NUG must clean the mess of institutions to win the fight against corruption in Afghanistan

Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director

According to recent surveys by Integrity Watch and the Asia Foundation, people report higher level of corruption and an ever higher level of dissatisfaction with the government. This is largely due to the National Unity Government’s (NUG) inability to deliver on their promises.

The quest for more power has weakened the NUG

The NUG has wasted two years in infighting over sharing government positions. While CEO Abdullah has pushed for strengthening his camp’s grip over many of the institutions that were already captured, President Ghani pushes back by keeping currently ineffective leadership in place, leaving positions open, or even trying to bring people from his own camp. The recent appointment of President Ghani’s top aide to lead the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC) has created a stalemate while the public sector remains corrupt and ineffective. Disagreement between the two NUG leaders has led to a leadership vacuum at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum while mines are being looted and the public is being robbed of important revenues. These are just a few of many examples.

NUG leaders’ infighting has prevented meaningful reform

The infighting and lack of a national vision among NUG leaders has led the President: (1) to stop reform of anti-corruption institutions such as High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOO), Supreme Audit Office (SAO), and IARCSC, to name a few, and (2) to abandon creation of independent institutions to fight corruption such as the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission. Despite promising during the London Conference two years ago to create such a commission, President Ghani has instead tried to build institutions around himself such as the High Council on Governance, Rule of Law, and Anti-Corruption (HCAC) and the recently established Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC).

The test of political will 

Experiences from around the world show that in extremely corrupt countries, independent institutions backed by political will (not political interference) can play a major role in preventing corruption, ending impunity, and engaging  the public in the fight against corruption. There is an increasing demand for such institutions and countries such as Mexico are taking bold steps in this direction.

While both NUG leaders have shown tremendous promise, they have failed to overcome internal disagreements leading to an ineffective fight against corruption in terms of action. The test of their political will to fight corruption is if they agree on establishing an independent anti-corruption commission with membership from among citizens (not politicians) and which takes into consideration key international standards such as the Jakarta statement on Principles for Anti-Corruption Agencies and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

In addition, a strong anti-corruption law to establish anti-corruption institutions, clarify their mandates, sanction corrupt practices, and promote integrity must be developed through broad-based consultation. In addition a national strategy to fight corruption followed by institution-specific anti-corruption plans needs to be developed sooner rather than later. Despite promises at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, there are no signs of moving forward on this. In addition, the anti-corruption plans developed by five revenue generating ministries are of substandard quality and were only meant to showcase progress on commitments at the Brussels Conference.

The NUG has to stop this mess. Failing to deliver on their promises to establish strong and independent anti-corruption institutions would not only result in failure of anti-corruption efforts but would also fail the NUG in general. Survey results constantly showing Afghans’ lowering confidence in the NUG should be taken as a warning sign.