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Harry Cassin
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Bill Steinman
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Richard L. Cassin
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Julie DiMauro
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Thomas Fox
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Marc Alain Bohn
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Bill Waite
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Shruti J. Shah
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Russell A. Stamets
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Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

A sense the rich and powerful are above the law

After 16 years, Afghanistan is now America’s longest war. But the regime we’re fighting for is one of the world’s most corrupt. It ranked 177 out of 180 on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index.

Because the United States pours at least $45 billion a year into the war, Congress directed the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to “conduct an assessment of implementation of the [country’s] anti-corruption strategy.”

The Special Inspector General published the report last week.

There’s a “sense that the rich and powerful are above the law,” the Special Inspector General said.

Anti-corruption enforcement is weak. The “police are reluctant to arrest people whose bodyguards are better armed than they are, and are discouraged by politically powerful individuals into not opening some cases.”

Even when police refer corruption cases to prosecutors, there’s often no follow up. “This is in part because . . . prosecutors also face pressures to drop cases against powerful individuals,” the report said.

In the rare cases that actually go to trial and sentencing, defendants take advantage of “opaque appeals processes to have their sentences reduced, or simply refuse to show up for their trials, sentences, and prison terms.”

Within the government, officials who violate codes of ethics often face no internal consequences. Reformers and whistleblowers aren’t protected from reprisals.

On the plus side, the Afghan government has begun implementing its anti-corruption strategy and other reforms, the report said.

“While the strategy is a positive step, it has weaknesses and it does not meet some international standards and best practices.”

The anti-corruption strategy focuses primarily on 15 “priority” ministries. Yet the role of Afghanistan’s largest ministry, the Ministry of Defense, is left unclear. The MOD handles the biggest chunk of the country’s overall budget.

More than half the goals set out in Afghanistan’s anti-corruption strategy (38 of 66) lack “corresponding benchmarks to evaluate implementation progress.”

More than a third of the benchmarks (14 of 38) are “without corresponding goals, making it unclear how the completion of these benchmarks will advance the government’s anti-corruption goals.”

Most Afghan citizens — nearly 84 percent, according to a 2017 Asia Foundation survey — think corruption in their country is a major problem, and getting worse.

The IG report raises questions about the regime’s “ability to fully implement the strategy and demonstrate a lasting commitment to combating corruption.”

The conclusion: Without true reforms and a new commitment at the top, “a climate of corruption will endure.”

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The full May 2018 report from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to Congress is here (pdf).

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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