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Reuters, November 26, 2009

Is corruption in Afghanistan too deep to root out?

Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) in 2007, 60 percent of the population said Karzai's government was the most corrupt in 40 years

By Hamid Shalizi and Yara Bayoumy

KABUL - It seems every Afghan has a story about bribes.

At a barbershop in the commercial Khalifatullah street in Kabul, Haji Abdullah describes how when trying to enrol his son in a new school, he was met with a curt response: "We don't have room, but if you pay $60, we can guarantee him a place".

When he returned to Afghanistan after fleeing to Pakistan, a Refugees Ministry official asked for $100 to tick a box on a form so he would be eligible for a plot of land, Abdullah said.

"The infrastructure of this country is based on corruption. If you get rid of it, the whole country will fall down," Abdullah said. "All ministers are corrupt and they should be hanged."

The barber, Haji Mohammad, had his own story.

"I have to get a stamp for my rent licence every month. It's for $2, but I have to pay $10, otherwise the officials won't give me a stamp and my permit will be useless," he told Reuters.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based group, ranked Afghanistan second to worst on its annual index of corruption, behind only Somalia. The small, daily bribes are crippling for Afghans, more than half of whom live below the poverty line.

Western nations which have donated billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan are putting pressure on President Hamid Karzai to stamp out graft, especially after an election in which a U.N.-backed probe found nearly a third of his votes were fake.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based group, ranked Afghanistan second to worst on its annual index of corruption, behind only Somalia.
Reuters, November 26, 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama will address Americans on his Afghanistan strategy next Tuesday and is expected to announce that he will send tens of thousands of extra troops.

Showing improvement in fighting corruption will be crucial in helping persuade the American public that Karzai's government is worth fighting for.

"CULTURE OF IMPUNITY"

After being sworn in for a second term last week, Karzai vowed in his inauguration speech to fight what he called "the culture of impunity" and stamp out graft.

This week, the attorney general's office announced that two members of the cabinet and several former ministers are being investigated.

Afghans took notice: a cartoon in a Kabul newspaper shows cabinet ministers with bags of cash trying to flee over a log across a river. Two had fallen in.

Karzai is due to announce his cabinet lineup in coming weeks and there has been speculation about whether ministers would be dropped or prosecuted for corruption.

The perception that the government is corrupt plays into the hands of insurgents, who offer an alternative system seen as severe but honest.

In a survey conducted by non-government organisation Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) in 2007, 60 percent of the population said Karzai's government was the most corrupt in 40 years, compared with 10 percent for the Taliban that Karzai replaced after the Islamist militants were toppled in 2001.

The West is partly to blame for the problem, says IWA director Lorenzo Delesgues.

"The West has not been coordinating at all the way they are distributing aid. Why are lots of warlords still in power? Because the West has not been pushing enough to make sure they've been eliminated," he told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Afghans pay their bribes. Bashir Ahmad, who owns a clothes store in Kabul, said he pays about $2,000 in kickbacks at the customs office each time he ships in a container from China.

"If you want to do business in Afghanistan, you must bribe people every step of the way, otherwise your business will collapse. I think it seems almost impossible to root out corruption, because we can't live without it," he said.

Category: Corruption - Views: 4305