NUG’s new anti-corruption strategy: A half-hearted attempt to fight corruption

H.E. President Ghani (center) chairing a meeting on the new anti-corruption strategy (Photo Credit: Office of the President)

By Sayed Ikram Afzali Executive Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan

After months delay, finally, the draft anti-corruption strategy is out. The High Council on Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (HCAC) discussed the draft strategy that was prepared by close aides to President Ghani. Despite obvious reluctance from the National Unity Government (NUG) to take on corruption seriously, the draft strategy proposes important undertakings. Many of civil society recommendations that were made in the last three years, have now been taken into account such as establishing an Independent Judicial Services Commission, revising Access to Information Law to meet international standards and strengthening Oversight Commission on Access to Information, and appointing a High Oversight Board to oversee the appointments and promotions in the security sector among others. In addition, the strategy seems clear and focused. Instead of trying to deal with everything, it prioritizes the security sector and ministries with the highest revenues and expenditures.

Nevertheless, there are three major issues that the strategy suffers from including the constricted strategy development process, weak institutional arrangements, and expanded timelines for achieving the benchmarks.

The government should have organized wide consultations within and outside the government to formulate the strategy. However, the whole strategy development process was restricted to a couple of corners of the Presidential Palace. While there is no information on consultation with the government bodies, civil society representatives were only invited to a one-hour meeting to give their views while they should have been part of the strategy development process right from the outset. The meeting was more of a window dressing than real consultation since neither the draft of the strategy was shared with the civil society ahead of the meeting nor the government representatives seemed interested to consider what civil society proposed in terms of institutional arrangements. This is evident in the draft strategy that came out since major concerns of the civil society were completely ignored.

The second major issue in the draft strategy is the weak institutional arrangements. The NUG has backtracked on its most important anti-corruption commitment: the creation of an independent and strong anti-corruption commission. The strategy does not discuss the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission, a commitment that the NUG made three years ago in London Conference on Afghanistan. There is no clear explanation about the NUG’s proposed institutional arrangements instead of establishing an independent and expert agency to fight corruption.

The strategy gives the central role to Attorney General’s Office (AGO) for prosecution and Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission (IARCSC) for prevention while it mentions that an ombudsman will be established under the President’s office. The HCAC has been assigned the role of coordination. None of the three agencies meet the UNCAC and/or Jakarta Principles on the independence of anti-corruption agencies as well as legal provisions that ensure adequacy of resources. AGO and IARCSC leadership do not have fixed term in office nor they are selected through a non-political process. They are very vulnerable to political backlash from within and outside the government if they really act independently. The HCAC has proved to be an ineffective platform for coordination since it did not meet regularly and it is too high level requiring the President to chair it. The HCAC secretariat suffers from lack of leadership by the HCAC.  In addition, there is a major accountability gap in the proposed institutional arrangements since HCAC is comprised of the same institutions that are supposed to be monitored by the anti-corruption body. By not creating independent institution to fight corruption, the government does not want to vest power in institutions that can act in an apolitical manner. This is a clear sign of weak political will to go after the mafia and the corrupt networks that have captured the institutions. Instead, the NUG seems determined to politically control the anti-corruption institutions and to use them for political deals. The NUG does seem to be in a mood to seriously shake the current elite settlement that has resulted in the institutionalization of corruption.

The third issue with the draft strategy is the extended timelines to achieve the benchmarks. While the NUG only has two years left, majority of the benchmarks are in 2018 (out of 34 benchmarks 19 are in 2018 out of which 14 are not before mid-2018). Practically speaking, one would not expect that the government would be interested in fighting corruption while it is already preparing for the next elections. After all, attention will be already on the electoral politics and not much will be delivered in terms of fighting corruption. In addition, the NUG’s track record has been really good when it comes to making anti-corruption commitments. The problem has been with implementation. Out of 31 commitments made at the London Summit in May 2016, the NUG has been able to implement only three of them. There is a widespread concern that the NUG is only interested in buying time and delivering minimum of its commitments. If this were not the case, the NUG would have come up with shorter timeframes for achieving the benchmarks and a clear plan to establish the independent anti-corruption commission. The NUG still has a chance to prove the critics wrong.