Has Afghanistan really made progress in the fight against corruption?

   By Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director

Recently, Transparency International (TI) released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) indicating that Afghanistan has slightly improved in the index and ranking. Has Afghanistan really made a progress in the fight against corruption as suggested by some enthusiastic supporters of the National Unity Government (NUG) and some desperate people within the government? It is important to examine what the CPI measures in order to understand what this year’s results really mean for Afghanistan.

The mystery of Corruption Perception Index (CPI)

The CPI is a composite index that uses data from 13 different surveys conducted by various organizations. This year, data from five sources was used to calculate Afghanistan’s score; these sources are: the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, Global Insight’s Country Risk Ratings, the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Transformation Index, the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law (ROL) Index, and the Verities of Democracy Project.

The most significant change (+11 points) is in the Rule of Law Index score which increased from 2 to 13. According to TI, only one component (Absence of Corruption) is used in calculating the CPI. However, the Absence of Corruption component score remained unchanged from last year. TI explained that this component is calculated based on inputs from “expert assessments” and “citizens’ survey responses.” TI uses only the expert assessments part in calculating ROL score for CPI.  This means that there was a significant change in expert assessment in only one survey. All other surveys indicated a similar score for 2016 compared to 2015.

Therefore, the change in 2016 CPI is not significant and could be misleading. The surveys used in CPI are based on perceptions. Unless there is a big change in the majority of the indicators in the same direction, one cannot confidently conclude that there has been progress in the fight against corruption in any given country. For instance, North Korea’s score has increased by four points – does this mean that North Korea has made progress in the fight against corruption? Certainly no; at least this cannot be concluded from the CPI results. Also, the improvement in ranking of Afghanistan can be associated to the low score received by countries like Libya, Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan. Therefore, unless there is consistently an increase in CPI score over several years, it is premature to consider a slight increase as an improvement in the fight against corruption.

An alternative measure to CPI

An alternative measure to understand whether the level of corruption and the fight against corruption has improved, is Integrity Watch’s biannual National Corruption Survey which is based on both perceptions and experiences of corruption by Afghan citizens. According to the 2016 results, citizens reported a significant increase in the level of bribes they had to pay to public institutions (from approximately 2 billion to 3 billion dollars). In addition, three out of four citizens responded that there has been no improvement in “reducing corruption in any public institution during the last 12 months.”

The forgotten promises of NUG

Although the NUG has taken some important steps in the fight against corruption such as establishment of a presidential oversight on procurement process and has reshuffled a number of judges, prosecutors, and civil servants, there has been no independent assessment of these efforts which would indicate that such steps have been effective in reducing the high level of corruption. The NUG leaders do not have a clear vision for fighting corruption. They have shown no interest whatsoever to support the establishment of independent institutions or in paving the way for the rejection of corruption by society. The anti-corruption law is in a limbo while there has been no progress on an anti-corruption strategy that the Afghan government promised to produce by mid this year during the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. There has also been complete silence on the part of NUG and donors on the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission that the NUG promised during the London Conference more than two years ago. Overall, the fight against corruption has not been institutionalized and therefore there has not been much progress. The NUG and its international supporters must realize that brushing the promises under the carpet is not going to solve the problem, it will only intensify it.