An anti-corruption monitoring group says despite “small signs” of progress in the fight against corruption, Afghanistan’s official commitment to effectively address the problem is weakening, eroding public trust in the administration's ability to govern.
The independent Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, or MEC, in its half yearly report released in Kabul Thursday, also expressed its concern about the ability of members of President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government, or NUG, to work together to effectively address issues related to corruption.
“I have seen lack of political will, weak state, lots of impunity, selective justice, not existing system of checks and balances, inefficient institutions,” observed senior MEC member Slagjana Taseva while addressing a news conference in Kabul.
She emphasized the need for strong leadership to improve anti-corruption efforts.
‘Trust is diminishing’
“The government desperately needs to make sure that public trust and confidence are still there on the government’s ability to fight corruption and in our conversations we have found that that trust is diminishing,” noted MEC chairman Shaukat Hassan.
He warned that 70 percent of Afghanistan’s budget comes from international assistance and if there is a weakening of the government’s resolve to combat corruption, there will be repercussions.
Hassan said there are worries that whatever progress has been made in fighting corruption is under threat from “the increasingly contentious political” environment in Afghanistan.
FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks to religious leaders during an anti-corruption conference at Amani high school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2015. For Afghanistan, entrenched corruption is resulting in donor fatigue.
“MEC is quite concerned about the ability of the NUG to work together to effectively address issues related to corruption,” he said.
The chairman went on to acknowledge numerous political, social, economic and security issues facing the government, but said if the Afghan leadership loses focus on fighting corruption, it will have serious implications for Afghanistan and could undermine efforts to seek continuous financial assistance in future international donors’ conferences.
‘Massive and systemic problem’
Corruption is one of the most serious threats to the U.S.-funded Afghanistan reconstruction effort, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR, told the U.S. Congress on Wednesday.
The federal oversight agency says the U.S. has spent $113 billion rebuilding Afghanistan, more than it spent rebuilding Europe after World War II, adjusted for inflation.
“SIGAR and other observers - not least of whom is President Ghani - have consistently reported that corruption remains a massive and systemic problem in Afghanistan. It is troubling, therefore, that the United States continues to operate without a comprehensive overall strategy for coordinating and executing effective measures to reduce the malign influence of corruption in Afghan society,” Sopko said in his written statement.
He noted that corruption is a critical issue not only for government effectiveness and legitimacy, but for fiscal sustainability. “Kabul relies heavily on customs receipts for domestic revenue, but corruption severely constricts the actual flow of funds to its treasury, while adding to the risk of “donor fatigue.”
The United States Institute for Peace, in its latest report, said the cash-strapped Afghan government’s budget revenue increased almost 22 percent in 2015, showing an “extraordinary turnaround” of 30 percent as compared to the 8 percent drop in 2014.
The government-funded institute cited stronger tax collection efforts, corruption crackdowns and new taxes contributed to the “impressive revenue turnaround.”
It attributed 56 percent of the increased revenue to better collection efforts, especially in the customs department, which controls trade at the country’s border crossings.
"This experience demonstrates that targeted progress can be achieved, even in Afghanistan’s challenging political and security environment,” the institute said.