Corruption in Afghanistan: What needs to change
In November 2015 Afghanistan government officials announced a massive real estate deal with a well-known businessperson. Involving 8,800 homes in central Kabul, the agreement had an initial investment of at least US$95 million.
The problem: the person in question was Khalilullah Frozi – who's currently imprisoned for his role in the Kabul Bank scandal. Frozi – who reportedly only serves his sentence at night – said the deal would help him pay back the US$137 million he owes the government as part of his sentence.
While the agreement was ultimately dropped in the face of criticism, it’s an indication of the corruption that continues to plague Afghanistan.
So what can be done to tackle the problem? Transparency International and national partner Integrity Watch Afghanistan have carried out the first-ever comprehensive assessment of Afghanistan’s capacity to fight corruption, covering all key institutions and laws.
President Ghani has made big promises to crack down on corruption. National Integrity System Assessment: Afghanistan 2015 highlights the issues that need to be tackled urgently. Here are three of them.
1. A dysfunctional police and judiciary is allowing impunity for the corrupt
Less than half of victims who report incidents of violence or crime in Afghanistan do so to the police, and citizens rated the judiciary as the most corrupt institution in the country. The government urgently needs to restore the public’s trust in the state’s ability to deliver justice.
Judicial decisions frequently appear biased in favour of government and parliament and there are allegations of government officials, politicians and other powerful figures blocking police investigations involving their associates.
The overall result: a dysfunctional justice system in which corruption largely goes unpunished, and those with power enjoy impunity.
2. The state is failing to deliver basic services to citizens. Corruption is largely to blame.
Despite massive investment, Afghanistan’s public sector is struggling to provide even basic services to citizens.
This is partly caused by a highly centralised system of administration, whereby the allocation of state resources is decided through a lengthy bureaucratic procedure with frequent delays.
But it is also the result of a systematic failure to ensure staff are recruited on merit and skills, rather than their connections, and widespread corruption. In 2012, half of Afghan citizens paid a bribe while requesting a public service. The total cost of bribes paid to public officials amounted to US$ 3.9 billion.
As the government struggles to retain legitimacy in the face of insurgency, this failure is destroying public trust in the state.
3. There’s a lack of integrity among many elected officials
Numerous members of parliament run large private businesses, most of them in the name of their relatives, while the sources which provide for the luxurious lifestyles of certain members of parliament have been brought into question.
There’s little done to hold them to account. The anti-corruption commission claims to have registered the assets of 8,000 officials, yet the report found that as of 2012 only 66 had been published.
Abuses of power are widespread. Members of parliament have physically assaulted police officers without any serious repercussions, and there are allegations that some have voted in support of ministers facing no-confidence votes in return for cash or favours.
Stopping corruption will take time, but action is needed urgently
Afghanistan faces numerous daunting governance challenges which need to be addressed if long term stability in the country is to be achieved.
But alongside larger-scale changes, immediate steps can and must be taken to curb the devastation caused by corruption.
We’re calling on the government to take decisive action, including:
- Establish a new independent body to lead and coordinate the fight against corruption, and ensure it is well-resourced and its activities are truly free from political interference.
- Establish an independent judicial service commission to select, appoint and train new judges and judicial staff. The commission should be empowered to make recommendations to parliament on any existing judges who do not meet required levels of integrity.
- Appoint with the highest levels of integrity to key posts, including the Attorney General, who should have a track record of showing leadership against corruption.
National Integrity System Assessment: Afghanistan 2015 was produced with support from United Nations Development Programme,
read full findings and recommendations here.