Thursday, June 17, 2010

Food for Thought Regarding Corruption

The following is an excerpt on corruption in Afghanistan written by Prof. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The full text of his article is available here. Doug and I are in the midst of a case study of a successful anti-corruption reform program. One question about these efforts is what matters in a successful anti-corruption campaign: changes in incentives or changes in values? In our case study we find evidence that the answer is "both," and the Cordesman article also suggests that looking at either incentives or values in isolation misses how the importance of how the two interact.

"The US, its allies, and all aid donors need to take responsibility for much of what is called “corruption.” They failed to understand that Afghans accept informal payments as part of the cost of normal life. They did not consider the real world motivations of people involved in some 30 years of war and turmoil and who had no way to know if any given job or position would last more than a few months.

"They failed to see the importance of preserving the Afghan civil service and instead hired many Afghans away from the government. They created a virtually uncontrolled flood of money that could be grabbed by Afghans who had not had any similar opportunities in 30 years, who had limited loyalty or no abstract concept of governance, and who had the resulting ability to take that money to become wealthy and buy power in the process. Organizations like UNAMA and AID have been massively corrupting forces in Afghanistan. So have the US and ISAF military who have given massive amounts of money to poorly supervised contractors and others, who in turn not only buy power with that money, but often pay a tax to insurgents in the process.

"These problems have been compounded by an emphasis on anticorruption drives that have had a predictable lack of effect. Rather than threaten the power structure, they lead to hollow investigations, finding scapegoats, shuffling officials from one post to another, and predictable resistance from any Afghan with the clout and wealth to avoid becoming a successful target.

"Moreover, all these problems interacted with a past emphasis on building a formal justice system whose resources and timescales were impossibly long and limited in near-term coverage, decoupled from credible policing and detention, and ignored the hopelessly low pay and poor security for judges and prosecutors. The end result bypassed the kind of less formal justice Afghans wanted and needed, left much of the country without effective justice, and empowered the Taliban to the point where it had enough presence to create its own “prompt” justice system. Anticorruption efforts cannot function at the local and regional levels under such circumstances, and creating local police becomes impossible when there is no real justice system for them to support and virtually any power broker or successful criminal can buy their way to the result they want."

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