Can we win the fight against corruption?

Mr. Afzali (far-left) delivering a presentation at the Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul (Photo Credit: @KawunK)

By: Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director

The Afghan state’s real fight for survival is not in the battlefields, the real fight is against the menace of corruption – the incubator of insurgency, crime, and terrorism. Corruption is impairing the Afghan institutions from within. Although the government has made some efforts to fight corruption, there is a long way to go to address the existential threat that corruption poses.

The Afghan government’s efforts in the fight against corruption include the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) where after more than a year, only 12 cases have been concluded resulting in final conviction of 33 individuals. The government has also taken some preventive steps such as creating oversight on procurement and improving access to information in some institutions. Although the government did not have a clear strategy to fight corruption for the last three years, it has recently produced one just before the Senior Officials Meeting taking place on October 05, 2017.

Although the National Strategy for Combating Corruption presents yet another set of important commitments, it suffers from a weak implementation mechanism. The government has failed to fulfil its most important anti-corruption commitment of establishing an independent anti-corruption commission that it promised three years ago in the London Conference on Afghanistan. The proposed implementation mechanism has ignored international standards such as the Jakarta Declaration, the United National Convention Against Corruption, and the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Anti-Corruption Strategies.

The new anti-corruption strategy is ambiguous in terms of coordinating anti-corruption efforts that would contribute to failure of coordination and would create accountability gaps. There is no independent mechanism to oversee prosecution of corruption cases which leaves the ACJC vulnerable to political interference while it has not been able to achieve much in prosecuting corrupt individuals.

Nevertheless, it is not enough to prosecute a few foot-soldiers of corruption anyway. The corrupt networks will not run out of foot-soldiers and even Generals as there are too many General in Afghanistan. The government must take on the corrupt networks that have captured key institutions such as the parliament, the judiciary, the economy, the security sector,… just name it.

Fighting such corrupt networks require strong political will that must be demonstrated in creating and strengthening independent institutions including an independent anti-corruption commission. The anti-corruption strategy also indicates that the government will establish an ombudsman under the President’s office. The ombudsman is expected to work closely with the Attorney General. However, it is critical for the success of the ombudsman to ensure its independence. In addition, it should be accessible and accountable to the public. We would like to see the new ombudsman as the Afghan version of SIGAR (the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction).

There is no doubt that the Afghan government has to take the leading role in the fight against corruption although one can only hope that the politics around the up-coming parliamentary elections and the not-too-distant presidential elections will not deviate its focus. However, this is not a fight that the Afghan government can win alone. The civil society has to play its role to mobilize the public against corruption and to hold the government accountable against its commitments. The international community’s role is particularly important to expose corruption mafia, to dismantle their networks, and to bring our money back from the secrecy jurisdictions.

However, as the fighting and insecurity is increasing every day, we no longer have the luxury of time. We need to truly recognize the intensity of the problem. Shortsightedness of prioritizing “stability” over fighting corruption mafia will fail us all. It would be a disrespect to the blood and treasure invested in the last one and a half decade both by the international community and the Afghan people if we allow the corruption mafia to be the biggest beneficiaries of our investments and the Afghan people to be the victims of the “war on terror.” We must prepare to take the risk of fighting the corruption mafia led by the corrupt political elite. We must coordinate our efforts to defeat the enemy within if we are to win the fight in the battlefields.

Photo source: flicker