Corrupt Afghan officials hurt aid

WASHINGTON — Corruption in the Afghan political and legal systems is “pervasive” and “entrenched,” a report prepared for the main U.S. aid agency says, posing a challenge to the Obama administration’s plans to steer more assistance through the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

“Seven years after the fall of the Taliban government, corruption has become more than the standard-issue bribery, nepotism, and extortion,” says the little-noticed report, prepared in March by consultants to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). It’s become systemic, and “the officials and agencies that are supposed to be part of the solution … are instead a critical part of the corruption syndrome.”

The report, based on dozens of interviews in Afghanistan, says Afghans “are angry that justice is bought and sold, good public-sector jobs go to the highest bidder, police and judges … are too often out to extort from them, and many public services are delayed ‘indefinitely’ unless a bribe is paid.”

USAID has spent about $8 billion on Afghanistan since 2002, but about 10% of it has gone through the Afghan government, Afghanistan envoy Richard Holbrooke told a congressional panel this month. He wants to raise that to “at least 40 or 50%, because we’re trying to build up Afghan capacity.”

The central government can’t distribute aid well because of corruption and “bureaucratic incompetence,” said Tom Schweich, a former top U.S. counternarcotics official. Schweich said that is why he backs steering money to “community development councils” nominally controlled by Kabul but still accountable to U.S. officials. Even local projects are risky, however. A $164 million USAID program to boost provincial government has largely failed, according to an audit released last week. Attempts by local officials to get the U.S. contractor to hire their friends were cited as a major problem.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has acknowledged the corruption, but attempts to curb it “were largely window dressing,” Seth Jones, of the RAND Corp. think tank, told Congress last month. The U.S. has also increased efforts to tackle corruption, the report says, but progress has been limited because many observers believe “counterterrorism and insurgency imperatives trump anti-corruption.”


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