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We need a comprehensive strategy to fight corruption

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By Anayatullah Alami-According to a recent survey launched by Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA) the corruption arrived at the third position and appeared to be biggest problem of the country after insecurity and unemployment. In such a situation first bold action of the government to suspend Mr. Abdul Razaq Wahidi, the Minister of Telecommunication and IT was badly needed and should be followed by more investigations and reforms in the government employees, as well as in various other sectors if the government is resolute in its resolve to clean its departments of the environment favorable to the growth of corruption.

The corruption watchdog NGO adds that the total amount of the corruption in the 2016 precedes the annual income of the government in the same year. The survey estimates the amount of corruption in the last year at around three billion USD. This is mind blowing and thus serves as the main cause of emboldening the already existing distance and wall between the government and the people. To eliminate a problem of this magnitude requires a strategy that can attack the menace of corruption from several different sides.

The government needs to take more similar actions and investigate other departments as well. It is obvious that the amount stated by the IWA in its survey must have involvement of far more than a minister or two to commit such a big amount of corruption. Suspension and ending the impunity, in other words, increasing the fear of being caught for the corrupt officers is one element of the strategy to address this issue. But that approach alone is not enough; instead a strategy to address the third largest problem of the country should use different approaches, so that each section of the strategy deals with problems within a specific sector.

The strategy to address such huge corruption should include efforts to take out the environment conducive to the growth of the menace of corruption. The environment could be cleaned by effective reforms and taking out the unnecessary processes within government departments that places the government officials in a position to demand bribe for doing favors to this or that party or individual in need of services.

Based on the above, the service delivery processes should be shortened. The interactions between several officials and a customer of the government department should be reduced to one, or, two. The facilities should be arranged in a way that would not create frustrations for the customers. Since, the higher the frustration of the customers the more there would be chances of corruption in a department. Additionally, it is the frustration (either artificially created, or due to lack of necessary facilities) that creates favorable environment for the personal interests and greed which convinces a customer to pay for services and the greed among the officials to receive or demand the bribes.

Next important strategy element to counter corruption and its fattening is establishment of a strong executive branch within the government. Since, a long time involvement of the officials have accustomed them to making illegal money very quickly and within a short time, and the menace had achieved multiplication as the disease has become pervasive in the country. To address this part of the problem, a single strategy addressing only part of the problem would not work. Therefore, there should be a specific police department tasked and specialized only in dealing with the corruption. This police force must have authorities within legal framework of Afghanistan to arrest and investigate government officials as well as other entities and suspects of corruption involvement.

Additionally, a whistle-blower policy has to be in place in the country. Every department should have a complaints box. The complaints box should only be opened once a week by the counter-corruption police department.

In order to encourage people to complain about corruption involvement for a specific time such as two years, people that inform the police about corruption or complain about corruption issues if failed to prove the corruption should not be punished. This is because of the already existing level of impunity against the corrupt officials, which has paved the way to the growth of the corruption. Secondly, because of the already existing frustration among masses due to the wide spread corruption in the country.

Advertisements should be made on TVs, Radios and other media to inform the people through announcing to them that complaints of corruption in government departments will not be paid by the callers and the government would bear the call costs instead.

As C. Stephan states the degree of corruption is determined by the monopoly plus discretion minus morality and transparency. The government has to address the issues of discretion and monopoly and that is only possible by strict implementation of the law and regulations. New regulations for delivery of services should be approved and enacted which should reduce the discretions and monopolies of government employees. The government employees should be watched for their exercise of discretionary authorities.

The morality has already been badly damaged by waves of several years of corruption and complete impunity in our country. It should be boosted by condemnation of the corruption acts. The IWA recommends open trails, which can partly recover peoples fear for being caught. And this fear in turn will increase back the lost morality as the corruption grew larger in breadth and depth.

Another better approach could be transparency in all government services and contracts. Corruption is a crime and the crime can only take place in the dark from the eyes of the public. The transparency will shed light on all the corners where government offers services to the public and thus the chances of corruption would be considerably reduced with increased transparency in the government performances.

Encouraging access to information would help the transparency grow and the light spread on dark spots, which will in turn tighten the control over the corrupt people and their practices. Without such a strategy to bring everything to light the same impunity will rule the government officials and the corrupt officials will rule the people who will soon feel as victims and eventually rebel against the government they themselves voted for.

The writer has worked at Afghanistan Times and could be reached at: anayat1@hotmail.com