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IWA says corruption remains central to Afghanistan’s challenges

AT-KABUL: Corruption remains central to many of Afghanistan’schallenges, says Integrity Watch Afghanistan’s national corruption survey 2018,asking the government to focus on long term anti-graft efforts.

The survey released on Saturday has found some slight progress since in Afghanistan’s general situation since 2016, with limited room for optimism.

In the 2018 biennial survey, 61 percent of respondents stated they were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘somewhat satisfied’ with the situation in their home provinces, compared to 54 percent in 2016.

In terms progress made over the past 12 months, respondents in the Northeast and Central Highlands, where the government has stronger representation and greater influence — as well as the Southern region which, in contrast is traditionally a Taliban stronghold—are the most positive.

When asked about the political situation in Afghanistan as a whole, the level of optimism was markedly different, with only a quarter of all respondents describing the situation in Afghanistan as good.

“This sense of pessimism is particularly acute in Central and Western regions, where only 16 percent and 18percent respectively gave a positive assessment,” the survey said.

As was the case with previous surveys, insecurity continued to be the main concern among Afghans followed by unemployment and corruption, it said.

However, the proportion of those who mention corruption among the country´s top three problems has declined from 47 percent to 33percent.

“This does not necessarily indicate that corruption is on the decline. Instead it is more likely that the deteriorating security situation and other key challenges are demanding citizens´ attention, problems which are themselves exacerbated by widespread corruption and the failure to prioritise longer-term strategies to strengthen governance in the country.”

The report said 62 percent of those surveyed felt the government had not done enough to tackle these problems over the past two years —a slight decrease on the 67 percent who felt the same way in 2016.

Respondents in more insecure southern region were significantly more positive about government´s efforts to address Afghanistan´s major problems than those in more strongly government-controlled areas, such as the Central Highlands region.

Despite deteriorating security and ever-increasing influence of the Taliban, Afghans remained optimistic about the prospects for peace and reconciliation, the survey found.

Nevertheless, 43 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that people in their areas refered to the Taliban because of corruption —- up from 39 percent in 2016.

Meanwhile, 62 percent of respondents across the country agreed that corruption within the state was facilitating the expansion of Taliban, a significant increase on the 51 percent who believed this to be the case in 2016.

Respondents in the South, where the insurgency is at its strongest, were the least likely to say that corruption within the state was facilitating the expansion of the Taliban.

The international community was also the target of much criticism. More than half (52 percent) of those surveyed did not believe the international community wanted to fight corruption in Afghanistan, compared to 45 percent in 2016, 36 percent in 2014 and 37 percent in 2012.

The same proportion (52percent) believes that the international community is not supportive of honest government officials in their provinces.

Perceptions and experiences of corruption

Since 2016, there has been a slight decrease in proportion of citizens who feel that corruption is “very serious” and a corresponding decrease in the proportion of Afghans who feel there has been no improvement in reducing corruption in any public institution.

When asked about institutions they deemed the most corrupt, a majority named courts and judges (14 percent), Ministry of Education (10 percent) and the Attorney General’s office (9percent) among the top three.

Meanwhile, only a quarter of Afghans believed there had been some progress in reducing corruption in any public institution.

Impacts and drivers of corruption

The vast majority of Afghans (83 percent) believed that corruption had negatively affected the life of people in their local areas.

Almost three quarters of those surveyed did not trust local public services because of corruption amid a strong sense that people in government, NGOs and international organisations were only out to benefit themselves.

By far the most common reason Afghans say they would give a bribe is because there is no other way to obtain a service.

Meanwhile, there has been a significant increase since 2016 in the number of respondents who say they would pay a bribe (33 percent up from 22 percent.

Attitudes of fighting corruption

Worryingly the proportion of citizens who feel that they could do nothing personally to reduce corruption has doubled since the last survey in 2016, with women being significantly more pessimistic than men in this regard.

On the other hand, awareness among citizens about where to report corruption has increased significantly since 2016.

At the same time, 14 percent of respondents stated that they or someone in their household had reported such an act during the past 12 months, compared to 9 percent in 2016.

Moreover, around half of those who reported corruption voiced some level of dissatisfaction with the process.

The most commonly cited reasons for not reporting corruption remained the lack of confidence that any action would be taken and the fear that those who reported corruption would be subject to retribution/revenge.

Although 40 percent felt corruption could not be reduced at all (as compared to 37 percent in 2016).

About 64 percent, 54 percent and 44 percent of respondents respectively believed the Office of the President, the NUG and the Office of the Chief Executive has “a sincere desire and will to combat corruption”, which is a small but significant improvement.

Recommendations

Prosecutions: To give confidence to the people that the Government is really serious about tackling corruption, the Government must prosecute a much higher number of more serious corruption cases & carry out these prosecutions in a timely & efficient manner.

Asset recovery: Use the existing legislation on illicit enrichment to seize assets unlawfully obtained.

Staffing: The Attorney General’s and Anti-Corruption Justice Centre (ACJC) office must be properly staffed with suitably qualified personnel to allow a much higher level of prosecutions in corruption cases both in number & seriousness of cases.

Penalties: As a proper deterrent, the penalties for conviction of persons involved in corruption cases, particularly the more serious ones, must be reviewed so that those persons so convicted will face the penalties of losing their jobs, their pensions, serving a prison sentence and paying substantial fines.

Accountability systems: The government should establish robust accountability mechanisms within the public service, including the use of complaint mechanisms and citizen-led monitoring systems in key service delivery ministries

Whistleblowing: The government must take urgent action to ensure that those who report corruption are afforded protection through the active enforcement of Afghanistan´s new whistle-blower protection law.

Awareness-raising: All actors should work to strengthen public engagement in the fight against corruption by supporting the use of tools to anonymously report and track corruption such as Integrity Watch Afghanistan´s Efshagar platform.

Anti-Corruption Law: The government should urgently reconsider its decision not to form a joint governmental and civil society selection committee for the proposed Anti-Corruption Commission. Without a joint selection committee, the independence of the Commission will be seriously compromised.

Civil service reform: The government should push through key civil service reforms, including installing & enforcing a system of recruitment & promotion on merit, ensuring the verification of asset declarations of all senior public officials and the imposition of sanctions for failure to register.

Business sector: The government should continue its recent progress in simplifying business processes and reducing red tape in order to further reduce the opportunities for administrative corruption. Areas which require further simplification include registering property, dealing with construction permits and enforcing contracts.

Working Together: Encourage government departments, business, civil society organisations and donors to work together in the fight against corruption and to promote a culture of integrity within the civil service and society in general.

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