The Kabul Times
The Arab News
Say No To Corruption
فساد ته نه ووایه
भ्रष्टाचार को ना कहें
بد عنُوانی کو مُسترد کرو
“Corruption is something that enters into us. It is like sugar: it is sweet, we like it, it’s easy, but then, it ends badly. With so much easy sugar we end up diabetic, and so does our country. Every time we accept a bribe and put it in our pocket, we destroy our heart, we destroy our personality and we destroy our homeland. … What you steal through corruption remains … in the heart of the many men and women who have been harmed by your example of corruption. It remains in the lack of the good you should have done and did not do. It remains in sick and hungry children, because the money that was for them, through your corruption, you kept for yourself.”
Bribery and Corruption in Afghanistan
Over the past three years, Afghanistan has undergone an important period of transition, with the election of a new government in 2014 and the withdrawal of international forces the same year. Since then, levels of insecurity in the country have seen a marked rise and the number of internally displaced people in the country has doubled. Levels of optimism about the overall direction of the country and confidence in government in 2015 fell to their lowest levels in a decade.
Corruption in Afghanistan is endemic and has penetrated all parts of the Afghan state, adversely affecting the ability of Afghanistan to maintain security for its citizens and deliver basic public services. Corruption is also increasingly embedded in social practices, with patronage politics and bribery becoming an acceptable part of daily life.
“This world is very good as if we do good deeds then we will get its fruits. World is bitter for those who are live their life with corruption or sins.”
Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the country in 150th place out of 180 countries. The 180 countries of the Index are scored on a scale of 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 100 (‘very clean”) according to the perceived corruption in the public sector, and then ranked by their score.
Afghanistan’s 2022 ranking was based on a score of 24. For comparison, the best score was 90 (ranked 1), the worst score was 12 (ranked 180), and the average score was 43. In Afghanistan today, corruption most often takes the form of demanding and offering bribes, both in the private and public sectors and on large and small scales. There are also many other major forms of corruption, including nepotism, graft, and illegal land transfers. The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has estimated that over half of the nation’s annual customs revenue is lost to graft.
Attitudes toward corruption
On the one hand, Afghans criticize corruption; on the other hand, they increasingly accept patronage and bribery as inevitable and even legitimate parts of daily life. A UN study found that in 2012, 68% of Afghans found it acceptable for civil servants to bolster their salary by charging bribes to service users. This represented an increase from 42% in 2009. Also, 67% found it acceptable for at least some civil servants to be hired because of family ties and friendship networks. (This rose from 42% in 2009.)
The Asia Foundation’s 2011 survey “shows that while Afghans associate democracy with general freedom, they do not associate it with less corruption, more rights, laws, and more inclusive government.” On the contrary, they feel that democracy and the free market result in chaos and higher risk for ordinary Afghans while the already-powerful are provided with additional opportunities. The feeling of injustice that results from widespread corruption reportedly strengthens support for terrorists.
Forms of corruption
Afghans have identified over 70 types of corruption that affect them personally, “ranging from public administration and elected bodies to private sector, international aid, and the Taliban.” Afghans identify corruption mostly with government institutions but have experienced it in many sectors.
Bribes must be paid in Afghanistan to secure most public services. A UN study shows that the completion of public services is reliant almost solely on bribes paid and has resulted in a severe hampering of economic growth. Petty bribery has been the leading cause of distress among the average citizens of Afghanistan, although it is generally only the high-level corruption cases that are reported in major media.
Prosecutors, teachers, judges, and customs officials are the most likely public employees to receive bribes. The average bribe to prosecutors and judges is over US$300. Bribes to other officials are somewhat lower. In 85% of cases, bribes are directly or indirectly requested by public officials; in 13% of cases, they are offered spontaneously by citizens. Some officials request bribes through intermediaries. According to the U.N., 50 percent of Afghans paid bribes in 2012; in some parts of the country, the figure was as high as 70 percent. Half of Afghans had bribed teachers, with similar numbers paying bribes to customs officials, judges, and prosecutors. A somewhat smaller number had bribed land registry officials and provincial officers. The bribing of judges declined significantly between 2009 and 2012. The percentage of persons paying bribes to teachers climbed from 16% in 2009 to 51% in 2012. Doctors, nurses, and paramedics account for 15 to 20% of bribes.
In 2013, 43% of Afghans viewed civil servants and bureaucrats as corrupt, while 58% said they paid a bribe to Registry and Permit Services, 44% to Tax Revenue and 40% to Land Services. In 2012, half of Afghans bribed customs officials. The bribing of customs and tax and revenue officers rose between 2009 and 2012. In 52% of Afghan households, at least one member has applied for a public sector job, and 45% paid bribes to help secure the jobs.
The chief form of corruption in the education sector involves so-called “ghost teachers“ and double-registered teachers. Anything involving paperwork in the educational system requires small bribes.
A SIGAR report stated that senior officials at the Ministry of Education had intentionally falsified data on the number of schools and teachers in the nation in order to over-bill international aid providers. As a result, millions of US taxpayer dollars have been used to pay for nonexistent schools and teachers, and enriching the dishonest education officials in Afghanistan.
“When it comes to racism, discrimination, corruption, public lies, dictatorships, and human rights, you have to take a stand as a reporter because I think our responsibility as journalist is to confront those who are abusing power.”
A February 2012 article in Gulf Today explored the fact that in many Afghan schools there are many no-show teachers, teachers who know nothing about their subjects, and teachers who cannot even read or write. Only 20% of funds budgeted for teachers’ salaries in one province went to actual teachers; the rest went to local security or education officials who receive the “ghost teacher’s” salary in their place.
Graft in customs system
A December 2014 report focused on graft within the customs system. Although many experts identified such graft as a primary cause of the government’s shortfall of revenue goals the previous year, it was noted that little had been done thus far to address the problem. Customs agents were identified as the most glaring offenders, with the report noting that they in most circumstances appointed by ministers with the express understanding that financial kickbacks are to be given for the position.
The Washington Post reported in December 2012 that the US had provided the Afghan government with bulk currency counters at airports to help prevent cash smuggling. In response, the Afghan government provided a way for VIPs to bypass the machines.
Nepotism and patronage
Outside observers have noted that the Afghan people view what Westerners consider “favoritism” or “nepotism” as the right thing to do, since they believe themselves to be taking care of their extended family. “You take care of your own. Period. It just happens that when you do that with public funds and positions, people tend to get a little persnickety about it. While admitting that they would do the exact same thing.”
The Asia Foundation describes the central route of growing corruption in Afghanistan as the strength of patronage politics in the country. While patronage is a centuries-long Afghan tradition, it is now an integral part of the society, and its entanglement with criminal activities is a growing concern. Because of patronage, people without connections have great difficulty rising within the Afghan government. While corrupt officials enjoy impunity, honest officials are often denied access to powerful positions.
According to surveys by both Transparency International and the U.N., Afghans consider the judiciary their society’s most corrupt segment. Judicial corruption is said to be an endemic problem in the country that affects every level of the legal system. “From granting judicial access and selecting the deposition of cases to extorting money from defendants for favorable decisions, corrupt justices are able to line their pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.” Judges are subject to the influence of warlords, terrorists, and others; most judges are appointed as the result of “under-the-table deals,” and are largely unqualified by all legal standards. Interviews carried out in 2013 with people who had lost lawsuits indicated that the winning party had bribed the court. Judges and prosecutors are believed to accept bribes to bar a case from going to court, making evidence and witnesses vanish from court evidence. There is no oversight of courts by other government branches and no transparency in Supreme Court decisions.
In December 2012, a senior judge named Zahoruddin was convicted of seeking to extort bribes from Dewa, a 22-year-old freelance journalist, who had filed for divorce. After she had refused to bribe him, he offered to marry her in exchange for granting the divorce. Dewa secretly recorded the entire conversation, and sent the tape to the Supreme Court. After a case was brought against Zahoruddin, she received a death threat from him. His conviction was described by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a rare victory in the struggle against corruption in Afghanistan.
In 2014, a leading opium trafficker, Haji Lal Jan Ishaqzai, was arrested in Afghanistan by the Counter Narcotics Police, but he soon was freed in exchange for bribes. It was almost a week until the Afghan counter narcotics authorities in Kabul was informed that Ishaqzai was freed, reported The New York Times. He fled to Pakistan where he was beyond the scope of Afghan or American law enforcement. Several judicial officials were arrested, and some sources said that the Supreme Court was directly involved in letting Ishaqzai go, but it was unclear who exactly was responsible for his release.
Corruption at traffic stops
Corruption in Afghanistan’s traffic department, according to a February 2013 article in The Washington Post, is among the worst of the nation’s fledgling bureaucracies. Vehicle registration requires 27 separate signatures. A new driver’s license calls for “about a dozen stamps from ministries, agencies and banks.” These requirements have led to the formation of a black market that involves the bribing of public officials in order to expedite traffic documents. “It’s corruption in $30 or $40 bites—far from the millions allegedly stolen here every year,” stated the Post. However, these bribes have warped the perception Afghans hold on their nation’s institutions. The Post quoted an official who earns $10,000 annually on such corruption, who stated that the corrupt system is disadvantageous for everyone, including many of those involved in the scheme. The department’s red tape has earned it the reputation as the most exploitive one in the government, stated the Post.
Illegal land transfers
One form of corruption that has come to the fore since 2001 is the confiscation of land. In 2003, slum dwellings in the Sherpoor neighborhood of Kabul were destroyed and replaced by residences for cabinet members. Similar actions have followed. Land has been illegally distributed by the executive to political elites in order to win their allegiance. More than 80% of new land in Kabul was distributed under the auspices of Afghan elites and high officials. Ex-warlords have made money illicitly in a range of fields and then laundered it by purchasing real estate.
Corruption is common in the physical infrastructure sector, and involves criminal patronage networks. The construction business involves hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bribes that benefit a massive network.
The Afghan National Police (ANP) are considered notoriously corrupt. The Ministry of the Interior has been criticized for “failing to properly account for billions of dollars allocated for police salaries via a U.N.-administered trust fund.” Corruption robs police officers of up to half of their salaries, which makes them more likely to solicit bribes. A 2012 Asia Foundation survey found that over half of Afghans who had dealt with an ANP officer during the previous year had been forced to pay a bribe.
Beginning in 2009, policemen in parts of Afghanistan began to be paid through their cell phones, which prevented their superiors from skimming off part of their wages. According to MIT Technology Review, the bribes had been so immense that on their first pay period on the phone system, the police officers believed they had received a pay raise, when in fact they were simply receiving their full pay without any administrative bribes or extortion taking place.
Reuters reported in August 2011 that “an expanding dossier of unresolved police violence and corruption cases … have alienated Afghans,” and that this called into question the feasibility of rebuilding the civic institutions of the war-torn nation.
Fox News reported in October 2014 that Afghan officials may have systematically stolen $300 million from a UNDP trust fund used to pay police officers in Afghanistan and that European Union donors had withheld about $100 million in contributions to the fund owing to concerns about the fund’s management. The UNDP itself stated that it was not the agency’s responsibility to address this corruption. Some police officers, according to a 2015 report, have informed the Taliban of impending operations, presumably in exchange for bribes.
“Corruption is the enemy of development, and of good governance. It must be got rid of. Both the government and the people at large must come together to achieve this national objective.”
The Afghan National Army is considered more professional than the ANP but also experiences a significant misallocation of resources and immense levels of bribery solicitation. In a 2013 Transparency International survey, one-fifth of Afghans said they considered the military corrupt.
The New York Times reported in March 2012 that Afghan defense officials were impeding a probe into whether Afghan Air Force members were trafficking in opium and weapons and that an Afghan officer who had killed eight members of the US military in 2011 may have been involved in trafficking. For example, investigators were only given limited access to military personnel with any evidence to report, and were denied access to areas of the airport where smuggling was still suspected to be underway.
As a result of corruption, according to a 2014 report, the Department of Defense had lost account of over 200,000 weapons allotted to the ANSF and ANP. Those weapons, as well as ammunition, had reportedly been sold by police and security officers to the Taliban.
In early 2015, the oversight committee for Ministry of Defense contracts uncovered a kickback scheme involving payment by the ministry of over $200 million to fuel contractors. After an investigation, the contracts were cancelled and senior ministry officials fired.
Can the Taliban Tackle Corruption in Afghanistan?
For more than a decade, Afghanistan was continuously ranked among the 10 most corrupt governments. But this year, the country has left its disreputable position, and the Taliban claim credit for it.
Transparency International, a Berlin-based nongovernment corruption watchdog, released its latest annual corruption perception index, ranking Denmark as the least corrupt state in the world and Somalia 180th as the most corrupt.
Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is ranked 150th, a remarkable status upgrade from its 174th ranking in 2021. In 2011, at the height of U.S. military and developmental engagement in Afghanistan, the country was ranked 180th, next to North Korea and Somalia.
The improved ranking is surprising for a regime that has been widely condemned as deeply authoritarian and misogynistic because of its mistreatment of women and the press. But it does not give full credit to the Taliban for tackling Afghanistan’s chronic corruption ills.
Tackling corruption has provided financial lifelines for an isolated Taliban regime that faces crippling international economic and banking sanctions.
The World Bank released an upbeat assessment of the Taliban-run Afghan economy, saying exports were high, currency exchange was stable and revenue collection was strong in the first three quarters of 2022.
For two decades, the Taliban fought the former U.S.-backed Afghan government, calling it inherently corrupt and inefficient.
The United States spent $146 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, including the country’s anti-corruption agencies, before the Taliban returned to power, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. government entity that has investigated, reported and prosecuted numerous corruption cases involving Afghan and American contractors.
Endemic corruption diminished public support for the former Afghan government, weakened its position in peace talks with the Taliban and culminated in its ignominious fall in August 2021.
Western donors have stopped development assistance to Afghanistan but have continued giving humanitarian aid to needy Afghans while bypassing Taliban institutions.
While corruption still permeates different layers of the public sector in Afghanistan and most citizens resort to bribery to receive basic services such as getting a passport, senior Taliban leaders show a will in tackling corruption. The Taliban have called bribery in the public sector a criminal act, but other forms of corruption such as diversion of public funds, nepotistic appointments in public positions, access to information on government activities and the abuse of official powers remain prevalent across the country.