Report: Afghans Paid $3.9 Billion in Bribes Last Year

Half of Afghanistan’s population paid at least one bribe to public officials over the past year, for a total of $3.9 billion, according to a recent UN report on corruption. $3.9 billion is twice Afghanistan’s domestic revenue, and one quarter the amount international donors have pledged in civilian aid to Afghanistan over the next four years.

The findings highlight ongoing concerns over the effectiveness of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Over the past eleven years, the U.S. has allocated close to $90 billion for Afghanistan aid, including over $20 billion for governance and economic development.

The effectiveness of U.S. aid to Afghanistan has long been questioned. On the security side, the U.S. has appropriated over $50 billion to train and equip Afghan forces since 2002. Yet according to a Pentagon assessment, only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is capable of operating independently.

The story is similar on economic and development aid. According to one estimate, 70 percent of aid to Afghanistan goes to overhead costs, 15 percent goes to the intended recipient, and 15 percent is “lost, stolen or misappropriated.”

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. government watchdog that oversees efforts in Afghanistan, wrote in 2010,

“The majority of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan has been provided without the benefit of such a strategy [to combat corruption]. While the Afghan government has established a number of anti-corruption institutions, they lack independence, audit authority, and capacity. U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan have provided relatively little assistance to some key Afghan oversight institutions.”

International donors have tied future funding to improvement on humanitarian and anticorruption efforts. The Afghanistan government remains publicly committed to reducing fraud and abuse, but progress seems uncertain.

For example, according to the UN report, the number of bribes in Afghanistan decreased by 9 percent since 2009. But the total amount paid in bribes increased by 40 percent.

Similarly, a recent SIGAR report found that Afghan officials are stonewalling U.S. efforts to track the flow of cash out of the Kabul airport. An estimated $4.5 billion was carried out of Afghanistan in 2011, raising fears of money laundering and cash smuggling.

Although the U.S. has committed to withdrawing combat troops by the end of 2014, continued support for Afghanistan’s security forces and efforts to build economic stability and governance will likely cost billions of dollars each year. Without a new strategy for our efforts in Afghanistan, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars could be lost through waste and corruption.

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