19.01.2021

Combating Corruption: Ending the Culture of Impunity

In a new series of policy briefs, our YLFees discuss current political challenges and recommendations

Combating corruption is crucial for Afghanistan to experience economic growth, achieve prosperity, and gain Afghans' trust in the system's ability. Despite some progress in the fight against corruption, the country still has a long way to go as Afghanistan is among the world's top 10 most corrupt countries. In the fight against corruption, the prosecution and trial of major corruption cases are important.

There is currently an absence of strong independent anti-corruption bodies to follow up on such cases. This environment enabled high ranking officials to enjoy impunity. To better fight corruption, the government should strengthen the established Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The government's leadership must demonstrate a strong political will by developing a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy and allocating sufficient resources for anti-corruption institutions' proper functioning. Doing so will contribute to put an end to the culture of impunity.

Over a decade, Afghanistan is among the Top Ten most corrupt countries in the world. The Afghan government has taken some measures set in the 2017 Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF) and the 2018 Afghanistan National Strategy for Combating Corruption (ANSCC). However, corruption is still a considerable challenge, and it undermines trust in the Afghan government.

The Asia Foundation Surveyshows that most Afghan respondents (81.5%) say corruption is a significant problem for Afghanistan. Another survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) shows that most Afghans (55%) expressed medium or higher trust in informal courts versus official ones.

In its 2020 report on corruption, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said, "previous anti-corruption efforts had yet to impact the lives of most Afghans positively." It also adds that "corruption remains one of the most significant obstacles to Afghanistan's long-term peace and prosperity." More alarmingly, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report shows that Afghanistan lost approximately $15.5 billion between 2008 and Dec 2017 and $1.8 billion between January 2018 and December 2019 in waste, fraud, and abuse. In total, it is approximately $17.3 billion.

Considering the urgency of eradicating corruption to build trust in the government, long-term peace, prosperity, and international partners' support, this policy brief narrowly focuses on improving the prosecution and trial of major corruption cases to end the "culture of impunity and special treatment. "

The policy brief will review the process of detection, prosecution, and trial of corruption cases and the coordination between the judicial and executive branches. More specifically, the brief sheds light on the Anti-Corruption agencies' activities. It analyzes the Major Crime Task Force (MCTF)'s current situation, the Attorney General's Office (AGO), and the Special Anti-Corruption Courts. It also provides recommendations to improve the detection, prosecution, and trial of major corruption cases to end the culture of impunity.

Analysis of the situation

According to the 2018 National Corruption Survey, the Supreme Court and Attorney General's Office are ranked as the first and third most corrupt public institutions by respondents. Many believe that leadership (44%) and employees (25%) of these organizations are corrupt. The Law on Structure and Authority of the AGO allows the organization to reform the prosecutor recruitment processes and make it merit-based to address the issue. However, civil society findings show that current reforms are still insufficient, and the government must make more significant reforms.  

Despite the High Council for Rule of Law and Governance as a coordination body between the judicial and executive branches and as the only high decision-making body in the country on anti-corruption efforts, there has been concern over the detection, prosecution, and trial of corruption cases. Most importantly, there is a coordination issue between the judicial and executive branches and conflict and disagreements within law enforcement institutions— namely the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJS) and the Major Crime Task Force (MCTF)— over important functions like registering cases to Case Management System, the appointment of human resources, institutional conflicts, and execution of some arrest warrants. As of January 2019, according to the AGO, more than 6,500 criminal arrest warrants remained outstanding.

To resolve the issue, the Afghan government developed a Joint Action Plan on Improving the Detection and Prosecution of Corruption Cases based on the 2018 Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework (GMAF) for 2018 -2019. There is no published report on the implementation of this plan to analyze how the program was effective and whether the issues mentioned above are solved or not.

Based on a Radio Free Europe report, there have been over 15 cases of corruption allegations against cabinet ministers in 2009, which the AGO was investigating. However, according to the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC), neither the AGO nor any other government institution provided information on the process of prosecuting allegations against ministers. The AGO only sent five corruption cases of ministers to the Supreme Court for trial, of which only two [one case on Jan 2021) moved to a Special Court Trial and verdict.

Based on the new amendment of the Penal Code, the Supreme Court must publish anti-corruption court verdicts. According to the ANSCC, the AGO must publish statistics on the prosecution and trial of corruption cases. Both the S.C. and AGO posted statistics, but they are not currently clear, organized, categorized, or complete. This creates more confusion on how many major corruption cases exist in the country and how many are addressed. There is a need for a transparent platform to publish all statistics.

International donors and Afghan civil society still have concerns about the seeming impunity of powerful actors in Afghanistan. Anti-corruption institutions often lack the political will and resources to arrest and prosecute influential Afghans, which requires urgent attention. According to the 2018 Anti-Corruption Law, an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) should be established to monitor, coordinate, and report on Afghanistan's anti-corruption efforts. The establishment of the ACC was a priority in the ANSCC.

Just a few days before the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, the Afghan government formed the Anti-Corruption Commission. However, there are no updates on the work process and activities of this commission. The formation of this commission was welcomed by some international donors while questioned by civil society organizations.

On December 09, 2019 (the International Anti-Corruption Day), the Second Vice President of Afghanistan, Sarwar Danesh, acknowledged that the government had failed to create strong anti-corruption bodies, something which is emphasized by national and international organizations as well. "Powerful, politically-connected Afghans often act with impunity, making it difficult for the Afghan government to demonstrate a true commitment to curbing corruption," said U.S. Special Inspector General John F. Sopko in an online webinar held by Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) on the State of Corruption in Afghanistan and the Role of Independent Institutions on June 24, 2020.

Conclusion

The lack of a strong political will, the absence of an independent coordinating anti-corruption body like the Anti-Corruption Commission, the lack of clarity in the process of prosecution and trials of corruption cases, the lack of a platform for publishing-related statistics, and lack of coordination among current anti-corruption institutions within the executive and judicial branches makes it hard to bring reform, hold trials of major corruption cases to end the culture of impunity, and see tangible results in eradicating corruption.

Combating corruption is vital for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. Providing enough resources and political backing for anti-corruption institutions will accelerate the reform process and slowly increase citizen trust in the government.

Recommendations

  • The Afghan government's leadership must demonstrate a strong political will on the prosecution and trial of major corruption cases. This can be shown via developing and implementing a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy and supporting reformers.
  • An online portal should be created in which progress reports on all corruption cases will be uploaded regularly by the AGO, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA).
  • An independent anti-corruption bodies (specially the Anti-Corruption Commission) should be established and strengthened to improve the anti-corruption efforts and coordination of executive-judicial branches, and reporting on the corruption cases to the Afghan people and the media.
  • Sufficient resources should be allocated for the Anti-Corruption Commission, Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC), the AGO, the MCTF, and other anti-corruption institutions.

Mahdi Surosh is a member of the 2020/21 Young Leaders Forum.

This article has also been published in Dari by Afghanistan Today. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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