Corruption in Afghanistan
Corruption constitutes a serious threat to Afghanistan’s nation-building and development agenda. Over the years, it has increased dramatically and has emerged as one the biggest challenges facing the country’s reconstruction efforts and strengthening national and sub-national governance. It is a fact that corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development thereby undermining the Government’s ability to provide basic services, promotes inequality and injustice, and discourages foreign investment and aid. Lack of an efficient and transparent public service delivery mechanism at the grass-root level, where people experience their government, has alienated the poor in the villages and cities from the development process. The poor have started questioning the whole paradigm of development while the anti-government groups have started exploiting the disenchantment among the common people
Further, the growing menace of corruption is undermining the authority and accountability of government, lessening public trust in the state institutions, and eroding the security and human rights of citizens. Corruption adversely affects the amount of state income from customs and tax revenues and results in fewer resources available for basic services and infrastructural developments vital for sustained economic growth, poverty reduction and social development. Most crucially, corruption constrains private sector investment, increases transaction costs, exposes entrepreneurs to threats of extortion and erodes business confidence via the unpredictability of licensing, property ownership, intellectual and other property rights/contracts.
Corruption is generally considered to be a symptom and outcome of weak governance, in the case of Afghanistan reflecting in large part the legacy of a quarter-century of conflict and erosion of state institutions, irregular financing of the conflict from various sources, worsening tensions among ethnic and tribal groups, and the growth of informal/illicit economic activities. Hence corruption has been intimately linked with the development (and destruction) of the state. Since 2001 the burgeoning drug economy and large inflows of aid have greatly increased opportunities for corruption, including, to some extent, through the revival of the economy.
Much of the corruption takes the form of petty corruption, with clerks demanding small bribes to stamp forms or police officers at checkpoints requiring truck drivers to pay to enter cities. But some is more audacious, such as municipal authorities selling government land for luxury housing projects or security officials colluding with the drug traffickers they are supposed to be catching.
Moreover, lengthy and complicated procedures, unnecessary delays, getting unnecessary signatures in applications, papers or document and recording unnecessary letters are issues that remain in public service delivery. This process has become so difficult, intolerable, time consuming and expensive and it often causes people to give up. All these processes involve and facilitate petty corruption.
Grant Corruption however, often involves big procurement/projects involving valuable and large bribes often by high ranking officials. In Afghanistan construction projects indicates one example of this type of corruption. Procurement is often deeply corrupted. Competitive bidding, once the norm in 90 percent of procurement contracts, is used in less than half. The other half are declared “emergencies” and are let without competition through an organization. In the words of one official, “Many of these people decide which firms will get the contract and then both manage the project and are responsible for auditing it.” Even when procurement is competitive, abuses spread. Contract specifications are tailored to enhance the chances of favored suppliers. Cost overruns are approved in exchange for bribes. This kind of corruption has been largely reported in and by the international organizations projects. Unfortunately, all these processes are done outside the government’s oversight and coordination and there has been no accountability.
The causes of corruption in Afghanistan are deep rooted, structural and have internal and external factors. From internal factors, it is attributed to a series of factors such as: weak institutional capacity of public administration at the centre and provinces, weak legislative and regulatory framework as well as weak enforcement of the laws and regulations; poor and/or non-merit based recruitment of public officials; low salaries and insufficient numbers of law enforcement officials; the lack of complaint mechanisms and systems for public scrutiny; and illegal profits through the opium trade and cross border smuggling.
External factors are largely attributed to unprecedented large inflows of international assistance, with much pressure to spend resources quickly. In addition to development and humanitarian aid, this includes large inflows and contracts related to international military forces and their activities, as well as international and domestic security firms and aid to Afghan security forces. According to a recent report, the total assistance pledged to Afghanistan since 2001 has been 55 billion dollars while the actual spent is 38.9 billion. Of the 38.9 billion only 5.7 billion is has been spent by the regular and development budgets of the government. The rest is spent directly by donors.
Sources of corruption are somewhat specific to Afghanistan. Even those that are similar to what is found in other countries, for example corruption in the management of underground resources which by law belong to the State, have slightly different symptoms. Indeed, the fact that some significant resources (e.g. copper, iron) have not yet been exploited on a substantial scale means that corruption is likely to be more in relation to initial contracting / leasing and outright appropriation of resources by corrupt actors inside and outside the Government, rather than in relation to diversion of royalty payments due to the state, etc.
A striking feature of Afghanistan is the enormous importance of the drug economy (accounting for close to one-third of GDP); drug-related corruption appears to be a dominant source of corruption in the country, and drug-financed corruption appears to be undermining the state and political system (through so-called “grand corruption” and “state capture”).
Reducing corruption is a prerequisite for ensuring long-term sustainable development and stability in the country. It has become clear to policy makers that for Afghanistan to emerge as a strong and democratic state, the Government has to take concrete steps to eradicate the growing corruption in public administration as a priority. Accordingly, both the government and the citizens of Afghanistan have decided to place the fight against corruption as one of the top priorities for the country’s economic recovery.
Since the Bonn Conference in 2001, the Afghan government, with support from the international donor community, has put in place a number of agencies and commissions, both in the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to address the different challenges that undermine integrity in Afghan society.
The most significant of these has been the establishment of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption by Presidential decree. The creation of this office came out of recommendations of the report of a high powered Inter-Institutional Committee on Corruption, known as the Azimi Committee. The President by decree in August 2006 established this high powered Committee headed by Chief Justice Azimi and comprised of senior Government functionaries. The mandate of the Committee was to analyze the root causes of corruption in Afghanistan and to provide recommendations for short and medium term measures to address administrative corruption. The Committee completed its work in March 2008 and submitted its report to the Cabinet. The report was developed following extensive consultations with relevant government stakeholders and provides an overview of the causes of corruption and how they can be addressed. The report recommended that a body should be established in order to oversee the further development, operationalization and implementation of its recommendations. Acting on this recommendation, the HOOAC has been established.
H.E. President Karzai in July 2008, issued a Decree establishing a High Office for Oversight (HOOAC) for the Implementation of Anti-Corruption Strategy. This law has been enacted in the light of the provisions of Article (7), item (3) of Article (75) and Article (142) of the Afghanistan Constitution and in accordance with the United Nations Convention against Corruption in order to oversee and coordinate the implementation of the Anti- Corruption Strategy.
It is to be noted that the establishment of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption (HOOAC) has also fulfilled to a large extent Government’s commitment to set up an independent body as per Article 6 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) to oversee and coordinate implementation of anti corruption policies of the Government.
The establishment of the HOOAC signifies to some extent a shift in focus of the Government from curbing existing corruption towards deterring and ultimately preventing corruption with a sound governance framework. Pursuing individual corruption cases can help in sending a signal of the Government’s commitment to fight corruption (as long as there is no perceived political, ethnic, or other systematic bias). However, for sustained progress over the medium term, proper functioning of institutions and systems is essential. Accordingly, one of the foremost objectives of the new office is to develop infrastructure for preventive efforts to ensure that government institutions, systems, and processes are working well enough to minimize vulnerabilities to corruption.