Graft a key issue for next Afghan president: US envoy
KABUL (PAN): Though tangible progress has been made in Afghanistan during the last decade, the problem of endemic corruption threatens its progress, a critical issue the next president has to deal with, says the US ambassador to Afghanistan.
In his detailed remarks on Afghanistan’s current situation and his country support, James B. Cunningham in statement issued to Pajhwok Afghan News said Afghanistan had returned to life after years of war, with its citizens demanding and expecting more from their government.
As the country navigates on the path to development, however, corruption will be a critical issue, which voters will expect presidential candidates to address, he added.
As the people of Afghanistan work for the needed change and reforms, he assured, the United States would continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghanistan.
He said Afghanistan’s international partners would also welcome concrete action because demonstrable progress on combating corruption was important to preserving international support for Afghanistan in the years to come.
“All countries, including my own, face the challenge of corruption. We have valuable experience in dealing with it. In Afghanistan, we make extensive efforts to combat corruption in our own operations, and in US programs in Afghanistan,” he noted.
“We have not always been successful, but we try hard to find and prevent it. As well, Americans have worked with Afghan partners to ensure that the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s social services, infrastructure, and governing institutions is accompanied by the creation of durable mechanisms to improve accountability and transparency.”
He said Afghan leaders now have valuable tools, including electronic salary payments, civil service reforms, financial accountability bodies, judicial and prosecutorial training, civil society oversight, and freedom of the press which they can use to promote more effective and transparent government at all levels.
He said it was necessary, however, that Afghans use the tools that existed, and pursue the development of others.
The effects of corruption relate directly to Afghanistan’s future economic stability, he said, adding that to continue the progress of the last 12 years, Afghanistan would need to attract increased investment from both domestic and foreign sources.
Excellent investment opportunities existed to expand industry, develop natural resources, increase trade, and improve infrastructure, he said.
He noted attracting investors also required a transparent and efficient business environment and Afghanistan currently stands at 168 out of 185 in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” index, which meant that 167 countries had a better investment climate than Afghanistan.
He said if Afghanistan’s economic potential was to be unlocked, the Afghan government would have to put in place reforms that build investor confidence and encourage the Afghan business sector.
That means proper legislation that meets international standards ensuring reliable enforcement of contracts, dispute resolution through international norms using the Rule of Law, respect for property rights, a transparent and predictable atmosphere for both Afghan and international firms, and meaningful financial and economic reform, he added.
He elaborated those all were needed to secure the kind of business investment Afghanistan needed to build its future.
He said doing that was not easy for any developing country, but Afghanistan had had considerable support. International donor programs would continue to assist Afghanistan as it works to improve transparency and prevent corruption.
Excellent work has already been done. Some examples: The new systems of transparent, merit-based recruitment of public officials encourage placement based on merit, rather than cronyism and nepotism. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has published almost all of its mining contracts on its website, he added. Afghanistan’s largest municipality, Kabul, was introducing new streamlined processes in areas such as the issuance of construction permits and in key sectors such as collection of customs taxes and fees, Afghanistan is streamlining and modernizing its processes but much more was needed, he said.
He said enduring change would come as the Afghan people increasingly demand efficient, transparent, and responsive government, adding the media had an important role to play in highlighting corruption as a core issue for Afghanistan’s future.
Reducing corruption at all levels would weave more tightly the fabric that holds Afghan society together as it faces the stresses and strains of transition and further transformation and development, he noted.
He said it was vital to make the Afghan government and economy more efficient and productive by reducing the tremendous limitations imposed by corruption.
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