Corruption in Afghanistan: What needs to change

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 corruptionNational 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.

Afghanistan urgently needs strong and independent institutions, free from political influence, with genuine capacity to prevent and prosecute corruption.” Srirak Plipat, Regional Director for Asia Pacific, Transparency International.

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.

“There is nothing more likely to cause a government to lose the support of the people than for those people to be subject, year after year, to ineffective and corrupt institutions. Afghanistan is a country at war, and if the government loses the trust of the people, it will have no chance of winning.” Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan

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

“The time has passed when the mere “ticking of boxes” will suffice. Afghanistan is approaching the end game; time is something which the government, and the country, no longer have.” Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan

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:

National Integrity System Assessment: Afghanistan 2015 was produced with support from United Nations Development Programme,
read full findings and recommendations here.

For any press enquiries please contact press@transparency.org

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