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Strategic Communications Training for Provincial Spokespersons Held at GMIC
Government Media and Information Center (GMIC) and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting organized a five-day training workshop for provincial spokespersons on strategic communications from February 04 to February 08, 2017.  This workshop was part of the overall GOA efforts to promoting confidence, stability and good governance by strengthening government communications.  Provincial governors’ spokespersons from Kabul, Nangarhar, Wardak, Kapisa, Dykundi, Balkh, Jawzjan, Paktika, Herat and Khost Provinces travelled to Kabul to attend the training. 

The goal was to build the capacity of the spokespersons, develop their ties to Kabul based media and government departments, and to discuss the application of the Presidential Decree on Information Sharing.   

At this workshop, participants received theoretical and practical training on writing press releases and newsletters, preparing for an effective press conference, conducting radio and TV interviews and answering media queries via phone.  Participants also practiced running mock press conference. 

On the last day of the workshop, seven of the 10 provincial spokespersons appeared in a joint, on-the record press conference to discuss the achievements of their provinces in 2016, and their plans for 2017.  There was a healthy media turnout with good coverage in the media; Hasht-e-Sobh Daily wrote a good news report on this press conference titled “Public has a spirit of cooperation with the Government”. 

In the afternoon of February 08, 2017, GMIC and IWPR held a Focus Group Discussion for the participants with media heads, civil society representatives, cabinet and ministerial spokespersons, and stratcom representatives from American and British Embassies and Resolute Support.  The focus of the FGD was to strengthen relationship between provincial spokespersons and Kabul based media representatives.  Both sides discussed issues of mutual interests and had a chance to hold face to face conversation and address their problems.  The event ended with a social gathering for all the participants. 

Relations between the provinces, the media, and central government will be strengthened further later in the spring when another two workshops are planned.

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Private Universities to Prioritize Hiring Afghan Citizens over Foreigners
During a press conference at the GMIC, Minister of Higher Education Farida Momand announced that all private universities operating within Afghan laws are required to give priority to Afghan citizens during their recruitment process.

Minister Momand said “We have many talented Afghans with Masters Degree and PhDs who are unemployed and need to be recruited into these institutions.” She added that with this new decision, many educated Afghans would find employment. 

Minister Momand also announced that the scholarship issue with Iran has been resolved following effective diplomatic engagement. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with Iran in 1390 will come into effect as of 1994.  Based on this MoU, Iran will offer the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 500 scholarships in different fields annually.  She said out of these 500 scholarships, 290 Afghan professors will get masters and PhD scholarships this year alone.

“This has been a problem for the past six years; the new MOHE leadership resolved this issue within a few months”, said MoHE spokesperson Faisal Amin.

In addition, Minister Momand added that Saudi Arabia will also offer Afghanistan 400 scholarships annually.  She said contrary to the past, these scholarships will be channeled through MOHE now.

Mr. Amin said MOHE is determined to provide the best possible services to the people of Afghanistan and will regulate all Higher Education Institutions.  According to Mr. Amin, UMEF University is not registered in Switzerland which means they cannot open any branches outside Swiss for now, and that their branch in Kabul is closed down.

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Saffron Cultivation Hits Record High in Afghanistan
MAIL announces a dramatic increase in saffron cultivation and production in 2016 in Afghanistan.

The Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock Mr. Asadullah Zamir announced at a press conference at the Government Media and Information Center (GMIC) that Saffron cultivated areas have been increased by 250% reaching to 2811 hectares of land. The coverage areas from the past 15 years were 1020 hectares.  This year alone 1791 hectares new land has been cultivated- demonstrates that Afghan farmers are now producing more legal produce than ever.  He said saffron cultivation has expanded to 31 provinces from only one a few years ago.
“With effective management and strong efforts of MAIL, saffron cultivation has been doubled compared to last year—from 1020H of land last year to 2811Hof land this year”, said Minister Asadullah Zamir

The increase in saffron production is a result of continued technical, financial and training support provided by MAIL to Afghan farmers, according to the Minister.  He called on all Afghan farmers to grow legal crops instead of poppy and turn this country into a poppy free country.  Not only is this a major economic and agricultural achievement, but this announcement has significant security implications too.

Addressing farmers directly, Minister Zamir said; “By growing legal crop, you will make more money, gain government support and work on your land without any fear from law enforcement agencies.” The cultivation of saffron will allow the afghan National Security forces to concentrate their efforts elsewhere and will deprive the enemies of Afghanistan of a major source of revenue.
The Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is determined to assist Afghan farmers by providing financial support, machinery, cold storage, seeds, training, and new processing methods all of which will pave the way for Afghan farmers to export their products outside Afghanistan. 
The opening of the railway between Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and People’s Republic of China is a clear example of Afghan Government’s commitment to supporting the export of Afghan produce.  Saffron is one of the products, that will be regularly exported to China using this railway, and will benefit from decreased the transportation costs and faster supply chains.
In May 2016, a senior Afghan delegation visited China to sign six agreements and MOUs with the People’s Republic of China aiming to boost business and diplomatic relationship between the two countries.  One of these agreements was signed on the production and export of Afghan saffron to China.  
Based on this agreement, China will support Afghan saffron production and will facilitate its export to China.  It is believed that China, having the biggest population in the world, is a key market for Afghan saffron.
Afghan farmers began growing saffron in 2001.  This year, Afghan farmers produced almost six metric tons of saffron.  Afghanistan’s saffron was also named the best saffron in the world for a third time.  The International Taste & Quality Institute Brussels, Belgium awarded the accolade after examining some 300 samples earlier this year. 
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Ministry For Counter Narcotics Signs MoU To Mobilize Public Awareness
Today the Ministry of Counter Narcotics signed two separate Memorandums of Understanding with Ministry of Borders and Tribal Affairs and Afghanistan Physical Education and Sport Administration aiming to increase public awareness against narcotics in Afghanistan.
“Increased Public Awareness and improved cooperation and coordination between relevant government organizations is required to fight narcotics”, said Minister Salamat Azemi

The Minister of Counter Narcotics Salamat Azemi said at the GMIC that the aim of signing these memoranda is to increase public awareness regarding the harm of narcotics. The MoU calls on the support of tribal elders and Afghan athletes to talk about the dangers of narcotics and its negative consequences in the society.
Minister Azemi called on all Afghans to take part in the public awareness campaign against narcotics in Afghanistan; ‘it is the duty of every Afghan citizen to fight narcotics and turn Afghanistan a narcotic-free country.’ 
She also urged the international community to further support Afghanistan to fight poppy cultivation and narco-traficking which is an international problem requiring a concerted joint effort to overcome this evil. She said, ‘The international community has committed to fighting narcotics, and it will fulfill its promises.’
Acting Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Abdul Ghafoor Laiwal said that his Ministry will increase public awareness through tribal elders and Jirgas about the harms of narcotics.  “ As long as public does not fight and control narcotics, individual organizations will not succeed to fight narcotics”, said Minister Laiwal.
Mr. Qasim Hamidi Deputy Director General of Afghanistan Sport Administration highlighted the important role Afghan athletes can play in increasing public awareness against the use of narcotics.  He also committed that his administration will help MCN in its public awareness campaign about the harms of narcotics.
The trafficking of narcotics is used to fund terrorism at home and abroad- it fuels insecurity. The Afghan Government is committed to fight this disease; the National Counter Narcotic Action Plan demonstrates the government’s commitment.  Furthermore, the recent seizure of 61 tons of narcotics in Kabul Province in early December 2016 is a clear example of the Afghan Government working to protect the safety of its citizens. 

Afghanistan Joins ‘Open Government Partnership’
Deputy for Administrative Office of the President, Mr. Abdul Subhan Raouf, and Strategic Advisor for National Procurement Authority Mohammad, Suhail Kakar, announced the membership of Afghanistan in Open Government Partnership (OGP) at the Government Media Information Center this afternoon.

“This membership will encourage more foreign investments in Afghanistan and build the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan”, said Sayed Akram Afzali, Head of Integrity Watch Afghanistan


Mr. Raouf said that Afghanistan has made four major commitments to the OGP;
1.    To increase access to information concerning government activities
2.    To support Civil Society Participation
3.    To enforce World Class standards in professional honesty in the government offices
4.    To make improvements in the use of new technologies to strengthen governance 

Mr. Kakar asserted that this new membership would help improve access to information to all the contracts processed by National Procurement Authority.  Accepting that corruption is a major issue in Afghanistan, he said that access to project information regarding procurement processes will help reduce bribery and patronage. He added that NPA will also monitor the execution of any contracts processed and approved through NPC.

To become a member of Open Government Partnership, participating countries must endorse a high-level Open Government Declaration, deliver a country action plan developed with public consultation, and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward.

The Open Government Partnership formally launched on September 20, 2011, when the eight founding governments - Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States - endorsed the Open Government Declaration, and announced their country action plans. Since 2011, OGP has welcomed the commitment of 67 additional governments to join the Partnership.

In total, 75 OGP participating countries have made over 2,500 commitments to make their governments more open and accountable.


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