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The long view for Afghanistan: Toppling corruption takes time, effort and targeted investment

Fighting corruption in a warzone is not easy. This is especially true in a place like Afghanistan. Evidence suggests that corruption pervades many of Afghanistan’s key sectors and institutions. In 2012 an Asia Foundation public opinion survey of the Afghani people cited corruption as being ranked as the second biggest problem at a national level after insecurity, while Transparency International ranked Afghanistan at 172 out of 175 countries in the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.

A radical regime change or post-conflict context can create a momentum for reform. In the case of Afghanistan, now is the time to turn this momentum into successful anti-corruption campaigns. However, building institutions necessary to seriously tackle corruption in a country like Afghanistan requires a lengthy amount of time.

One crucial element leading to effective anti-corruption initiatives is the setting of benchmarks by the international community. The upcoming donors meeting about Afghanistan, scheduled to take place in September, will provide an important opportunity to address this issue. This Senior Officials Meeting will consist of renegotiating the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework in defining joint objectives for the next decade, particularly those concerning the conditions and priorities of aid. We believe that the next agreement with donors could turn into a long-term commitment to anti-corruption if they remain fully committed to investing in strengthening the country’s anti-corruption infrastructure. The previous agreement failed because the institutional reforms weren’t suited to the Afghan context. This time, donors’ expectations and reforms must be designed to fit the national context in order to prevent the diversion of international aid money into the hands of corrupted individuals.

Experience shows that the best way to nurture and grow the necessary expertise and competencies is to establish an anti-corruption commission designed in line with the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the Jakarta principles, and planned in cooperation with the civil society (see below).

An Anti-Corruption Commission that works

The Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) was established in 2003 following several years of planning and cooperation among reformers in the Indonesian government and civil society. It was given considerable investigative powers from its inception, and reached a 100 per cent conviction rate against top officials in all major branches of the Indonesian government in just five years. As a result, the KPK has become one of the most highly regarded government institutions in Indonesia.

If major anti-corruption initiatives are to be firmly anchored in Afghanistan, there needs to be a distinct national government agency dedicated to curbing corruption. Therefore, Transparency International invites the Afghanistan government to establish an independent anti-corruption agency (ACA) with strong preventive, investigative and prosecutorial functions. Moreover, this agency should develop mechanisms of cooperation with existing organisations involved in anti-corruption activities in order to ensure a holistic approach to its endeavours.

The new government, which ran on a corruption-fighting platform, has shown some early muscle in its efforts to topple the abuse of power, bribery and secret dealings. The General Directorate of National Procurement, a new public body, is mandated to ensure transparency and accountability in the purchase of goods and services for the public sector. So far it has saved the country US$100 million, de-barred five fraudulent companies and started investigations into more than 25 cases. However, the Attorney General has neither the resources, capacity, nor mandate to carry out critical functions such as taking proactive preventative measures and conducting public awareness campaigns to reverse the corruption culture in the country.

Creating an independent ACA will have the potential to promote more effective coordination of domestic anti-corruption activities by concentrating powers in a single agency and to bring specialisation, independence and autonomy to the fight against corruption.

The Afghani government’s commitments to reform and renewed partnership were well represented in its self-reliance document, disseminated ahead of the last London Conference on Afghanistan in 2014. It now needs to be implemented.

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