Foreign contracts fuel corruption: Afghan leader

Afghan leader has pushed back against allegations of government corruption.

Updated: Jul 01, 2010, 10:39 AM IST

Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his finance minister pushed back on Wednesday against allegations of government corruption, saying that their international partners must shoulder some of the blame for waste, graft and the billions of dollars streaming out of the country.

Corruption and a weak court system have undermined public trust in Karzai`s government. The Obama administration and other donor nations, who need Karzai to be perceived as a credible partner, are pressing him to make reforms.

Afghan government officials, however, have become increasingly vocal in condemning the way foreign nations award contracts, which sometimes end up in the hands of politicians and powerbrokers.

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said the bulk of the USD 4 billion in cash that has been flown out of the nation in the past three and a half years is from huge contracts that the international community has given to large Afghan and foreign companies.

Zakhilwal also squared off against US Representative Nita Lowey, who threatened this week to block billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan until she was convinced that "US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists."

He said Lowey, a Democrat from New York and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department`s budget, was wrong to suggest that the Afghan government officials had misused or pocketed donor funds.

"She is not accurate on the fact to blame the Afghan government for it because it had nothing to do with it," Zakhilwal said, calling for a joint investigation with international partners into cash trafficking.

Zakhilwal, who is backed by the West, has acknowledged that there is graft and corruption in the Afghan government, especially in the delivery of government services. But he stressed that there are few, if any, examples of mismanagement of donors` money by the Afghan government, which controls only a small percentage of the funds.

His ministry says that since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban, 77 percent of the USD 29 billion in international aid spent in
Afghanistan has been disbursed on projects with little or no input from Afghan government officials.

"To relate the cash trafficking with corruption in the government of Afghanistan is baseless," Zakhilwal said. "We strongly believe that the bulk of this money is from the huge contracts that our international partners have given out directly to big companies, particularly private security companies, without any involvement from the Afghan government."