A leap forward: Anti-corruption and Integrity Watch in 2017

By: Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director 

2017 marked the twelfth anniversary of Integrity Watch Afghanistan. We have come a long way since Integrity Watch’s inception but there is still a lot of ground to cover to fulfill our mandate to bring corruption under the spotlight, influence public policy to address corruption and mobilize people against this menace. 2017 was one of the busiest years for our volunteers and our staff and one of the most productive years in our history.

We also led advocacy campaigns covering a wide range of issues including access to information, beneficial ownership transparency, extractives transparency, procurement transparency, open government, police integrity, budget transparency and participation, and anti-corruption institutions. As a result, the National Unity Government (NUG) has committed to amend the Access to Information Law by end 2017 based on international standards. We supported the Oversight Commission on Access to Information to prepare a draft of the amendments which would put the Afghan law at the top of Global Right to Information Rating. A proposal for ensuring beneficial ownership transparency has been approved by the High Economic Council. A first-ever national action plan for Open Government Partnership has been prepared, although the commitments made by the NUG are disappointing. The national budget has become more realistic. Despite slow progress and selective follow up of corruption cases, the Anti-Corruption Justice Center has put an end to a pervasive culture of impunity. Although the NUG has backtracked on its own commitment to establish an independent anti-corruption commission, the High Council on Rule of Law, chaired by President Ghani, has provided a platform for interaction between civil society and the government at the highest level. Nevertheless, it is still early to conclude if such initiatives would result in positive change in the remaining life of the NUG.

To assess the current situation of service delivery and the progress made in fighting corruption, we conducted and published six research reports including a report on municipal index, analysis of the national budget, assessment of major prisons’ infrastructure and maintenance, assessment of health facilities, access to information survey, and assessment of anti-corruption institutional arrangements. These research reports have highlighted corrupt practices and risks areas and warned the government that if service delivery does not reach people without corruption, and if national budget does not meet the development needs of the people, and finally, if people are not systematically engaged in the governance processes, trust deficit between the public and the state will continue to increase.

To fill the gap between the citizens and the state, our community-based monitoring reached an unprecedented number of provinces across the country. The community monitoring covered 150 construction projects, 250 schools and open trials of criminal and civil cases in nine provinces. The programs were implemented through over 400 volunteers and engaged hundreds of government officials, citizens and community representatives including women in the process. The volunteers together with their communities were able to solve 77.5% of the problems that were identified during the monitoring process. We have worked with Society Empowerment Organization (SEO), a local NGO working on legal issues, to expand our community-based monitoring of trials to Kandahar and Herat provinces. We have also entered into a MoU with the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) to support its local partners to implement community-based monitoring of health, infrastructure, and education services in further three provinces beginning with Daikundi and expanding to Faryab and Uruzgan provinces.

In addition to community-based monitoring, Integrity Watch carried out five full inspections, 206 limited inspections, 6 follow-up inspections, 12 facility current status assessments of infrastructure projects worth more than US$700 million. These projects included schools and educational facilities, health facilities, prisons, border customs facilities, and electricity transmission projects.

With our above efforts, we have tried to contribute to creating a culture of transparency, accountability and integrity, and public participation. We have also contributed to creating a better understanding of the role of independent oversight and anti-corruption agencies. The need for good governance and stronger institutions have become a daily headline. A critical mass is in the making defining a different state-citizen relation in the country.

With all the progress we have made so far, we cannot be the game changer alone. Our work has been very gradual, limited in geographical scope and has covered only a handful of topics. We have had to constantly shift from one theme to the next and the demand to cover more topics and geographical areas have only been increasing. We believe we need more civil society groups and organizations who are responsible, committed and resourceful to share the responsibility with us and to cover the remaining areas in the fight against corruption. Our new strategy includes providing support to other civil society organizations such as SEO and NCA to adopt our programs and tools to scale up our program. We have also been supporting establishment of other NGOs working in the area of anti-corruption including support Transparency Afghanistan which intends to become a chapter of Transparency International in Afghanistan.

However, the problem of coordination and limited resources for the fight against corruption remains to be the major challenges. For instance, the amount spent on governance issues by NGOs is around US$50 million. This is only a fraction of the national budget and less than 6% of the overall US$850 million spent by NGOs in Afghanistan. In addition, the attitude of most of the donors providing on and off project-based funding has been dismantling for the momentum and persistence needed for the fight against corruption. Allocation of additional resources to more civil society organizations working on governance issues and better coordination of efforts among civil society actors, the donors, and the government has the potential of becoming a game changer in the remaining life of the NUG.