One can begin from a very neglected possibility of a corruption-free Afghanistan and conclude it is a holistic reality. The neglected possibility of corruption-free Afghanistan is that the tasked entities at local and national levels are dysfunctional and the holistic reality is that the country is “fantastically corrupt.”
The Afghan government’s new commitments to international community in September 2015, based on Self-Reliance through the Mutual Accountability Framework are summed up as fight against corruption, good governance, rule of law and human rights, as well as fiscal sustainability and public finance management. To some extent, the National Unity Government has fulfilled its commitments in fiscal sustainability and public finance management endeavors, for instance, a 22 percent beyond expectation increase in national revenue. However, the government lags in the anti-corruption struggle, protection of human rights, good governance and rule of law.
One of the reasons that the government lags in anti-corruption is a lack of engaging people at local levels to create demand for accountability and transparency. This is possible through, peoples’ participation, especially through functioning entities to be enhanced and improved by capacity building programs, developing guidelines and providing them with adequate resources to fulfill their mandates.
I do not derogate from anti-corruption efforts carried out by Afghan government in this regard, such as establishing anti-corruption justice center, setting up institutional arrangements in procurement and developing public finance management roadmap. Besides, the government has detained some high ranking officials from urban development ministry, acting mayor for Kabul city and a number of middle ranked government officials and suspended the duties of some officials in defense ministry as well. However, the government has failed to fulfill its anti-corruption mandates. One of its commitments was to dissolve high office of oversight and establishing anti-corruption commission instead, clarifying the mandates of anti-corruption institutions including high council against corruption which is led by president himself. More importantly, the anti-corruption and counter corruption measures by the government have not reached the local level to increase government legitimacy.
On October 5, the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan is to happen which is considered as a platform for the government of Afghanistan to set out its goals and introduce its reform agenda. For this, the Afghan government has developed the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework that will be presented in the Brussels Conference and is hopeful to garner international support. A full implementation of this framework will remain a myth unless the local entities, both governmental and people-run organizations cooperate honestly. Besides, a gradual decentralization in planning and budgeting in consideration of provinces liability will also increase peoples’ participation in ensuring transparency and accountability at local levels.
Outdated mechanisms, corrupt officials, the existence of powerful vicious circles inside and outside government and lack of honest monitoring and watchdog institutions are considered as main causes of corruption in Afghanistan.
As far as corruption at a local level is concerned, there are local watchdog and monitoring bodies such as provincial councils, civil society organizations and media to address corruption remonstrance at sub-national level.
It is a general fact that grass roots participation in key decision-making process such as prioritizing local needs, planning and monitoring the government run projects and service delivery, is the cornerstone in a burgeoning democracy. In an Afghan scenario, one of the competent institutions which represent grass roots participation at local level is provincial councils which are constitutionally elected bodies. The members of these councils are elected by the residents of each province every four years. According to provincial councils’ law, these elected bodies are considered as watchdogs at local levels that have full legal support to have an eagle-eye on local administrations’ activities in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
Out of fourteen main responsibilities of provincial councils, oversight and monitoring is the most important ones.
Notwithstanding the fact that local government administrations consider provincial council as discontent, hindering entity hampering their daily tasks, but these councils proved to be one of the outstanding mechanisms to decrease corruption at sub-national levels if it functions according to its law and procedure, and in collaboration with civil society organizations.
In addition, the president of Afghanistan has signed a decree which allows provincial councils to oversee and monitor the service delivery and developmental activities of local government administrations. In order to actualize this, independent directorate of local governance; a governmental entity which administrates and supports local governance including provincial councils, has prepared oversight guidelines which facilitates and speeds up the process.
Currently, a great number of provincial councils are dysfunctional due to lack of clarity in their law and procedures, inadequate operational resources to carry out their assigned tasks, lack of cooperation with civil society organizations and media, security threats on themselves and their offices and existence of fraud members among themselves. It is upon independent directorate of local governance and provincial councils both to overcome the aforementioned challenges collaboratively and work out at political and administrative lines to actualize the peoples’ agenda on eradication of corruption in the country.
Fighting corruption is the basic responsibility of Afghan government to carry it out by hook or crook, but the people should also shoulder the burden. The provincial councils and civil society organizations as two independent entities at both national and local level can address corruption and ensure transparency and accountability to a great extent.
People’s participation will bring an end to the agony of corruption in the country and avoid a calamitous collapse of Afghan state’s dignity and prestige, if both governmental and watchdog organizations at local as well as national level, cooperate and reach to a common understanding in addressing the corruption agony together. This can happen through developing mutual action frameworks at local as well as national level.
*Nassir Ahmad Taraki lives in Kabul. He is a university lecturer and Can be followed on twitter @NassirTaraki