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UNAMA’s anti-corruption report is a gloomy read

On June 18th, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) published its 4th Annual Anti-Corruption Report entitled “Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: Crucial For Peace And Prosperity.”

The paper, also available in Dari, paints a bleak picture of the country’s anti-graft apparatus and work, and puts forward a set of recommendations to better fight the numerous forms of corruption in Afghanistan.

UNAMA acknowledges that even if during 2019 and 2020 the country continued to carry out anti-corruption actions, three key factors slowed its pace: 1) The Presidential elections; 2) the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19; and 3) the fact that the previous Anti-Corruption Strategy expired in December 2019, and a new one has yet to be drafted. The combination of these factors led to the interruption of the reform momentum that had begun in 2017. 

“Anti-corruption efforts and integrity reforms must be key priorities for Afghanistan’s leadership, especially so given the country’s pressing challenges and opportunities around peace and development,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA. 

UNAMA also notes how the prolonged process for internal elections of the Wolesi Jirga administrative board and parliamentary commissions impacted the lower house’s “performance on legislative, representative and oversight functions.” As a result, legislative activities overall, and on anti-corruption issues in particular, were reduced to amending laws and developing by-laws rather than adopting new legislation. 

In what makes a somber read, the 78-page Report spells out the widening institutional gaps experienced by the country in this area: the Anti-Corruption Commission is yet to be established; the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee lost funding and staff; the Ombudsperson’s office, inaugurated in the second half of 2019, has yet to begin its functions; and the High Council for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption, a key driver for reform in previous years, met only seven times in 2019.

But it is not all gloom and doom. The Report also highlights two bright spots in the country’s anti-corruption work; the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission – which “continued to steadily advance reforms bringing about more integrity in public administration” – and the Access to Information Commission, that according to UNAMAS, is gaining importance. 

The Anti-Corruption and Justice Centre (ACJC)

The Report devotes special attention to this mechanism. Although UNAMA points out that last year the Centre held more trials (23) than in previous years (18 in 2017 and 17 in 2018), it notes that the average rank of those accused declined. Furthermore, UNAMA gives it credit for concluding the trial of former election commissioners, what “reveals the ACJC’s capacity to handle a politically sensitive case.” 

The Report stresses the Centre’s high rejection rate of indictments before trial, what according to the UN Mission, shows “uncertainties about legal interpretations of criminal procedural laws and the raised questions about the prosecution’s ability to gather enough evidentiary material for trial.” 

UNAMA acknowledges that this year, while required for public health reasons, COVID-19 prison decongestion measures led to the release of key defendants convicted by the ACJC, what reversed successes that the Centre had fought hard to win.

To have a lasting impact, UNAMA urges the Anti-Corruption and Justice Centre to step up its efforts to recover assets stolen through corruption, and to consider more prison sentences. 

International donors are growing impatient  

Giving such a disheartening anti-corruption landscape, UNAMA warns that the international community’s increasing lost of trust can have an impact on aid if Kabul does not improve its anti-graft record to help restore donor confidence.

As The Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) puts it, “the intense focus on ‘peace talks’ has shifted attention away from the need to deal with corruption within the largely foreign-funded Afghan state. However, their concern will not go away. The US has already taken a significant bite into foreign assistance for Afghanistan, and the pandemic means donors are looking for reasons for further cuts.  The poor performance on efforts to stem corruption may be all the excuse they need.”

So now, what?

The Report does not shy away from advising Kabul to take several steps to address the ingrained problem of corruption in the country by:  

  1. having the National Assembly collaborate with the executive in anti-corruption reforms to strengthen these institutions’ accountability and integrity;
  2. developing a realistic long-term anti-corruption strategy, starting by establishing the anti-corruption commission; 
  3. boosting the law-enforcement capacity dedicated to corruption investigations and arrests; 
  4. strengthening the oversight and management of public resources;
  5. and, by fostering justice sector reforms, prioritizing judicial independence, transparency and accountability.

As the title of the Report makes clear, “corruption remains one of the most significant obstacles to Afghanistan’s long-term peace and prosperity.” As we have seen, this colossal obstacle is not precisely shrinking. For the sake of Afghanistan almost 40 million sorrowing souls, it is to hope that the country’s leaders and bureaucrats take this Report seriously.

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Javier Delgado Rivera is a New York-based independent researcher, journalist and consultant writing about the United Nations. His articles have appeared in Carnegie Council, Huffington Post, Diplomatic Courier, South China Morning Post, Middle East Eye, Asia Times, Modern Diplomacy and Geopolitical Monitor, among many others. Prior to moving to New York, Javier lived in China, India and Brussels, where he worked as communications advisor for several think tanks and advocacy groups. Javier holds an MA in Conflict Resolution from the University of Coventry, UK. He can be followed on Twitter at @TheUNTimes, and you can reach out to him at editor@theuntimes.org

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