Wednesday 20 January 2010

Afghanistan drowning in corruption

It may be one of the world's poorest countries, but Afghans had to pay out $2.5 billion in bribes over the past 12 months – equivalent to almost a quarter (23 per cent) of Afghanistan’s GDP.
When added to the revenue generated by the opium trade in 2009 - estimated at $2.8 billion - this adds up to about half the country’s GDP.
The figures come from Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as reported by the Victims, published this week by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
To make things worse, in Afghanistan those entrusted with upholding the integrity of the law are most guilty of violating it.
Between 10-20 per cent had to pay bribes to judges, prosecutors, doctors and members of the government. A kickback is so commonly sought (and paid) to speed up administrative procedures, that more than a third of the population (38 per cent) thinks that this is the norm.
Just over half (52 per cent) of adult Afghans had to pay at least one bribe to a public official during the last 12 months. On average, victims of bribery reported they had to pay around five kickbacks per year. In three-quarters of cases bribes are paid in cash and the average amount paid was US$158 - in a country where average annual income is less than $500.
According to the UNODC, the sectors most affected by bribery are the police, courts and customs. When such officers are contacted by citizens they request a bribe in around half of all cases. Demands for bribes were slightly less frequent from municipal and provincial officers, members of the Government and land officers.
The amounts paid in bribes differ between categories of public officials: at the lower end (less than US$100 per bribe) are teachers, doctors and nurses. On average, officials from the police, local authorities, tax/revenue agency and land agencies requested bribes between $100-200. Judges, prosecutors, members of the Government and customs officers are at the higher end of the scale, with average bribes higher than US$200.
Public officials usually request bribes to speed up administrative procedures or to make their finalization possible.
The pervasiveness of such practices makes many citizens deeply worried: when asked to select the most prominent problem for the country, 59 per cent of those questioned mentioned corruption, followed by insecurity (54 per cent) and unemployment (52 per cent).
Corruption is perceived to be on the rise by many citizens, especially in rural areas: 80 per cent of rural dwellers reported that in their eyes corruption had significantly increased over the last five years.
The information for the UNODC report was gathered though interviews with 7,600 people in 12 provincial capitals and more than 1,600 villages around Afghanistan and is therefore statistically significant. The report includes a number of actual cases of bribery from interviewed citizens which provide a vivid portrait of the many forms of corruption common in Afghanistan:
"We sell different goods on the streets here. The head of the police for this area has appointed a person who is responsible for collecting money from us and give it to him."
"[The] permit office for the municipality is another corrupt department. Officials want about $18,000 from traders when they want to start a new business."
"Police heads are taking a percentage from each payroll of their subordinates."
"The mayor has distributed plots to his family members and he has taken a number of shops in the commercial markets for approving the construction of the building."
‘There are people known as Employed on Commission in front of each government building…They approach people saying that they can solve any kind of issue in a short time and then they quote the price. For example, if you need a passport or the driving licence or paying taxes and customs duties they can give you the final receipt which has been processed through all official channels in matter of days which takes usually weeks. Then he takes money and of course he will distribute it with those who are sitting inside offices."
"Officials from the Education Department are looting money for books and stationery that are supposed to be given to schools on provincial and districts levels."
Corruption is now high on the agenda of many donor countries and indeed President Karzai has said recently that his own government will fight all kinds of corruption. The signs so far are not good, with several of his nominees for Cabinet posts having reputations for bribe-taking.

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