By Sayed Ikram Afzali
Executive Director, Integrity Watch Afghanistan
It has been over a month since the deadline set in the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan to produce an anti-corruption strategy has passed. There is no indication that a comprehensive strategy, that would have the buy-in from all the stakeholders, would be in place soon.
The Afghan Government’s efforts to fight corruption have been ad hoc. The existing anti-corruption institutions such as the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption and the High Council on Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption have failed to provide strategic direction to the anti-corruption efforts. Therefore, it seems the President himself has taken on the job to write the anti-corruption strategy. It is said that the strategy will be presented to the High Council for approval in a few weeks.
However, there has been no engagement of the stakeholders, even within the government. There is a widely felt discontent among stakeholders who feel the government has done nothing to engage them in the process. It is said that the strategy will be shared for consultation after it is approved by the High Council. However, such consultation would mean little if stakeholders are not engaged right from the outset. The anti-corruption strategy should be about building consensus, not just producing another stack of papers to be shelved.
If the Afghan government considers corruption a serious problem that threatens our national security, it has to build consensus and create an inclusive ownership of the strategy to fight this ubiquitous phenomenon. However, it is not clear for how long the Afghan government will try to fight corruption without a comprehensive strategy and a robust institutional arrangement. Despite some important progress, the government is losing time as well as the confidence of stakeholders within and outside the government about its ability and willingness to tackle corruption in a compressive manner.
The government should learn from the process of formulating the Afghan National Access to Information Strategy (to be presented this month) that included a workshop to co-create the strategy followed by several rounds of consultations with all stakeholders led by the Oversight Commission on Access to Information. The leadership of the government should commit to implementation of this strategy as part of the wider anti-corruption strategy. The Access to Information Commission, in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, has also developed a revised version of the Access to Information Law based on international best practices. If adopted in its current form, it will become the best law in the world and will ensure the independence of the Access to Information Commission. In addition, the government should seriously consider the following:
- Immediately begin a comprehensive consultation to develop its anti-corruption strategy including all stakeholders from the government, civil society, and donors.
- Establish the long-awaiting Independent Anti-Corruption Commission by adopting the new draft of the anti-corruption law. This can be done quickly through a Legislative Decree while the parliament is in recess. One of the first tasks of the commission should be to continue the dialogue on anti-corruption strategy and to create a consensus among stakeholders.
- Empower the Oversight Commission on Access to Information ensuring its independence by adopting the revised draft of the Access to Information Law prepared by the commission.
- Use the Afghan National Access to Information Strategy and the proposed mechanisms to ensure the independence of the Oversight Commission on Access to Information as a model for other institutions that have a direct role in the fight against corruption, such as the Civil Service Commission and the National Procurement Commission, to institutionalize the fight against corruption. Ensuring the independence of such institutions should be a core element of the new anti-corruption strategy.
Implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations will not only avoid the complete disappointment of the anti-corruption stakeholder but will also help the government find traction to address the most intolerable of the problems the Afghan people face on daily basis.