership organs of the new chamber.
The assembly unanimously passed a resolution requesting the transfer of all property owned by the former chambers to the new ACCI. The former ACCI had used contributions of the business community over decades to acquire considerable assets, which have not yet been returned by the government. The new Board of Directors plans to discuss the issue with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai within a few days.
The transitional leadership of the new chamber plans to establish election rules and to organize democratic elections for the regional chambers’ boards of directors as soon as possible. Transitional CEO Haqjo confirmed in an interview that he strives to complete the merger of organizational structures and full-time staff of the former ACCI and the former AICC before the first regularly elected Board of Directors takes office. He appealed to the international donor community to continue supporting this effort.
One of the most prominent representatives of the Afghanistan business community was among over 70 people killed in a bomb attack in Baghlan on November 6, 2007. Hajji Muhamad Arif Zarif, Chairman of the Afghanistan Chamber Reform Commission and Member of the National Parliament, was laid to rest in a state ceremony on November 9 in Kabul. Arif Zarif was also Chairman of the parliamentary Economics Committee and owner of several private enterprises. Six of ten members of the Economics Committee were killed in the attack.
The Chamber Reform Commission (CRC), the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC), the Chamber Merger Committee (CMC), and domestic as well as international business membership organizations grieve the loss of an outstanding personality who was strongly yet patiently engaged in uniting and developing the private sector of his country. Arif Zarif devoted much of his time and energy to promote an integrated and independent chamber system for Afghanistan, and he gave his life in a mission to increase public awareness of private sector development projects. All who are left behind are committed to double efforts in achieving his goals and following his visions.
A joint committee of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) has, in a Kabul meeting on October 7, 2007, paved way for a merger between the two organizations to form a new, stronger, and united national chamber of commerce to represent the entire private sector of the country. Their elected top leaders, President Dr. Ghulam Mohammad Yaylaqi of ACCI and Chairman Azarakhsh Hafizi of AICC, signed a joint declaration on the merger at the meeting.
Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Amin Farhang expressed his full support and his appreciation of a united voice for the private sector. “This will significantly speed up the economic progress of our country and reduce confusion among private entrepreneurs and traders”, he said at a press conference. “A modern, member-oriented chamber can play an important role in services for the enterprises and influence political decision-making. Of course, it also makes our life in the government easier, if we only need to talk to one partner who represents the balanced interest of the private sector.” According to Farhang, a new, liberal chamber law can now be ratified much faster than without the merger.
Two main sponsors of economic development in Afghanistan, USAID and GTZ, support the concept of the merger of the two chambers. They were represented by the Director of the Office Economic Growth, USAID, Donnie Harrington, and the Acting Head of Sustainable Economic Development Program (NaWi) of GTZ, Shafic Gawhari. More than 70 national and international journalists, leading representatives of both chambers, private entrepreneurs, politicians, and members of the international community in Kabul observed the event.
The Chairman of the recently established Chamber Merger Committee, Mahmood Karzai, brother of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, declared that the CMC will work towards ensuring that the combined chamber introduces best practices such as a democratic election process, by-laws giving power to the members, external auditor to audit accounts, and a democratic and accountable board.
He also provided further details on the decisions of the meeting. “We expect the first session of the founding assembly for the new chamber to take place as soon as November 24th. During that session, we want private sector representatives of all regions and sectors to discuss and adopt our new by-laws and to elect the new leadership. The new chamber can then start full operations before the end of the year.” Karzai had just been elected Chairman of the Committee on October 4th, with Khan Jan Alokozai and Azarakhsh Hafizi as Vice Chairmen and Mohammad Haqjo as Head of Secretariat.
Responding to a question of the Ariana TV correspondent, Chamber Reform Commission Chairman Arif Zarif explained that the restructuring of the chamber’s full-time staff organization will be a major task of the new CMC. “A socially acceptable solution for the reduction of employees must be found,” said Zarif who is also Chairman of the Economics Committee of the National Assembly, Afghanistan’s parliament.
Joint Declaration on Merger
With the objective to establish a strong and united business membership organization representing the entire private sector of Afghanistan, and to build a platform for the self-administration of the business community of Afghanistan, the leading elected organs of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) and the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce (AICC) have, after careful consideration and friendly negotiations and in close consultations with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, decided to merge both organizations into one national Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan.
Under guidance of the Chamber Reform Commission (CRC), ACCI and AICC have established a Chamber Merger Committee (CMC) to prepare and implement the merger process. The CMC is composed of seven leading representatives of ACCI, seven leading representatives of AICC, and one impartial Head of Secretariat.
The CMC has unanimously elected Mr. Mahmood Karzai as its Chairman, Mr. Khan Jan Alokozai and Mr. Azarakhsh Hafizi as its Vice Chairmen, and Mr. Mohammad Haqjo as its Head of Secretariat.
Kabul, October 7, 2007
Dr. Ghulam Mohammad Yaylaqi
President of ACCI
Chairman of AICC
Dr. Amin Farhang
Minister of Commerce and Industry