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The Financial Times, October 11, 2008

Kabul seeks foreign funds to take on corruption

According to a recent “global corruption index” compiled by Transparency International, Afghanistan languishes in 172nd position, on its list of 180 countries.

By Jon Boone in Kabul

His right arm bandaged to cover the wounds he acquired a week previously when he was almost killed by a Taliban bomb, Kabul's chief police investigator incredulously stabs an official document itemising all his assets.

"No, no, no - this is all wrong. I did not write this. I do not have one phennig, one cent or one penny in Dubai!" he says of a column on an official asset registration form marked "very secret" with his signature.

It shows he owns four houses, one apartment, three farms, eight commercial properties and two factories in Dubai - a $2m (£1m, €1.5m) property portfolio far beyond the means of a senior policeman in Afghanistan. Western and Afghan security officials are adamant that Kabul's top cop is also one of its top criminals, profiting handsomely from the gangs who extract huge ransoms from the families of the wealthy Afghans.

How else to explain the document, which officials at the Afghan Interior Ministry and the UN say is legitimate?

All senior Afghan officials have to fill in such forms. In the case of General Ali Shah Paktiawal, a colourful character famous for his televised police raids, the form lists all of the assets under his father's name, suggesting that it was all inherited.

The [Afghan] government appears to have been run for the financial benefit of 20 families. From the allocation of mineral rights to the awarding of contracts, ministers frequently intervene to favour families and friends. Even more disturbing, the beneficiaries of this corruption are old-time warlords and faction leaders responsible for past atrocities. Today, they operate with impunity, even over acts of violence and attempted murder. Many public officials, from police chiefs to governors to ministers, have acquired multi-million dollar fortunes in office.
David Davis, The Independent, October 20, 2008

But he insisted that he is not a rich man when the FT showed him a copy of the document in his office in September, claiming he had just one house in Kabul.

"In the past two months I have caught 22 kidnappers, and 3,780 criminals in one year! Eighteen terrorists have been caught red- handed. There are a lot of people who want to stop me, and that is why they try to smear me."

Such claims and counter-claims are typical in Afghanistan, and extremely hard to investigate.

"Everyone accuses everyone else of corruption in Afghanistan," sighs Christina Orguz, country manager for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. "If just 20 per cent is true then the situation is still really bad, because it erodes trust in the government."

According to a recent "global corruption index" compiled by Transparency International, Afghanistan languishes in 172nd position, on its list of 180 countries.

A leaked draft of a forthcoming US National Intelligence Estimate blames rampant corruption for destroying faith in the government and exacerbating the Taliban insurgency.

But with the frustration of international donors steadily increasing, Afghanistan is anxious to show that it is taking serious steps to crack down on the problem with the establishment of a new organisation - the High Office of Oversight for the Implementation of AntiCorruption Strategy.

It has a wide-ranging remit, monitoring the police, the courts and the attorney general's office. It will have the power to launch its own investigations.

One of its most important tasks will be to improve the current system of asset registration which gives scant details about assets - often valued by the owner himself.

Foreign countries, who made the fight against corruption a condition for the $21bn dollars of aid pledged to Afghanistan at a donors' conference in Paris in June, have had their hopes for a crackdown on corruption repeatedly dashed. The previous anti-corruption office had little credibility with the international community because the man who ran it, Izzatullah Wasifi, was jailed for three years for selling heroin in Las Vegas.

At an international meeting in Tokyo in February the Afghan government presented the so-called "three plus three plus three" plan that would have made an example of three governors, three senior officials and three major landowners involved in drugs.

But nothing came of it.

In the view of a top western general in Afghanistan narco-corruption is worsening and the ministry of counter narcotics is kept weak "because there is so much money to be made from it".

Despite the difficulties, Ms Orguz says corruption is higher up the Afghan political agenda than ever before.

Optimists believe President Hamid Karzai needs to take action not just to please his foreign backers, but also his own people.

Pessimists, however, say Mr Karzai will not be able to deal with the corrupt elements in his government until after the election next year.

But Ershad Ahmadi, the deputy head of the High Office, insists there is no lack of political will to combat corruption, what's missing is generous foreign funding to make the new High Office a success.

"If they expect us to fight corruption they need to give us not just financial resources but also technical help."

Category: Corruption - Views: 11856


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