& Opinion

On October 5 the international community at the Brussels conference made a welcome long-term commitment to support the Afghan government until 2020. What was lacking, however, was a serious attempt to tackle corruption.

The only anti-corruption commitment among the 24 agreed by the government and donors is the development of an anti-corruption strategy by the first half of 2017. Given the deep-rooted corrupt practices across the country, this is simply not sufficient.

Unless corruption is curbed, too much of the $15.2 billion USD on the table will go to waste or to line the pockets of the few. The long-suffering Afghan people will miss out. For the donor community not to insist on serious anti-corruption measures, and to simply delay action by calling for a plan in six months, is disingenuous. The key components of an effective anti-corruption strategy are already well-known.

Transparency International, working with civil society experts, produced a comprehensive review of all the Afghan institutions in 2015 and a series of recommendations that should be implemented. A further review of the 50 commitments made by the National Unity Government to fight corruption was released ahead of the Brussels Conference in early October. It found that only two out of the top 22 anti-corruption commitments had been implemented.

Any new funding should have been based on benchmarks that are measurable, meaningful and transparent. The most important institution to tackle is the judiciary, which is perceived as the most corrupt institution in the country.

Last year 63 percent of people polled said they had paid a bribe when dealing with the judicial system. Unfortunately, this is the same as polling figures from three years ago.

President Ghani's much touted new Anti-Corruption Justice Centre only started on 23 August but for the previous two years the courts dealt with fewer than 20 cases of corruption - although hundreds of corrupt acts take place across the country every day. The need for clear targets is obvious.

One key indicator in previous talks between donors and the government was the appointment of an attorney general. That took almost two years. But a simple appointment won't solve the problems facing Afghanistan's judiciary; it's the structure that needs to change.

The attorney general's office has enough financial resources but it lacks qualified and professional prosecutors. The problem becomes severe at the provincial and district levels. There is no anti-corruption arm with expertise on corruption cases and the office is subject to political interference.

This perpetuates the sense of impunity that runs through the entire judicial system.

Judges are appointed by the Supreme Court, whose members are appointed by the President on approval of parliament. This raises the question of the separation of powers and produces a dysfunctional justice system in which corruption goes largely unpunished.

The solution would be merit-based appointment of judges by an independent judicial services commission. In May, President Ashraf Ghani chose to create the High Council for Governance, Rule of Law and Anti-corruption, a new governance entity, chaired by himself. It is a symbol of political will to fight corruption, but not enough to see results.

If President Ghani is serious about fighting corruption he needs to give his people the effective anti-corruption agency they deserve. Almost everybody in the Afghanistan anti-corruption community, including donors, knows that the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption, created in 2008, lacks independency, supporting laws, and leadership capacity. It scored 0 out of 100 in our recent study for its internal integrity.

Afghans will continue to suffer unless the country has the competency and capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute corruption cases. But when it comes to crunch time at major international meetings, the international community goes soft in evaluating previous deliveries against agreed targets. We've just witnessed that in Brussels.

A better framework for concrete changes must be developed with meaningful benchmarks immediately. Afghanistan needs an independent anti-corruption agency and an independent judicial services commission to appoint judges. The new Anti-Corruption Justice Centre should be set challenging and measurable targets for investigating and prosecuting corruption, and adequately resourced.

Civil society and the Afghan people must be allowed to cross check the government's reporting to donors. For now the review is done behind closed doors. It is time for the international community to send strong and consistent message to the Afghan government that a strong justice system where there is no impunity is the critical foundation of the effort to fight corruption in the country.

Fighting corruption is challenging but not insurmountable. The government must move from promises to action in order to curb corruption in all sectors and ensure the new $15.2 billion USD is only spent to support Afghans to live better lives.

Dr. Srirak Plipat is director for Asia Pacific at Transparency International.

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