In The News

The Afghanistan High Office of Oversight for Anti-Corruption – A Glimmer of Hope

September 9, 2009

Amidst the chaos and seemingly endless obstacles confronting Afghanistan every day, a small dedicated  – and unheralded  – group of Afghan leaders has taken on the enormous challenge of combating corruption.

The High Office of Oversight for Anti-Corruption (HoO) was established by President Karzai in June 2008 following repeated calls from the international community to fight corruption across all government institutions. For a country that has the dubious honor of being one of the most corrupt states in the world, this is no small task by any definition. It requires courage and leadership against a landscape of institutional graft and generations of belief that “baksheesh” (“tips” or bribery) is an accepted way to conduct business.

In less than one year, the HoO leadership, led by the capable and solemn director, Mr. Osmani and his charismatic deputy, Mr. Ahmadi, has managed to establish a substantial anti-corruption foundation. We need not remind the reader that news from Afghanistan is rarely positive, but HoO has provided some signs of light at the end of a very long and challenging tunnel.

After its formation, HoO quickly did the following: 1) they launched a provocative yet well-received country-wide TV and radio anti-corruption campaign; 2) created an interactive website that gives Afghan citizens a place to lodge complaints against corrupt activities and government officials (yes, the Internet is prospering in Afghanistan – hundreds of Internet cafes have cropped up across the country and many Afghans now subscribe to the Internet at home); and 3) established a corruption complaints office which receives and manages hundreds of written and verbal complaints each week. Next month, they’ll set up a corruption complaints telephone “hotline.”  HoO recently established an asset registration and declaration for senior government officials’ personal financial records. Interestingly, they were able to influence several high profile ministers to complete their asset registration forms via live television broadcast, presenting the public with some sense of legitimacy to the program.

While it’s still early, it seems that the investigation of complaints of corruption has already displayed some positive gains, including many judges and other government officials being removed from their posts as a result. Clearly, this could not have been possible without the close relationships established between the HoO, the Ministry of Interior, the Attorney General’s office, and the Chief Justice’s office with over-arching support from the Office of the President.

In addition, HoO is conducting several ongoing reviews in areas that affect millions of regular Afghans on a daily basis. One recent example is administrative reform for the vehicle registration process. The old system required a total of 51 steps with the potential for 51 bribes totaling hundreds of dollars and lasting three to six months. HoO, together with the Ministry of Interior and the Afghanistan Transportation Department, created a new 3-step process that takes less than three days and requires no money to exchanges hands:  all fees are deposited to a local bank, not to a government official. It is expected that this new system will generate millions of dollars for the Afghan government coffers. HoO staff at monitoring sites say vehicle owners have had an extremely positive reaction to this new system.

The Asia Foundation has worked alongside HoO to provide technical assistance and support, such as assisting with organizational design, modern office set-up, establishing a recruitment and selection system for directors, and providing training opportunities in Singapore and Europe.

But against a backdrop of severe, long-standing institutional corruption and current mounting allegations that even the presidential elections have been corrupt, how has HoO managed to achieve these remarkable gains?  Strong leadership has been their secret to success. Without the dynamic, forward-thinking attributes of Osmani and Ahmadi little could have been achieved. It is hoped they are as successful moving forward.

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