Kabul, Afghanistan, July 2018: The protracted conflict in Afghanistan and migration in search for better economic opportunities have led to unprecedented population growth in cities. Improving living conditions for burgeoning city populations is critical for prosperous and inclusive cities and has an important bearing on the country’s future stability.

UN-Habitat’s City for All Programme (CFA) provides the Kabul Municipality and the Deputy Ministry of Municipalities in Afghanistan with technical support to reform municipal finance systems through a multi-pronged approach which includes revising legislation, improving procedures for registration of properties, promoting better financial management systems and strengthening human resource capacity.

Although tenure security is a catalyst for economic development and poverty reduction, millions of households in Afghan cities have no property ownership rights and live in constant fear of eviction with minimal access to basic services such as water, sewerage and electricity.

Many municipalities do not generate adequate local funding to provide basic infrastructure relying instead on central government funds. As the country moves to reduce its reliance on foreign aid and towards the declared national goal of self-reliance by 2024 it has become increasingly important to improve outdated local authority revenue systems.

Although there are over 50 recognized municipal revenue sources, a property tax known as safayi has proven to be a cost-effective and relatively straightforward intervention with multiple benefits. Besides increasing municipal revenues, it also improves land administration, increases tenure security, and stimulates local economic development, particularly in informal settlements.

With UN-Habitat’s support a comprehensive review of Taliban-era laws and regulations under which safayi fees are collected has been undertaken to improve efficiency and fairness. New regulations governing issuance of occupancy certificates will grant occupancy rights for 70 per cent of properties in informal settlements in cities across Afghanistan.

UN-Habitat is also providing technical support for a survey of properties in eight cities by local authorities and the Afghanistan Independent Land Authority which will provide the government with a more comprehensive record of land registration in urban areas. One million properties will be surveyed by 2020 and owners will subsequently be required to pay safayi fees. Properties with improvements will pay fees based on assessed value of the improvements.

This has led to a more transparent and comprehensive system which has improved tax collection and simplified the process of safayi payment. In the first four months  of the new system in Kabul over 35,500 invoices worth USD 342,234 in fees for Kabul Municipality were issued. In the other cities, revenue collection increased by 15 per cent on average. Revenue generated from safayi fees pays for garbage collection street cleaning. As this revenue stream grows municipalities will be able to improve infrastructure and expand provision of basic services.

UN-Habitat has also supported development of a safayi database and an automatic invoicing and payment tracking system. Aqa Mohamed, a 78-year old resident of Kabul says simplifying the process has drastically reduced the time spent by residents paying safayi fees.

“in the past I would take a whole day to pay safayi fees for my house. Getting new safayi notebooks was even tougher. A property owner had to wait for days for the  engineers to survey the house, pay for transport of the engineers and provide lunch. Through the CFA programme all properties are surveyed and an invoice is delivered to your doorstep. Getting a new safayi notebook now takes less than 15 minutes thanks to the CFA team.”

UN-Habitat’s City for All Programme (CFA) is showing how cities can adapt policies and processes to enhance the quality of life for residents by improving service delivery while simultaneously enhancing revenue collection, allowing them to grow in the most sustainable way possible.

A recent independent evaluation concluded that UN-Habitat’s Country Programme in Afghanistan is aligned with National Development Strategies and contributes to increased national investments to accelerate the achievement of priorities at national, provincial and local level. UN-Habitat’s long-term engagement in Afghanistan has given it a unique and strong relationship with communities and government.

Despite Afghanistan’s ongoing challenges UN-Habitat has managed to remain relevant and sustainable, aligning its work to the Sustainable Development Goals as well as regional, national, provincial, and local priorities. Based on its history, current and planned work, UN-Habitat is well placed to remain relevant and useful not only to Afghanistan but to other countries facing similar urban challenges, concluded the report.