While some worry the eventual departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan could further destabilize the turbulent country, officials from its capital hope lessons learned this week in Oklahoma City provide stability for years to come.
Deputy Mayor M.A. Akrami of Kabul, Afghanistan, made Oklahoma City the first of two stops on a U.S. tour to learn about revenue collection and other aspects of city government. The delegation met with Oklahoma City officials this week and will do the same in San Jose, Calif., next week.
But it's not just Oklahoma City's financial prudence and leadership that impressed Akrami. He said he'd like to import the drivers here, too.
“Here they drive according to the law,” Akrami said through a translator. “In Kabul, there is no (traffic) law. They drive their own way.”
Kabul had about 1 million people in 2001, and there were about 100,000 vehicles on the streets. Today, there are more than 5 million residents and 400,000 vehicles as people have surged in from smaller communities across Afghanistan and other countries, Akrami said.
The city's infrastructure has been overwhelmed, and there's not enough money to improve it fast enough, he said. Kabul had about $52 million in revenue last year, up about $20 million from 2008. That pales in comparison to Oklahoma City's budget of $920 million this fiscal year, but with a population of only about 580,000 people.
Akrami sought out examples of how American cities deal with finance. Former Oklahoma City Manager Scott Johnson is a consultant in Kabul and helped to set up the connection here.
“The other reason is that Oklahoma City is an extremely well-managed city,” said David N. Millican, of Management Partners, the same consultancy Johnson works for. Millican accompanied Akrami on the trip. “So, if we really want to see the best practices in place, Oklahoma City is a great place to do that.”
And what Akrami and others seek to do with the money should sound familiar to Oklahoma City residents. Kabul officials want more efficient waste collection, better roads and more green space, for starters.
No sales tax there
Kabul has no sales tax, so studying how Oklahoma City uses sales tax was a priority for this trip.
“We're trying to implement that to make us stronger and more financially sound so we can compete with the private sector,” Abdul Jabar Haqbin, Kabul's general director of revenue, said through a translator.
But, as with most populations, selling the idea of more taxes to Kabul residents could be tough. Most new residents aren't used to living in a big city.
“There should be a culture developed where people get educated that the money that's collected from them is going to be spent on them, and for their own good,” Akrami said. “The city of Kabul has been destroyed by 30 years of war. We will need billions to rehabilitate the city.”
Time for some fun
Akrami and his delegation also took time to tour Oklahoma City's green spaces and Bricktown, braved the heat to watch a RedHawks game and dined at Coach's.
Akrami, who still practices as a college chemistry professor while serving as deputy mayor, also praised Oklahoma City's leadership, residents and government culture.
“It has a very spiritual meaning for us, our friendship with Oklahoma City,” Akrami said. “I am very respectful about the way they do things and the things they do.”