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Afghan president issues decree to curb corruption

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a joint press conference with Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, unseen, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, July 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is under pressure from the international community to do more to battle corruption, has issued an ambitious list of government reforms that orders his ministries, prosecutors and judiciary to fight bribery, nepotism and cronyism.

Karzai's 23-page decree also instructs officials to clear the attorney general's office and the courts of languishing corruption-related cases and do more than talk about bringing crooked figures to justice.

Donor nations have long expressed concern about corruption within the Afghan government and $16 billion in aid pledged this month at a Tokyo conference is tied to a new monitoring process to assure that the money is not diverted by corrupt officials or mismanaged. Karzai has blamed international contracting procedures for some of the problem.

In the decree, Karzai also repeated his request that high-ranking government officials or their relatives do not get rebuilding contracts. He also demanded that ministries and other governmental departments write up a flurry of progress reports on a myriad of issues - including efforts to resolve traffic problems in the dusty, congested Afghan capital, Kabul.

The decree, issued late Thursday, is similar to an executive order, but is ambiguous about what happens to those who don't comply. It also does not spell out who will pay for the government cleansing that Karzai proposed.

Political analyst Jawid Kohistani said he did not think the decree would stave off corruption in the government.

"Karzai is acting late on corruption," he said Friday. "We have anti-corruption laws, but it is very difficult to remove corruption. It is hard to just remove corruption by a decree. He should start to remove corruption from inside the palace.

"I'm not confident that this decree will bring good results because those people who are involved in corruption are high-ranking officials in the government. They have control of the economy and they also are grabbing the land. The low-ranking employees of the government - they are only getting small bribes."

Afghanistan, with a history of war and international interference and support, has long been plagued by corruption. It has come in 180th out of 183 countries on Transparency International's corruption index, which scored countries based on perceived levels of public sector corruption. Only North Korea and Somalia were deemed to be more corrupt.

Karzai, who has about two years left in office, has repeatedly promised to clean up corruption in his administration without much result. On June 21, he called a special session of the parliament to speak out against corruption - just ahead of the donors' conference in Tokyo, where the international community complained about corruption within his administration.

"You should cooperate with me on these reforms. You have accused me of making deals. Yes, I have done so, but I had reasons. And now I am changing this. I am bringing reform from the inside," Karzai told the Afghan lawmakers in June.

It was unclear what he had meant by "deals," although the president is frequently accused of letting allies keep powerful posts despite allegations that surround them. Highly placed government officials have been investigated but seldom prosecuted. Some of the graft investigations have come close to the president himself, implicating either family members in government posts or close Karzai associates.

While Karzai expressed gratitude for the Tokyo pledges, he said his government was not solely to blame. He said the contracting process for development projects, which have poured billions of dollars into his war-torn country's fragile economy, have led to influence-buying.

The anti-corruption decree also says:

-Government officials are not to appoint relatives or friends to positions within the administration, or try to influence those who are making the appointments.

-The Afghan Supreme Court is to finalize in the next six months all cases regarding corruption, land grabbing and targeted killings suspected of being conducted for political reasons.

-Promotions and appointments within the Afghan army and police are to be reported to the president's office in an apparent effort to curb nepotism and cronyism.

-All inactive courts are to be fully operating within nine months in all 34 provinces and their more than 300 districts. In rural areas, lack of government presence has lead citizens to turn to Taliban courts, which swiftly resolve disputes but undermine the government's influence.

-The Finance Ministry is to send a report to the president in a month, detailing the outstanding loan money and property the government is trying to reclaim from the troubled Kabul Bank. The bank, which nearly collapsed in 2010 because of mismanagement and more than $800 million in questionable loans, became a symbol of the country's deep-rooted corruption.

-Two public campaigns are to be developed - one to reduce violence against women and the other to promote national unity in Afghanistan, which has a patchwork of various tribes and ethnicities with a history of conflict. The withdrawal of most foreign forces by the end of 2014 has spawned fears of a civil war.

 

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