Afghanistan Must End the Blame Game

Afghanistan Must End the Blame Game

Increasing insecurity, a growing insurgency and a perceived faltering in the international community’s resolve to stay the course in Afghanistan causes its nervous citizens to think in the short term. They see public office as a short cut to illicit enrichment and insurance against future disaster. Such circumstances are conducive to corruption, collusion, bid rigging and the development of cartels.

Fighting corruption depends on the complex business of helping people to believe in their long-term future. But we can also make progress in small steps. Here is a simple example. My office recently carried out a pilot reform of the vehicle registration process. We found that it takes more than a month, 51 steps or signatures and on average $400-500 in bribes for an Afghan to be able to register his vehicle.

Hardly surprisingly, car owners preferred to bribe traffic police on the streets on a daily basis instead of going through that ordeal. Thousands were disenchanted with the Government and the Government lost much needed revenue.

We cut the process down to three days and five steps by introducing a new form, direct payment of fees to the banks and cutting off direct contact between car owners and officials. We could have jailed all the staff at the vehicle registration unit and replaced them with new people. But we didn’t.

The old system was designed so that newly appointed staff would inevitably engage in corruption. While it is important to ensure that people fear getting caught and punished for corrupt behaviour, it is also crucial to streamline processes, reform laws and minimise opportunities for corruption.

The blame game of “You are corrupt”, “Yes, but you are corrupt too”, has to end. Both the Afghan Government and the international community must build their moral authority.

The Afghan Government must commit itself to ensuring that public office is not held by individuals perceived by the public to be corrupt. Specifically, it must identify the top 100 most corrupt individuals and dismiss them.

The international community must address genuine concerns about faulty and corrupt contracting practices. A good start would be a review of contracts awarded for work at Bagram airbase and with provincial reconstruction teams. Afghans want to know who is benefiting from these contracts — and how.

Ershad Ahmadi is the deputy head of the newly established High Office of Oversight & Anti-Corruption in Afghanistan

 

 

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