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How the Afghan Government is Battling Corruption

judicial1To many outside Afghanistan, media reports have painted a picture of a dysfunctional government doomed to collapse because of irreconcilable rifts between the President and Chief Executive Officer. Yet the National Unity Government of Afghanistan has succeeded in implementing concrete reforms that have addressed key issues, among them rampant corruption.

In 2014, the National Unity Government took office, inheriting political and economic systems mired in corruption. The Afghan public has repeatedly identified corruption as one of the primary causes of dissatisfaction with the government, with 90 percent of citizens considering corruption the most pressing problem in their daily lives, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2015 Survey of the Afghan People.  Within weeks of taking office, the National Unity Government presented a plan mapping out Afghanistan’s road to self-reliance, with battling endemic corruption centrally featured. After identifying drivers of corruption—including collusive procurement practices, weak rule of law and arbitrary regulations that built incentives to pay bribes—the government mapped out a 10-point strategy for tackling corruption.  This plan included requiring all government officials to publicly declare their assets, dismissing corrupt officials, introducing mobile banking services, requiring ministries to create counter-corruption action plans and modifying regulations that cause or perpetuate corruption.  The government has also adopted the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, which provides an effective framework to enhance government anti-corruption leadership and evaluate the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures.

The government has quickly followed through on many of these action steps. President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah have led by example in anti-corruption efforts, declaring their assets publicly and making it mandatory for all high government officials to follow suit.  The National Unity Government reopened a notorious Kabul Bank corruption case, which resulted in the recovery of $440 million and the arrest of key culprits in the case.  In a case the government investigated with the Ministry of Urban Development, 27 people were suspected, including 10 high ranking officials and two deputy ministers, for corruption in a contract building residential apartments in Kabul. In an ongoing case with the Ministry of Interior Affairs, seven people were suspected, including a high-ranking official, for involvement in the embezzlement of 87,000  liters of fuel in Kapisa province. In a third case, with the Ministry of Education, six engineers were imprisoned for hugely inflating prices in a contract to build dormitories in Kabul. The government dismissed corrupt officials in key institutions, including the judiciary, customs, security and finance. In the customs office alone, which collects 46 percent of domestic revenue, the President dismissed more than 25 percent of staff on corruption charges.  Computerized systems were introduced to make tax collection procedures simpler and more transparent, and a restructuring of the public finance system has led to increased transparency in government spending. The Ministry of Interior is transferring all police payrolls to electronic payments, reducing the opportunity for corruption, and the Ministry of Finance initiated a series of reforms such as simplifying the business licensing process, reducing civil servants’ discretionary power  and developing and implementing a plan to address customs corruption, which has led to an increase in domestic revenue.

In June 2016, President Ghani established the Judiciary Center, which aims to prosecute major cases of corruption of high-ranking government authorities. The center has been orchestrated in such a way to foster necessary coordination between judicial and law enforcement organizations so that cases of corruption are processed efficiently and without delay. For the purpose of transparency, the Judiciary Center has also been tasked to provide regular reports and data about its performance to the media, and organize open trials as far as the law allows. The establishment of the Judiciary Center demonstrates the resolute commitment of President Ghani and the National Unity Government towards addressing corruption at all levels.