It turns out Afghanistan is not the most corrupt country on earth. That distinction goes to government-free Somalia, according to a new ranking of 180 nations released Tuesday by Transparency International.
But there's unlikely to be cheers in the palace of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is under heavy international pressure to clean up his government. Afghanistan came in second worst, slipping down two ranks from last year:
Most corrupt countries:
3. Burma (Myanmar)
The least corrupt are all highly developed nations, and most of the top 10 are liberal democracies, save authoritarian-bent Singapore.
The least corrupt:
1. New Zealand
3. Singapore and Sweden (tie)
The US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, expressed doubts to President Barack Obama about sending additional troops to the Afghan war given the problems of corruption and legitimacy surrounding Mr. Karzai's regime. In response, Karzai's government has announced a number of new anticorruption efforts this week, including a special court to try senior officials and a new anticorruption taskforce.
The Monitor spoke with Afghanistan's anticorruption czar about why the problem has proven so difficult to lick:
Nearly a year into his job, [Mohammad Yusin] Osmani and his Office of Oversight for Anti-Corruption has installed public hotlines and complaints boxes, drafted anticorruption plans with various ministries, and instigated one high-profile takedown of customs agents at the airport. But so far his group has only sent 15 cases to law enforcement agencies, resulting in just a handful of arrests.
The absence of punishment for corrupt officials raises questions about whether the new office will have real teeth either. The problem with the current effort, says Osmani, is that his office lacks the staff and mandate to investigate and prosecute cases. Instead, he must forward what his group finds to the attorney general's office, which is taking months on some cases.
Mr. Osmani's office has received training from countries that scored well on the Transparency International list: Singapore (ranked 3 out of 180), United Kingdom (17), and United States (18). They have also received help from Indonesia, which clocked in with the bottom of the pack at 111.
The global nongovernmental organization says it bases its rankings on 13 different expert and business surveys measuring perceptions of public sector fraud.
In Afghanistan, corruption isn't an abstract perception but something that nearly everyone – from the richest businessmen to the poorest fruit vendors – have experienced personally.
•Farhad Ghafoor, vice president of business development for the telecommuincations firm Rana, says a university chancellor once threatened to OK his contract bid only if the cost estimate was raised and the surplus passed under the table.
•Noor Agha, a fruit vendor in Kabul, says the police regularly shake him down for bribes so that he can operate his streetside stall.
•Mir Mohammad, an elderly man living on the poor hillsides of the city, says his son must work odd jobs to pay for private classes since the government universities ˆ supposedly free ˆ ask for huge (illegal) "admission fees."
•Haji Mir Rahman, head of Kabul's fruit depot, says police corruption is rampant on the roads. Truckers who drive through the Khyber Pass to Kabul, including Farouq Amjed and Alam Gir, say the number of Afghan police checkpoints asking for money has gone up since the summer. Mr. Amjed says the bribes range from 100 to 1,000 Afghanis ($2 to $20) and that there can be as many as 20 checkpoints on that road.