UN says bribe payments soar in Afghanistan

Survey found that $3.9bn, twice the nation's domestic revenue, was paid in bribes in 2012.

    UN says bribe payments soar in Afghanistan
    Survey of 7,000 Afghans suggested that half the population had to pay at least one bribe in 2012 [GALLO/GETTY]

    A new United Nations report on corruption in Afghanistan has found that $3.9bn, twice the nation's domestic revenue, was paid in bribes in 2012.

    The report, titled "Corruption in Afghanistan: Recent patterns and trends", released on Thursday, found that though corruption had dropped nine percent since 2009, the amount paid in bribes has risen by 40 per cent.

    "First and foremost, most Afghans unfortunately do regard this bribery as a fact of life", Jean-Luc Lemahieu, regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, told Al Jazeera.

    The survey of 7,000 Afghans suggested that half the population had to pay at least one bribe to a public official in 2012. Further, 68 percent per cent of those surveyed cited low wages as an acceptable reason for demanding bribes.

    At well over $300 each, judges and prosecutors received the highest average payment. The Afghan judiciary had previously come under scrutiny in November when the European Union suspended $25m in aid due to a lack of progress in fighting graft and ensuring "justice for all".

    Though they showed an increase since 2009, the average bribe offered to doctors and nurses were among the lowest, at just over $100.

    'Inequitable society'

    Lemahieu said the figures show a trend towards "a very inequitable society with those having the means to pay for a bribe getting immediate access to the government services, while those without the means lose their access or do not receive the services in time".

    Afghan women were estimated to pay only half as much in bribes as men. Rights activists told Al Jazeera that could be an issue of access and security.

    In more conservative areas of the country women likely have "less exposure to the types of interactions where bribes would be demanded", said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.

    Though the report found that one in five people confronted with an official asking for a bribe refused, Lemahieu said the refusal may have more to do with the nation's 35 percent unemployment rate and poverty than moral principles.

    "It has more to do with the ability to fund such a bribe than with moral judgement", and therefore the UNODC hopes the report will turn the tolerance of corruption "around through sensitising", Lemahieu told Al Jazeera.

    With Afghans educated at a primary level paying as many bribes as those educated at a secondary level and higher, Lemahieu said "the survey itself is a clear attempt to raise awareness within both government and the population at large."

    "Fortunately, we do not have to start from scratch seen that within several government departments, a ... start has been made to deal with corruption", Lemahieu said.

    In September Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, sacked five provincial governors and made changes to almost a third of the country's 34 provinces in a shakeout of corrupt and inept officials aimed at soothing foreign donors' fears.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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