Establishing independent institutions to restore the public confidence

By Sayed Ikram Afzali
Executive Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

Public confidence in the Afghan government to bring the much needed political and economic stability has always been low.  The 2016 National Corruption Survey indicated that more than half of the respondents felt the political situation was “somewhat” or “very” bad. In addition, 67% of the respondents felt that the government had not done enough to address the major issues faced by the Afghan people. Amid the current tide of political turmoil, insecurity, unemployment, and corruption, public confidence does not seem to have improved despite the efforts being made by the government.

Public debates are full of allegations of corruption against senior government officials and even the leadership of National Unity Government, especially relating to the award of government contracts. Recent allegations of corruption made by the Minister of Energy and Water against National Procurement Commission are particularly worrying.

Overall, anti-corruption efforts have been cosmetic, with only a few individuals actually prosecuted, while hundreds of corruption cases are still pending. The anti-corruption and transparency commitments made by the government have not been fulfilled. In addition, anti-corruption activists and experts are concerned that the teams in power might use the institutions of the state to favor individuals and groups close to their teams in order to win their political support and funding for the next elections’ campaign. The government has not been able to address the allegations and concerns in a satisfactory way.

In addition, political opponents of President Ghani have accused him of centralizing power and sidelining his opponents within the government, and also of politicizing the fight against corruption. Whether these claims are right or wrong would be difficult to prove but it is clear that to have such accusations made from within the government erodes public confidence.

It is important to acknowledge that the government has taken important steps in some areas, such as joining the Open Government Partnership and establishing the Anti-Corruption Justice Center. However, these efforts are not enough on their own. In order to restore public confidence, there is a need for establishing independent institutions composed of apolitical and impartial individuals with high integrity and competence appointed through a competitive and transparent process.

Such institutions must be independent of political interference, have control over their finances and staff, and be provided with enough resources to function smoothly (all core elements of internationally accepted Jakarta Principles for anti-corruption institutions).

On the basis of these principles, the government should establish the independent anti-corruption commission that it promised during the London Conference in 2014. They should also make the National Procurement Commission into an independent body, and make substantive reforms in the Independent Civil Service Commission to make it truly independent as well. Similar bodies could also be established for regulating other sectors such as the judiciary, the police, and service delivery.

The Afghan government must regain public confidence in order to get public support for its reform agenda, to end the war, and to bring lasting peace and stability in the country. But this is not possible without independent institutions that will be capable of building public confidence in a sustainable way. President Ghani has recently reiterated his commitment to giving away his power to the institution. It is time for the government to turn its rhetoric into action.