Corruption robs Afghans of a quarter of nation's GDP



New York: Afghans had to pay whopping USD 2.5 billion, a quarter of Afghanistan's annual GDP, in bribes last year, making corruption their biggest worry than insurgency, a UN report has said.

Endemic corruption in Afghanistan amounts to a virtual tax on poverty-stricken Afghans, robbing them of the equivalent of a quarter of the nation's annual gross domestic product, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report

It said, "In 2009, Afghans had to pay approximately USD 2.5 billion in bribes, which is equivalent to 23 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP)".

The report, which was released this week, found that an overwhelming 59 percent of citizens view public dishonesty as a bigger concern than insurgency (54 percent) and unemployment (52 percent).

"Drugs and bribes are the two largest income generators in Afghanistan: together they correspond to about half the country's (licit) GDP," UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa said.

He said, "Corruption is the biggest impediment to improving security, development and governance in Afghanistan. It is also enabling other forms of crime, like drug trafficking and terrorism".

The study found that the average amount paid in bribe was USD 160 and that one in two Afghans had paid at least one kickback to a public official within a year. "The Afghans say it is impossible to obtain a public service without paying a bribe," Costa added.

The total amount of bribes Afghans paid in the last year, roughly paralleled the money generated by the country's opium trade, which the Office on Drugs and Crime estimated at USD 2.8 billion.

Afghans said they were asked to pay a bribe in 40 percent of their encounters with senior politicians, typically to cut through red tape or avoid poor service, the report stated.

Despite the rife corruption, only 9 percent of Afghans in urban centres said they had reported any to authorities, the report said.

Costa appealed to the new Afghan government "to make fighting corruption its highest priority."

He called for public officials to disclose their incomes and assets and for the removal of governors and local government officials "with proven records of collusion with shady characters."

The report, Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as Reported by Victims, was based on interviews with 7,600 people in 12 provincial capitals and more than 1,600 villages around Afghanistan.

PTI