Corruption in Afghanistan: the status quo is not an option

By Maria Gili, International Defence and Security Programme, Transparency International UK

Osama Bin Laden’s death has brought the importance of stability and success in Afghanistan into the spotlight. It is absolutely critical for regional and global security that a stable and safe Afghanistan emerges from this new transition process, with a government that delivers basic services, and which represents the legitimate political aspirations of the Afghan people. International organizations have been witnessing and helping shape the transition to Afghan Leadership since 2009, when President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Transparency International UK, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung believe success in Afghanistan is possible.

On Friday, 13 May, TI UK launched the report Afghanistan in Transition: Re-Shaping Priorities for 2015 and Beyond , putting forward 28 detailed recommendations resulting from a round of seminars with over sixty experts from the Governments of Afghanistan, the UK, Germany, NATO, the UN and other experts on governance and development. (for more info on the event, please contact press”at”transparency.org).

The seminars recognised that corruption is not in the culture of the Afghan people. Yet, ordinary Afghans are now paying bribes at twice the level of two years ago, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The current level of $158 per bribe is equivalent to 37% of the average annual Afghan income. In poll after poll, Afghans don’t rank the Taliban, terrorism or the economy as their highest worry. Corruption is their top concern and tackling it, their main need.

The public anger against corruption and the damage that it is doing to Afghan society needs to be harnessed and channelled into a force for change. Afghan citizens are well aware of many of the current injustices and would be ready to participate in efforts to promote change.

The status quo is not an option here. Both Afghanistan and the international community need to develop a stronger and more systematic approach to tackling corruption. Change will not require generations. Previous experience shows that significant progress in countering corruption is possible within a relatively modest timeframe of 5-10 years. NATO and the TI Defence and Security Programme’s initiative to train the Afghan Police and Army in counter corruption work is a good example of this, but further developments and resources are needed.

Measures to tackle corruption in Afghanistan should include the production of an annual assessment on total funds flowing into Afghanistan from nations investing in the country. Other suggestions from the report are increasing the country’s efforts to seize the assets of individuals found to be corrupt, and implementing declarations of personal assets by senior government officials.

The international community plays a key role in Afghanistan’s transition process. They must change the way they handle their financial flows, by directing more effort into contracting with Afghan companies.

The concerns raised by TI, RUSI, and KAS are clear and, overall, urgent. If the measures to curtail corruption, build integrity and reform Afghanistan are not scaled up immediately and dramatically, the current decline will continue spiralling to a point of no return.


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7 Responses to Corruption in Afghanistan: the status quo is not an option

  1. Rachel Davies
    Rachel 11 May 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    It’s encouraging that many of the Afghan people want to see change in relation to the current culture around paying bribes. With help from the international community, hopefully a significant reduction in corruption will be realised within the next 10 years.

  2. Doug Hadden 11 May 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    The video provides a compelling narrative, yet with limitations. The focus on military and police excludes other government organizations. One could be mislead into thinking that there has been very little success in anti-corruption to date in Afghanistan except for police.

    The Afghanistan Ministry of Finance has made great strides to reducing corruption substantially in public financial management. This has been accomplished through automated and auditable systems and, as the documentary piece pointed out, significant capacity building. I believe that this is a significant achievement that fails to get too much attention because of the overarching narrative that all government institutions are corrupt.

    It is true that my firm has supplied the software to the Ministry of Finance. (And I don’t want to turn this into a commercial because the system is only a tool – it needs to be used correctly in order to improve public financial management.) At any rate, the evidence suggests that public finances have improved to be better than peer countries.

    Case study at: http://www.freebalance.com/news/2011/Afghanistan-Improves-Governance-Through-Public-Financial-Management-Reform.asp

    World Bank comparisons at:
    http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPREMNET/Resources/EP54.pdf

    IMF Study on capacity building and public financial management:
    http://blog-pfm.imf.org/pfmblog/2010/07/implementing-a-financial-management-information-system-in-a-fragile-state-context-afghanistans-succe.html

    How public financial management reduces corruption:
    http://www.freebalance.com/blog/?p=1609

    A rant on the corruption narrative in Afghanistan: http://www.freebalance.com/blog/?p=1561

  3. James Elrick 12 May 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    I would like to bring to your attention the encouraging developments that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has achieved at reforming and modernizing its Public Financial Management (PFM) system.

    FreeBalance, a Canadian company, is in a unique position to report on these developments as the company has been working with the Government of Afghanistan since 2002. The Afghanistan Financial Management Information System (AFMIS) is based on the FreeBalance Accountability Suite.

    A case study (http://www.freebalance.com/news/2011/Afghanistan-Improves-Governance-Through-Public-Financial-Management-Reform.asp) that details the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s success at improving governance through PFM reform was recently released by FreeBalance.

    The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan PFM Case Study covers the sequence of PFM reform from 2002 to the present day. The case study illustrates how the Government of Afghanistan has built capacity and effectively decentralized budget execution.

    2010 saw the AFMIS Rollout Team in the province of Nuristan print its first cheque. With this achievement, the rollout of the AFMIS across the provinces of Afghanistan was completed as Nuristan was the last province to be connected to the AFMIS network.

    In the April 2011 World Bank Economic Premise note titled “Strengthening Public Financial Management in Postconflict Countries,” (http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPREMNET/Resources/EP54.pdf) the Government of Afghanistan was given a rating of “substantial” — the highest rating — for PFM rebuilding and reform progress.

    As of today, all 34 Afghanistan provinces and all line Ministries at the centre have system-based budget controls, and can execute system-based payments with a very high degree of fiduciary control. More than 99% of the government’s budget execution is captured in the AFMIS on a real-time basis. Using the AFMIS, the Government of Afghanistan improves governance, accountability, and transparency.

    More information available at:

    http://www.freebalance.com
    http://www.freebalance.com/blog/

  4. Doug Hadden 12 May 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    The point: “measures to tackle corruption in Afghanistan should include the production of an annual assessment on total funds flowing into Afghanistan from nations investing in the country” is of critical importance. The majority of funds spent in Afghanistan come from international donors. And, most of it is off-budget – not on the government books. Some of these funds are provided directly to government entities outside of the budget process. Most of of it is expended directly by donors or through 3rd parties such as NGOs.

    This reduces the ability for donors and the government to coordinate action. This reduces aid effectiveness – that can be as big a problem as corruption in some countries.

    But, the real problem is that off-budget money is very hard to trace. On-budget is much easier to trace, control and audit. Cash payments can be avoided.

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