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Karzai says donors must help fight Afghan graft

July 09, 2012

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks, in Kabul, Afghanistan. - File Photo by AP

TOKYO: President Hamid Karzai said on Monday he is encouraged by pledges to provide Afghanistan with $16 billion in aid, but warned that corruption in his country cannot be rooted out unless donors themselves take more action.

Karzai said fighting corruption is one of the most crucial chores Afghanistan now faces.

But he said his government was not solely to blame, noting that the selection process for development projects, which have poured billions of dollars into his war-torn country's fragile economy, can lead to influence-buying, while higher pay for foreign workers creates a wage gap that fuels resentment.

Karzai stressed that he is grateful for the pledges made Sunday at a conference in Tokyo to help his country after most foreign troops pull out or move into support roles by the end of 2014. Because of concerns over mismanagement and endemic corruption, that aid, to be provided over the next four years, is tied to a new monitoring process.

Karzai's administration is widely seen as a patronage network, and the government is rife with corruption. Karzai has said before that he is fighting graft, but there have been few prosecutions of individuals accused of using their positions to enhance their personal wealth.    It is also widely agreed that corruption also involves foreigners. To create more accountability on both sides, aid will now be channeled mostly through the Afghan government budget and trusts by international organizations such as the World Bank.

Karzai stressed Monday that the way aid up until now has been administered has been a problem on both sides.

''The way donor assistance is given to Afghanistan, the way it is disbursed inside Afghanistan, the projects selected for such assistance and the manner of contracting and contractual mechanism, all of those are the issues that we have to address,'' he said. ''On corruption, two hands must clap.''

Karzai and his top ministers said the aid pledged at the Tokyo conference exceeded their expectations and sends a strong signal that the international community will not abandon Afghanistan after most troops leave.    It also sends a message to Karzai's adversaries in the Taliban and elsewhere who are hoping his support will weaken once the troops are gone or move into support roles.

''Yesterday's event reminded us once again, luckily, that the international community continues to be supportive of Afghanistan's desire for a better life, for a stronger country, with strong and better institutions, and economy,'' he said.

Afghanistan, one of the world's 10 poorest countries, has received nearly $60 billion in civilian aid since 2002. The World Bank says foreign aid makes up nearly the equivalent of the country's gross domestic product.

While acknowledging Afghanistan still needs considerable international assistance, the donors in Tokyo expressed strong concerns over how the money will be handled. They also called for specific efforts from Kabul to improve human rights, and in particular women's rights, support a credible and democratic presidential election in 2014 and take concrete steps to join the World Trade Organization by the end of that year.

They set up a new system to review and monitor progress toward those goals. A high-level review meeting will be held in Britain in 2014.    The ''mutual accountability'' framework agreed on in Tokyo sets out the roadmap for monitoring aid disbursement, while Afghans themselves will have to tell donors what they want funded through National Priority Programs set up by the government. To be funded, those programs must include mechanisms to ensure they are implemented transparently.

Another major problem is Afghanistan's lack of administrative capacity and infrastructure to absorb all the aid.

Because Afghanistan lacks expertise in many sectors, foreign experts are used who demand far higher salaries than Afghans in a country where the average wage hovers at around $1,000 a year.

With Afghanistan's fractious government, severe security threats and deeply-entrenched vested interests with a lot to lose, some experts doubted the agreement in Tokyo would bring any substantial change.    ''More effective measures to tackle waste and fight corruption were badly needed,'' said Louise Hancock, of Oxfam Afghanistan. ''Donors agree that Afghan organizations must be supported to hold their own government to account, but they fell short of explaining how they are going to do this.''

Karzai's government insisted it will come through. ''The Afghan government will deliver,'' said Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul. ''It is our duty. We are talking about the future.''