The government of Afghanistan can only ensure the survival of the state and bring about peace if it acts immediately to prevent corruption, limit political interference and nepotism, and bring the corrupt to justice, according to a new report from Transparency International and national partner Integrity Watch Afghanistan.
Providing the first-ever comprehensive assessment of Afghanistan’s capacity to fight corruption, National Integrity System Assessment: Afghanistan 2015 identifies the weaknesses that have undermined the effectiveness of billions of dollars of international funding and contributed to ongoing war in the country. It makes key recommendations to improve Afghanistan’s chances of establishing a viable government with trusted institutions.
“President Ghani has pledged to uproot corruption – this report gives him a road map for action,” said Srirak Plipat, Regional Director for Asia Pacific at Transparency International.
“Afghanistan urgently needs strong and independent institutions, free from political influence, with genuine capacity to prevent and prosecute corruption.”
Despite massive investment, Afghanistan’s public sector is struggling to provide even basic services to citizens, thanks to political interference in recruiting and removing staff and a failure to deter corruption and petty bribery, the report found.
“Afghanistan is a country at war, and if the government loses the trust of the people, it will have no chance of winning. Curbing corruption is no longer just a desirable objective; it is a strategic imperative,” said Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, a co-author of the report with Transparency International.
The government’s most urgent move must be to restore the public’s trust in the state’s ability to deliver justice. Less than half of victims who report incidents of violence or crime, report them to the police. The courts are also not seen as independent and those in power enjoy impunity.
With no independent oversight body, the judiciary is heavily influenced by politicians and elites. Even in the rare cases where the corrupt are convicted and sentenced, punishments are not always upheld in practice. The government’s recent attempt to sign a multi-million dollar real estate deal with a businessman currently imprisoned for his role in the Kabul Bank scandal is just one example of widespread abuse of power.
Members of parliament have physically assaulted police officers without any serious repercussions, and there are allegations of parliamentarians voting in support of ministers facing votes of no-confidence in return for money or favours.
Aggravating matters further, Afghanistan’s anti-corruption agency is not fulfilling its mandate to hold politicians and officials to account. Despite claiming to have registered the assets of 8,000 officials, the report found that as of 2012 only 66 had been published.
Nevertheless where the political will for reform exists, change is possible. The government’s newly-established National Procurement Agency, for example, marks an important step in ensuring public money is protected through external oversight. The next step will be to ensure the public is also able to oversee spending with open access to contract data.
Transparency International and Integrity Watch Afghanistan call on President Ghani to take further steps to curb corruption immediately:
- 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. Empower commission to make recommendations to parliament on any existing judges who do not meet required levels of integrity.
- Appoint an Attorney General with the highest levels of integrity and a track record of showing leadership against corruption.
- Pass a standalone whistleblower protection law that is in line with international standards and enforced in practice.
- Create a culture of transparency and access to information through proactive disclosure and open data, thorough archiving of public information, and timely responses to individual requests.
- Define clear criteria to professionalise and de-politicise the public sector and implement it to ensure efficient and impartial delivery of basic services to citizens.