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Plague of corruption

Masood SaifullahApril 26, 2014

Ranked as the world's third most corrupt country by TI, Afghanistan has been plagued by corruption for a decade and is considered by Afghans themselves to be the second largest ailment of the country after violence.

Symbolbild Afghanistan Korruption
Image: picture-alliance/Ton Koene

Ranked as the world's third most corrupt country by Transparency International (TI), Afghanistan has been plagued by corruption for a decade as international aid money poured into the impoverished country. Revenues from the illicit poppy cultivation and trafficking estimated in billions of dollars and poor governance areas said to be the factors contributing to the ever-increasing corruption. But how has the phenomenon affected the war-torn country and everyday life in Afghanistan? DW looks into six big ways corruption affects Afghanistan.

1. Corruption is no longer considered a taboo

Kabul University Professor Sayed Massud told DW in an interview, the biggest negative impact of widespread corruption in Afghanistan is the creation of an "ill social concept," according to which people think they should pay or receive bribes to speed up their work and justify a low government salary. Massud claimed corruption had not always been as rampant in Afghanistan as it is today.

King Mohammad Zahir's reign (1933 – 1973) is considered one of the least corrupt periods in Afghanistan's recent history. The communist governments that come to power after the fall of King Zahir were accused of human rights violations but were not believed to be mostly financially corrupt. The Mujahedeen who toppled the communist government reportedly looted public property and were believed to be corrupt. This led to the rise of the Taliban who were not involved in financial corruption on a large scale, because most public service offices were either closed or run by members of the group who ideologically considered taking bribes a sin.

Ghazni Gul, a 65-year old Kabul resident told DW, "I remember King Mohammad Zahir's time. There wasn't any corruption then […] but now people only accept dollars as bribes. They even don't take Afghani." Gul added that during King Zahir's rule, taking a bribe was a social embarrassment and strictly punishable. "But now everyone is corrupt, from the top to bottom."

2. Corruptions hinders delivery of public services

The judiciary system in Afghanistan is believed to be among the most corrupt Afghan government entities. It is believed that the delivery of unjust judicial services resulting from corruption has lead to an increase in insurgency and increasing gap between the public and the government.

Dollars being counted
US dollars are the preferred currency for bribesImage: AFP/Getty Images

"One of my family members was involved in a small fight with someone. The people in the justice department asked me for money. I refused to pay because I did not have any. They sentenced my family member to one year in jail. If I had paid the bribe or knew someone in the government, he would be out," Gul recounted.

A 2013 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Afghan government's High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption indicates that in 2012 half of Afghan citizens paid a bribe while requesting a public service and the total cost of bribes paid to public officials amounted to 3.9 billion dollars. The report reveals that police, local government, judiciary, education, healthcare and customs sectors are the most corrupt in Afghanistan.

3. Corruption leads to waste of large sums of foreign aid

Regional outreach manager for Transparency International's Asia Department Rukshana Nanaykkara told DW that international aid money paved the way for corruption in Afghanistan. "If one throws money into a situation that it cannot control, indeed the expected results would not be met and will pave the way for corruption."

After the US overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, some 790 billion dollars poured into Afghanistan's then devastated economy. Many international funding organizations and donor countries did not risk sending their personnel to rural areas where reconstruction projects were being implemented. These organizations handed over their projects to sub-contractors, which in many cases, completed the projects with a bad quality.

Mohammad Dawod Naimi of Afghan Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ministry puts some of the blame for the widespread corruption in Afghanistan on international funding organizations. "When a foreign donor organization hands over an incomplete project to a sub-contractor and when the later hands it over to another sub-contractor, this process increases the chances of corruption. In such projects there is corruption both from the Afghan and foreign sides."

4. Political corruption has resulted in bad governance

Professor Sayed Massud of Kabul University said corruption and nepotism had increased the gap between the public and the government of Afghanistan, which he said also fueled the insurgency responsible for insecurity across the country. Rukshana Nanaykkara agreed, adding, "If the next government that people select and trust continues to fail in their efforts in fighting corruption and if corruption continues to grow, people may tend to trust militant groups who promise to fight corruption."

5. Corruption tarnishes Afghanistan's international reputation

The Afghan government was criticized by the international community for not doing enough to root out corruption. In 2012, international donors pledged to give Afghanistan 16 billion USD in development aid through 2015, providing that the Afghan government fights the rampant corruption. President Hamid Karzai has established different entities to fight corruption and has himself admitted many times that his government needs to do more to tackle the problem, but his critics say the current government lacks the political will to do so.

Allegations of corruption in the Afghan government has raised concerns among Afghans about being left alone - not only militarily, but also politically - after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. However, Afghanistan should remain in focus, Rukshana Nanaykkara stressed. "The mere existence of corruption is not an excuse for international donors to get away from the country, but rather, looking for new avenues in tackling corruption in development projects should be their focus."

Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul
Abdullah Abdullah is seen as a likely candidate to replace KarzaiImage: picture alliance/landov

6. Corruption raises fears that the economy will be monopolized

Professor Massud said corruption had had massive negative impacts on Afghan and foreign investors willing to invest in the country. He said rampant corruption along with a lack of a legal framework to ensure the safety of investments meant that Afghan investors had transferred their assets outside the country. He added that foreign investors would not take the risk of investing in the country for the same reasons.

"As a result of this situation, a mafia-like group has emerged which controls the market and prices in Afghanistan […] they have intentionally kept Afghanistan as a consuming market, not a productive one, so that they can earn more."

Corruption remains one of the biggest challenges facing Afghanistan's next government. Several surveys conducted in the country indicate that Afghans consider the phenomenon to be the second biggest challenge after security.