The results of a survey conducted by the U.N Office of Drugs and Crime and Afghanistan’s anti-corruption unit released on Thursday shows that the cost of government corruption in Afghanistan soared in 2012.
Although the percentage of Afghans paying bribes to public officials to obtain services dropped by 9% from 2009 – 2012, it still remained at 50%. Over the same period the total cost of bribes paid to public officials increased by 40%, reaching $3.9 billion. That is equal to double to the total revenue collected by the government in taxes for the provision of public services.
“Corruption means you don’t get the best in the public sector, you get the best connected or those with the higher income,” said U.N. envoy Jean-Luc Lemahieu at a news conference, adding that this leads “towards alienation, frustration and a disconnect to those who should be able to give you the service provided.”
The Dangers of Corruption in Afghanistan
High levels of corruption means that many poor people in Afghanistan are unable to access public services, because they cannot afford to bribe the officials who should be providing them. This leads to high levels of alienation, turning many Afghans against the government – and perhaps into the hands of the Taliban. One of the main reasons why the Taliban were able to gain public support to rule the country prior to the international invasion which toppled then was the fact that they had been the only group able to keep corruption under control. With foreign troops preparing to leave Afghanistan in the near future, tackling corruption is key to ensuring that the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people remain with the elected government and not the Taliban.
There are also fears that foreign aid money could be diverted into the pockets of corrupt officials.
President Karzai has ordered a broad initiative to fight corruption, but this latest survey shows that he has had little success.
Interestingly, however, public acceptance – and even support – for public officials taking bribes appears to be increasing. The number of Afghans who think that it is acceptable for a civil servant on a low salary to accept small bribes has increased from 42% in 2009 to 68% in 2012. At the same time, there is also a growing awareness amongst the public that such acts are illegal; One-fifth of Afghans who paid a bribe in 2012 said that they had reported it to authorities.