Reforms needed to fight Afghan corruption, says former prosecutor

Author: By Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters

Corruption in Afghanistan has become a crucial issue for newly re-elected
President Hamid Karzai, with US officials tying the future of the military
operation defending his government to his efforts to stop graft.

In an interview, Abdul Jabar Sabet, who served as Afghanistan’s top prosecutor
for nearly two years until July 2008, said poor salaries of police forced
them to take bribes, while top officials were enriching themselves with
impunity.

“Here we have two types of people involved in corruption: poor government
officials who need it for survival and those officials who have houses in
Kabul and other parts of the country, but want to have one (also) in Dubai,”
he told Reuters.

US officials have discussed a proposal to create an anti-corruption watchdog.
Sabet said that was likely to be a waste of money, as long as the police,
judges and prosecutors are so poorly trained and paid.

“At the end of the day any case under the law will have to be dealt with
by the police, then investigated by the related prosecutor and finally the
judiciary will decide on it,” Sabet said.

“The commissions will have the role of observers and will not have
effective impact in reducing corruption.”

Sabet, who lived in the West for years, took the job in 2006 announcing a “holy
war” against administrative corruption, but failed to bring to justice
key figures in the government, among Western development contractors and
firms often dealing in hundreds of millions of dollars.

After a few days in the job, he arrested some low ranking government officials
for graft, but realised that prosecuting those at higher levels was nearly
impossible because of pressure from senior officials, he said.

“I had detained a civil servant who had exempted a foreign company from
paying $4.5m (£2.7m) in tax to the government, but could not keep him in
detention more than a few days,” he said.

He declined to name any senior officials who pressured him while in office or
who he believed were now involved in graft.

A staunch critic of Karzai who was a minor candidate for president in the Aug.
20 election, Sabet said even Karzai himself seemed powerless to touch those
figures.

The endemic corruption has made many Afghans feel nostalgic for the Taliban
rule, when people found guilty of graft risked being whipped in public.

Ordinary Afghans have to pay small bribes to get a driver’s licence, or even
to get officials to accept tax payments. Meanwhile, powerful figures often
commit crimes with impunity.

Karzai came under international criticism earlier this year for pardoning a
group of drug dealers, one of whom was the nephew of his politically
powerful campaign manager.

Karzai, in his first news conference after winning a second term this week,
said a campaign against the issue was his top priority, but gave no details
of new measures.

The United States wants Karzai to arrest and prosecute corrupt government
officials to shore up his legitimacy, the top US military officer, Admiral
Mike Mullen, said yesterday.

“He’s got to take concrete steps to eliminate corruption … you have to
show those visible signs,” Mullen said.

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