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Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. By all accounts that corruption is endemic at all levels of government. In an effort to curb graft, patronage and nepotism, the country has implemented a new program to select provincial and district officials based on their skills, not their connections. NPR's Sean Carberry attended a swearing-in ceremony and sent this report.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Afghanistan has 34 provinces, sort of like states, each with a governor, but they're appointed by President Karzai rather than elected. Their deputies and lower level district governors are appointed by an agency called the Independent Directorate of Local Governance. For years, the agency's recruiting process has been less than transparent. But that's changed. Now governors win their positions by competing in a three-month evaluation process involving written and oral exams. And in true Afghan style, a change like this required a ceremony with speeches - lots of speeches.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: For nearly four hours, top public officials gathered in a gaudy function hall to decry corruption and praise the latest group of deputy and district governors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Afghanistan's second vice president, Karim Khalili, says he hopes these new officials will alleviate what he called the pain of corruption and bring good governance and positive change to the provinces. Then the new appointees took the oath of office.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: One of them, Sahera Shekeib, outscored two other candidates in her district in northern Afghanistan. She's now the first female district governor in the country. She joins the politically appointed head of Bamyan Province as the only female governors in Afghanistan. Shekeib says that Afghan women have suffered for the last three decades.

SAHERA SHEKEIB: (Through Translator) By seeking this position, I paved a way to heal the pain of our mothers and sisters and help the upcoming generation.

CARBERRY: Shekeib has been working in different government offices for several years. Under the new system, a bachelor's degree and at least three years of work experience are required to become a district governor.

RENAUD MEYER: So I think we have a validation of why they're there, and it certainly increases the legitimacy of their work.

CARBERRY: Renaud Meyer is deputy country director for the UN Development Program, which helped implement the new recruiting process in collaboration with the Afghan government.

MEYER: I think ultimately one has to rely on the genuine belief that what people want is good public service delivery. And I think it will be very difficult for those old, traditional systems to win over efficient and productive delivery of services.

CARBERRY: It remains to be seen whether the new provincial officials can bring greater efficiency. The program calls for monitoring and an annual review of their performance. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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