Release of UNAMA's report 'Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: From Strategies to Implementation’

15 May 2018

Release of UNAMA's report 'Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: From Strategies to Implementation’

KABUL - The following is a transcript of a press conference on 15 May 2018 about the release of UNAMA's report 'Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: From Strategies to Implementation.’


Release of UNAMA’s 2018 Report
‘Afghanistan’s Fight Against Corruption: From Strategies to Implementation’

[near verbatim]

Kabul, 15 May 2018

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  • UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto
  • UNAMA Rule of Law Officer, Romana Schweiger

Tadamichi Yamamoto: Good morning everybody, ladies and gentlemen, and members of the press corps. Thank you for being here today to mark the release of UNAMA’s new annual report on Afghanistan’s fight against corruption.

This is the new report, the second report. Now, while the report looks at progress achieved, it also provides concrete analysis and recommendations of what more can be done to coordinate the fight against the menace of corruption.

In the report, UNAMA looks at strategies and implementation within all three branches of the government, as well as the essential work of civil society and independent institutions. Indeed, its analysis is the first of its kind to include the National Assembly in addition to the executive branch, and the judiciary.

Allow me to recognize up front how corruption affects the Afghan people. If you are an Afghan citizen trying to make ends meet, apply for a license, open a business, or just get your child into a decent school, you know more than any of our legal experts about corruption. I think the word in Dari is “fessad” – if I pronounced it correctly. It is, if I might suggest, a very unwelcome and unfortunate aspect of your everyday life.

Apart from violent conflict, Afghanistan’s next greatest challenge, according to opinion polls, including that of the Asia Foundation, is corruption. And yet, Afghanistan’s fight against corruption, under the current Government, is moving ahead with a new vigour.

Our report, following on last year’s first report, looks at what is moving the struggle ahead based upon earlier and key achievements.

In September of 2017, the government adopted a realistic and well-tailored anti-corruption strategy. In February this year, Afghanistan’s new Penal Code entered into force, and codifies all mandatory corruption offences under the United National Convention Against Corruption.

The Government’s approach triggered what we can safely call a new strategy. It has allowed for a comprehensive approach driven on several fronts including by the work and the action of the High Council for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption.

This comprehensive approach includes the adoption of a reform-minded and transparent budget, and also the increasing achievements by the Anti-Corruption and Justice Centre, or ACJC, in its first full year of operation. The work is admirable, particularly considering that those persons leading political change, as well as judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, who are at the vanguard of the fight, come under threat of violence when they devise anti-corruption policies and prosecute persons engaged in corrupt activities.

UNAMA stands with the Afghan institutions in facing these perils and tests.

Many challenges remain. One of UNAMA’s recommendations in this report is that Afghanistan should develop a long-term strategy to build on the results of the current short-term strategy and the growing public will to fight corruption.

Only a systemic and steadfast approach will allow Afghanistan to rise in the ranks of nations and become a country in which corruption becomes a mere footnote in a resource-rich nation of prosperous citizens. And yet, the government — in cooperation with civil society and with strong backing from a courageous press — has vowed to put an end to the culture of impunity in which corruption takes root and thrives. This is a struggle that will require sustained national commitment in the face of entrenched and vested interests resisting change.

The United Nations believes that corruption of any kind is a threat to good governance anywhere in the world. In addition to undermining economic growth, it erodes the public’s confidence in government representatives who have vowed to serve the best interests of their citizens. Afghanistan has taken very important steps to address the scourge of corruption, and we stand with its people on the long road ahead.

To overcome capacity gaps of its justice system and allow for trials of serious and complex corruption cases, Afghanistan established the Anti-Corruption and Justice Centre (ACJC) in 2016. The ACJC has made commendable progress since its establishment and managed to try also more complex cases against higher ranked officials.

However, advancing the general justice reform remains important to ensure justice is delivered equally to all Afghans across the country.

Before we take your questions, please allow me to hand over the microphone to Ms. Romana Schweiger.

Romana Schweiger: Good morning everybody. It is a true pleasure and honour to be here today with the Special Representative, Mr. Yamamoto, who has made assisting Afghanistan in its fight against corruption one of UNAMA’s key priorities. And our report forms a part of this assistance.

Let me also particularly thank the national authorities who worked with us in providing data that formed the basis for the analysis of this report. This is specifically the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office, the Civil Service Commission, as well other members of the High Council for Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption and, very important, also Afghanistan’s civil society who were helping us with data and information for this report.

Allow me to elaborate further on some findings and recommendations of our report. We appreciate the adoption of the anti-corruption strategy as an important signal of the government’s commitment to combat corruption.

However, due to the strategy’s constrained timeframe, its impact is likely to be limited when compared to the scale of the problem the strategy tries to address. Therefore, measures for a seamless transition into a long-term strategy and a more comprehensive strategy are so important, and these measures should already be developed now during the implementation of the current strategy. Furthermore, meeting the strategy’s benchmarks must be achieved with a vision to bring about real and sustainable change rather than just an exercise of ticking boxes.

The institutional framework of Afghanistan’s anti-corruption bodies and their cooperation among each other remains to be codified in a comprehensive anti-corruption law. This law should provide a solid legal basis for all anti-corruption institutions and remedy defects in the current asset declaration system of senior officials. Transparency, inclusiveness and broad consultation in the law-making process is of particular importance in anti-corruption reforms.

Afghanistan’s corruption-related legal framework is compliant with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in regards to criminal provisions since the adoption of the new Penal Code. On this basis of the new legal framework, the judiciary is expected to increase the quality and quantity of successful anti-corruption prosecutions and trials. This includes also the work in the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, the ACJC.

As of the end of April 2018, the ACJC had completed 34 cases involving 142 accused persons at the trial level, and 32 cases against 98 accused persons at the appeals level. However, while this is remarkable, difficulties in enforcing arrest warrants led the justice centre to try 10 per cent of the accused in their absence, and half of this 10 per cent actually include highest ranking officials. Afghanistan’s ability to enforce warrants also against most powerful defendants is crucial to render justice and to demonstrate to Afghan citizens that justice is truly being done.

Guaranteeing the security of the judiciary and detection authorities, particularly those with exposure to sensitive cases, continues to be a challenge in Afghanistan. Security of the justice sector is in the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior. In 2017 alone, three judges, five prosecutors and three judicial staff members were killed. And another six were injured in targeted attacks against judicial personnel. These incidents remain to be thoroughly investigated, prosecuted and tried. In relation to the ACJC, also three investigators of the Major Crimes Tasks Force were assassinated in 2017. Also these incidents haven’t been fully investigated yet.

Our analysis also showed a lack of internal integrity mechanisms and a lack of criminal accountability regarding Afghanistan’s National Assembly. Also, we looked into the National Assembly’s inability to effectively exercise its oversight functions and urge for extending anti-corruption reforms also to the parliament.

UNAMA stands ready to further support Afghanistan in continuing its anti-corruption reforms – and in this support we stand united with our international partners, in particular the European Union, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom as well as Denmark.

Thank you very much for your attention and we welcome your questions.

Question [in Dari]: You limited our questions just to the issue of today’s press conference, but as the issue of elections is so hot, and the independence of the election commission is somehow undermined by the President and also the Chief Executive, and also there are differences of views between the two leaders, how do you assess the situation? How will this affect the electoral process?

Yamamoto: Could we answer that later, after we take questions on corruption first?

Question [in Dari]: The report today is talking about corruption and also about transparency. At this time, the IEC has started to put a sticker on the copy of the national Tazkira. On Thursday, the President has warned that those commissioners who are against it cannot challenge his decision, saying that’s the decision. Don’t you think that the continuation of this trend might undermine the transparency of the elections and would lead the country into crisis?

Yamamoto: I understand that there is interest in the issue of the elections. We will deal with it later, so if anybody has questions on corruption first. We will come back to both of you, OK?

Question [in Dari]: You mentioned some achievements of the government in the fight against corruption. While Transparency International said that Afghanistan has not had any major achievements towards fighting corruption, and out of 180 countries Afghanistan is in the rank of 177. What is the reason? Is it because the government is not working so much to fight corruption, or is it lack of willingness to fight corruption?

Yamamoto: That’s a very good question. The answer lies in the fact that the corruption in this country is actually very severe, and that it is rooted in societal practices in everyday life. That’s one of the reasons why my colleague Romana said that this is a long-term issue that has to be addressed.

What we are trying to say is that in this very difficult social environment and the reality, the government is doing really well with its efforts. We clearly see a strong determination on the part of both the President and the Chief Executive, and the key members of the government, including the Attorney General and some ministers who are tackling this issue. The reality is severe, so progress is there but not enough to bring Afghanistan to the level which some people will say that it’s OK. It is not OK at all.

That’s why if you look at the ranking, Afghanistan is still low in the ranking, but every international organization working on anti-corruption agrees that this is a country where we can really feel the true enthusiasm and commitment of the leaders and those in the responsible positions to tackle corruption.

You don’t see this kind of commitment in many countries where the corruption is a serious problem. So Afghan people are lucky to have this strong commitment at the very top, but it is a very difficult issue. In order really to address this issue, as we have said in the report, a systemic approach is necessary, and it takes time. And it takes the cooperation of every one of you. That’s why we decided to publish this report every year, periodically, and see how much has been achieved.

I encourage the people to conduct these anti-corruption efforts. By the explanation of Romana, you saw that people have been killed in order to tackle the ant-corruption issue. They risk their lives to do this. It’s a very dangerous thing for them to work, but they are trying, and so it’s maybe just a couple of steps that you have come on the ladder, in the ranking, but it is at the sacrifice of these people who really risked their lives. Some people lost their lives to do this.

We are trying to work with them and help them. We sometimes provide armoured cars. It is necessary that everybody understands the efforts involved and really to understand the commitment of the leadership.

Question [in Dari]: You emphasized the commitment of the leadership of the National Unity Government. Of course, after the establishment of the ACJC, people were hopeful that there would be decisive steps taken forward toward bringing those corrupt officials into justice. But later on we noticed that the two leaders of NUG politicized dealing with the high-ranking government officials who are corrupt, and we never heard that any of those high-ranking government officials were brought to justice and tried. So, as per your report, have you mentioned names of the high-ranking government officials who were accused of corruption? And is the case of Gen. Dostum part of the report?

Schweiger: Thank you very much for the question. It’s a very important question. We have monitored from our team all trials that were conducted before the ACJC, and we analyse trends as to the sentencing practice of the cases, as to which crimes were charged, and so on and so forth. We don’t describe individual cases at length.

However, we use some of the individual cases to illustrate certain trends that we have found. Furthermore, one very important issue that also relates to what I said earlier to the need for seeing justice being actually done and being delivered by the court: What we are also recommending is that the prosecution develops a prosecutorial strategy in relation to anti-corruption cases, to specifically counter a perception that justice only is rendered against certain individuals and not against others.

Yamamoto: Shall I just add a little bit more? Our report is designed to look at how anti-corruption is being tackled, what system exists, what laws and regulations exist and how they are being implemented, and try to give a systematic approach and analysis to this, and highlight where challenges are.

We do not at this stage intend to go into each and every case. That’d be a thick report. We don’t really do that as UNAMA. You can read from the report that we are coming out with recommendations for improvements in terms of how the operations should be conducted, how the implementation should be conducted and what other challenges should be addressed in what ways. It’s a more systematic approach.

Question: This year and next year are election years, and there are issues about campaign finance and political offices after the elections. How concerned are you that corruption will influence the elections process and undermine faith in it?

Yamamoto: We cannot stop coming back to the electoral process. First, let me answer your question. In this country, of course we know that irregularities and corruption had been a problem in the past elections. And so we — “we” meaning the people in the IEC, the government, political parties, all these people concerned in Afghanistan about the elections — wanted to bring back the confidence in the electoral system whereby the past erosion of confidence through these practices can be restored.

So we also, as the international community, and of course UNAMA, worked with those people and tried to create a system where corruption and irregularities can be kept to a minimum. The core recommendation for this purpose was the creation of polling-centre based voter registration and nullification of existing voter cards, because it was felt that a few million voter cards which did not belong to anybody were floating and could have been used for irregular purposes. So this will reduce the possibility of corruption by quite a large measure. Everybody who wants to vote has to register anew.

In the old days, you could vote at any place. But this time you can vote only in one particular voting centre where you registered. This means that each polling centre will have, at the end of voter registration, a voter list which has a certain number of people and whose names are all registered. Anybody who wants to vote in that voting centre from outside cannot vote there because they are not registered there. We know how many people will vote. You cannot stuff the vote because we know how many people are going to be voting. You cannot have more than the people who are registered.

Most of the fraud comes from vote stuffing, meaning you put lots of votes which were not cast into the box. But this can no longer be done. Some people may register a couple of times, multiple times, but we know from experience throughout the world that, usually, this type of fraud does not affect the outcome. Of course, there may be some cases where the competition is very tight, but that’s not very often. So the most fundamental measure against fraud has been conducted.

There are two more things we have to look at. One is the question of impunity. When people conduct irregular activities of fraud, it has to be brought to justice, and people conducting such activities have to be held accountable. IEC and ECC have the capacity to address those issues, particularly the ECC, the complaints commission. Egregious cases can go to the court.

But in order for this system to actually work, people have to cooperate. People should not just talk about rumours saying that there is such an irregularity, there is such a fraud. They should bring their cases to the court, to the IEC, to the ECC. Each one of you – every citizen – has to feel that they are responsible for making sure that the election is going to be conducted fairly, that they will not tolerate corruption. Come to the IEC, come to ECC and explain that you saw this, you have this evidence. Take photos, bring any evidence, and it will be dealt with. Please do not just complain, please act. It is your election. It is an Afghan-owned election. It is the election for the Afghan people. You have to make it work.

The other thing is the will of the political leaders and political candidates and all these people who participate. They should show by example, act by example. No matter what sort of system we have, if people are willing to conduct fraud, it’s very difficult to completely stop it. So every candidate, every political leader, must be determined that they will stop this. And now I would like to answer the first two questions regarding the current electoral situation.

Question [in Dari]: Putting the sticker on the copy of the Tazkira, despite the disagreement between the members of the commission, has started by the commission. I would like to know, as the UN, as a stakeholder to the election commission, do you agree with that procedure? And secondly, about the peace action plan finalized between Afghanistan and Pakistan, how would this would contribute to peace in Afghanistan?

Yamamoto: On elections, I would first of all like to say that I am very encouraged by the recent increase in the pace of the voter registration process. We have already seen over 1.7 million Afghan people registered up until now, and 28 per cent of them are women.

The extension of the registration period of one additional month in the provincial centres, the provincial capitals, is a very welcome step. The voter registration will soon start in the districts and also in the rural areas following that. I hope that many Afghan people will use this opportunity to register and exercise their right to vote.

The elections are an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. The United Nations is supporting the process, working closely with the IEC, and giving them technical advice. We are working very closely in all aspects of the electoral process. The IEC has the sole, exclusive authority to take decisions on electoral preparations and implementation. Nobody has challenged that authority.

There are many, many challenges still ahead to conduct transparent and credible, inclusive elections. We are working on it. We hope that we will make it as credible as we can so that the people participate in the October parliamentary elections, and also the presidential elections in 2019 because people have to realize that registration for voting is for both elections.

We will be meeting with the IEC members today to work on every issue, including those issues that you mentioned. I want you to understand clearly that it is not the role of UNAMA to endorse or not to endorse the decisions made by IEC. Decision-making is the sole responsibility of the IEC.

The modality of elections, including the use of photocopies for voter registration, should be a decision to be made clear by the IEC. We will support the decision made by the IEC and encourage the IEC to transparently and clearly communicate its decision to the people, including the measures which are taken to prevent fraud.

We will keep closely working with the IEC, both the commissioners and the secretariat, give them advice, so that they can most effectively work with their own lead, with their own decision-making, so that this process, this time, will be an Afghan-owned process.

We would, as I say, advise them to take measures to fight against fraud, to take up systems to reduce fraud, which you have already done as you can see, and as I have explained to you. And I appeal to you, all of you, to help the IEC, and the electoral workers across the country, in the provinces and here in Kabul. They have a big task ahead of them. They need a lot of help from every one of you, including the media and all Afghan citizens.

Thank you.

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UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights. UNAMA provides 'good offices' and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.