Thursday, September 12, 2013
By Haris Jahangeer
Afghanistan has been repeatedly ranked as one of most corrupt countries in the world; the 2012 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranked Afghanistan the third most corrupt country in the world with a score 8 out of 100. Afghanistan, together with North Korea and Somalia, are the only countries that scored below 10 among 174 States in this index, which means that the public sector is perceived as very corrupt in those countries.The National Corruption Survey (NCS) 2012, conducted by Integrity Watch Afghanistan in 2012, attests that corruption is considered the third biggestproblem byAfghans citizens after insecurity and unemployment. Approximately $ 1.25 billion waspaid in bribes in 2012, which is equal to 6% of Afghanistan’s GDP.Theimperative questionwe need to askis: why there is so much corruption in Afghanistan?[i]
There are a large number of factors contributing to this chaotic situation, ranging from the patronage nature of society to the flooding international aid in the aftermath of Taleban regime.This blog will explore one of the multiple reasons of the endemic corruption in Afghanistan: the link between corruption and the low wage of ordinary civil servants and disruption caused by the much higher wages of staff and advisors in governmental positionsfunded by international donors. This is especially important tounderstanding administrative and petty corruption since the civil servants who are in charge of service delivery receive inadequatewages to cover simple living costs.
There is a direct link between low salary of government officials and corruption.Therefore,the anti-corruption campaign must take in account this element.The low salary of Afghan government employeesis a source of demotivation. This encourages them to extract bribesfrom clients without feeling any guilt, especially when they see a considerable number of government employees who are paid throughinternational funding gettingmuch higher earnings plus better working environment and fancy equipment. These issues contribute topoor quality of services and widespread corruption. This may sound like a sweeping claim, but if you take a few minutes and talk to any governmental employee, the first challenge that they most likely point out is their own lowsalary.The second issue would probably be the grievances from the incentives and privileges of so-called ‘professional elites’.
According to Ministry of Finance data cited in one of the World Bank reports,an ordinary civil servant wage is ranged from $50 to $500 per month. However, a number of civil servants who went through the Pay and Grade process get from US $100 to over US $700 per month. There is a huge gap between this amount and salaries ofexternally funded staff,which rangefromUS $200to US $4000 per month.There are approximately 7000 ofexternally funded staff members working in the government of Afghanistan.[ii] In addition, when it comes to salaries or high ranked advisors and international consultants, the gap is even wider. The cost of a full-time international consultant is estimated between$250,000– $500,000 for the Afghan government annually.[iii] Buying technical assistance for reconstruction of Afghanistan has cost billions of dollars since the collapse of Taleban regime. For example, in 2009, underthe Obama administration, almost 1000 technical experts were deployed in Afghanistan to help the government ona wide range of issues from economic development to rule of law. It was extremely expensive, costing the United State almost two billion USD.[iv] The question remain that needs to be answered is, what has been the contribution of deployment of development missionaries?Surprisingly, the Afghan stateremains fragile, as it was ranked the 6th most fragile state in the world, according to 2012 Failed State Index.
When you discussthis situationwith civil servants,and especially about the contributions of advisors, you immediately feel the existence of strong sense of jealousy among the civil servants. Onone occasion, one of government employees franklyexpressed his frustrations withthe existence ofthis double standard wagesystem. He said that “people who are in the projects as an advisor are not somuch different regardingthe in qualifications than us, except that they just know a few words in English or they have a foreign passport.”[v]Furthermore, the sense of jealousy toward international consultants is also easily and often visible. For instance, some of national advisors mentioned that there is no significant dissimilarity between them and international advisors, except the advisors get high salaries, security, holiday and the work they produce is a good thing to attract more funding from donors—nothing else.[vi]
The irony is that these advisors are assigned to build the capacity of the same civil servant who feels inferiortothem and also always gossiping about their salaries, luxury offices and other privileges that they have.In capacity-buildingprogrammes mutual cooperation andtrust are extremely important. At the end of the day,the objective of any capacity-building intervention is to transfer the knowledge and skills of technical assisters totrainees, and this is virtually impossible without mutual cooperation and within a broken relationship marked by mistrust. One of the advisorsat the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock cited a civil servant who told him during training that “it would have been better to increase our salaries instead of all the repetitive trainings”.[vii] What happens in this circumstance is very obvious: the capacity-building programme will not meet its intended objectives and it actually increases the risk of corruption in the system.
This double standard waging system undermines publicadministration reforms intended to mitigate the risk of corruption, and it may even have the reverse effects.Competent governmentstaff from the public sector getdemotivated and leave the administration system. Upon receiving new skills theywill leave thepublic sector and be hired in proxy systems which are designed to build the capacity of government institutions. There are many instances when civil servants who gain basic knowledge of project management and English orwhohave been sent abroad have been hired as a consultant. This is kind of a brain-drain from public service.Consequently, less competent people remain in the Afghan government. On one hand, they are unable to provide high quality of service. On the other hand, due to unequal treatment, they feel more justification for misusing the power entrusted to them for private gain.It is worth mentioning that the dysfunctional and complicated bureaucracy in state administration makes the extraction of money out their clients’ pocket easier.
This is one of the reasonswhy wehave so much corruption inAfghanistan. Establishment of a meaningful payment mechanism thattreats public officials fairly is a critical step toward mitigating corruption. Harmonization of the scale of salaries in the government must be the most important component of such mechanism.Civil society should advocate for promoting a fair payment system and greater transparency in capacity-building programs. The International community can also play major role in persuading the government to develop a fair payment system and address the challenge of externally funded staff.
[i] Note: this blog is written based on the data a number of interviews and observation that were conducted early 2013
[ii] World Bank (2012), Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:23052411~pagePK:34370~piPK:34424~theSitePK:4607,00.html
[iii]MethwWoldman , (2008) Falling Short: Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/ACBAR_aid_effectiveness_paper_0803.pdf
[iv]Cornwell , Susaun (2011), Reuters , http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/08/us-usa-afghanistan-aid-idUSTRE7876NF20110908
[v] Interview, Government Official , Feb 2013 , Kabul
[vi] Interview , Mustafa Sorush , Government Advisor March 2013 Kabul ,
[vii] Interview, Government Advisor , March 2013 , Kabul