Corruption Probe Nets Millions

Government auditors have recovered millions of dollars lost through corruption during the Taleban era.

Corruption Probe Nets Millions

Government auditors have recovered millions of dollars lost through corruption during the Taleban era.

The government’s first attempts to straighten out its finances and weed out corruption have proven profitable, having recovered substantial sums of cash that had been lost through fraudulent practices.

The authorities say a total of 3.8 million US dollars has been collected by investigators and auditors in the past year, just over 80 per cent of which has been retrieved from officials who engaged in underhand dealings under the previous regime.

The Audit and Control General Department, which answers directly to President Hamed Karzai, has trained 350 officials to audit finances in all the ministries, providing them with the skills necessary to spot overpayments for government purchases and underpayment for rental of state property - the main channels of corruption.

Typically, officials authorise payment for goods at a price several times their actual value, then split the profit with the merchants; or charge far less than the market rate for rental of government property, and then get a kickback from the businessman renting at the ultra-low rate.

In one recent example, three workers from a government-owned Afghan textile company bought some spare parts costing 600 afghanis, but asked the shopkeeper to write a bill for more than ten times that amount.

When the deputy president of the company, Engineer Abdullah, discovered the fraud, the shopkeeper gave up his share of the cut, as well as the 600 afganis for the spare parts, but the employees involved were not punished.

“I was trying to make it public and penalise the offenders, but since some other staff members of our administration [supervisors in the company] were involved in the case as well, I got fed up,” said Abdullah.

Like many honest people in government, Abdullah is caught between his desire to root out longstanding corrupt practices and the fact that powerful people around him continue to take advantage of their position.

Government workers at all levels, it seems, are torn between their conscience and their need to support extended families on low salaries.

In the past four months, investigations into finances of the current government have netted 661,000 dollars, but the bulk of the recovered funds have come from the Taleban era because, in spite of its often chaotic image, the regime’s officials kept good records.

Auditors have found many cases of businessmen who paid extremely low rents during the student militia era - exploiting connections with the regime. They forced them to return the difference between what they paid and the market rates at the time.

Hardest to track are the bribes demanded by low-level government workers for ordinary services - such as national identity cards and driving licenses - a practice so longstanding that it is engrained in the system.

During the long years of conflict and political upheaval there was little or no auditing and corruption took hold.

This is undermining economic development, as investors get hit for bribes at every turn - for importing goods, leasing land, or obtaining licenses.

The scourge is difficult to overcome, since workers at all levels aren’t educated about standard accounting practices and often don’t have a sense of professional ethics or nation duty.

“Prevention of corruption can only happen when all of our countrymen develop a sense of patriotism and get paid enough,” said audit office director Sharif Sharifi.

He said some employees indulge in taking bribes because they see the huge inequities in salaries, with Afghan officials who lived overseas often receiving substantially more than those who stayed in the country through the years of conflict.

This disparity affects workers all the way down the chain of government administration.

The director of criminal investigations for the attorney general’s office, Abdul Ghafar Irfani, has the job of trying to prosecute cases of bribe taking. “Twenty-three years of war increased administrative corruption. Lots of willful acts were carried out,” he told IWPR.

Their biggest catch was the administrative affairs director of the higher education ministry, Abdul Munir Mhroor, detained pending sentencing for fraud involving food staples from Kabul University and other colleges.

Mhroor’s activities were uncovered as part of the investigation following demonstrations at the Kabul campus in November, after the canteen had run out of food several nights in a row. At least five students died when police shot into the crowd of protesters.

The head of the attorney general’s office, Abdul Mahmood Mudaqiq, said, “Whenever we see any corruption in any office, we will act to stop it and bring the culprits before the law.”

Danish Karokhel is an IWPR editor/reporter in Kabul.

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