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Afghans Fight Corruption With A Hotline

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks to religious leaders during an anti-corruption conference in Kabul on September 1
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks to religious leaders during an anti-corruption conference in Kabul on September 1

In a small room in the Afghan capital Kabul, Mohammad Asef Alikhail bears a heavy burden.

He is armed with nothing but a laptop, recording devices, and a handset. The 37-year-old has the daunting task of registering and managing anti-corruption complaints at the recently established hotline.

Set up by Afghan civil society organization Integrity Watch Afghanistan in June, the hotline aims to combat Afghanistan's status as the fourth most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year.

The hotline, known as Whistleblower, has already received 7000 calls of complaint since its inception three months ago. The majority of the cases are related to the criminal justice system and the police and come from major cities such as Kabul, Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, and Kandahar.

Over 750 of the complaints have been published anonymously on the organization's website.

The center handles 18 different categories of corruption enquiries and receives an average of 30 phone calls per day, according to Alikhail.

The complaints are processed on $22,500 software before being communicated to the president's office. An Afghan technology company, Parsa, developed the software, and the cost was funded by Harakat, an Afghan nongovernmental organization.

Due to a shortage of personnel, Whistleblower is still limited to lodging complaints by phone and does not accept print evidence, although Alikhail says it will soon be possible to upload data, recordings, and text evidence anonymously through the website.

Integrity Watch Afghanistan sends its reports directly to the president, and the secrecy under which it operates has been criticized by existing anti-graft institutions.

Abdul Qader Farukh Siyar, a public relations official at the High Office of Anti-Corruption, says he was not even informed of the new organization's establishment. He questions the need for a new institution to tackle corruption when existing ones could be reinforced.

Siyar says it is the high-level intervention from elements of the new administration that should be credited with the current drive against corruption.

"The direction intervention of the leadership of the Afghan [unity government] in cases of large-scale corruption, such as Kabul Bank and contracts of the Defense, Transportation, and Urban Development ministries, are a showcase of the strong will of this government to fight corruption," Siyar said.

He added that the lack of monitoring mechanisms could still lead to a proliferation of corruption in government offices.

Recent findings of the Afghan government's Anti-Corruption Joint Committee suggest around 50 percent of this committee’s recommendations have been implemented by government institutions.

The Anti-Corruption Joint Committee released its eighth biannual report to the media on September 17, pinpointing the lack of efforts to fight corruption by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the criminal justice sector. The report highlighted irregularities in the recruitment process of government officials at the ministry.

Afghanistan's anti-corruption czar stressed, however, that the current government has maintained its election pledge to take a hard-line stance against graft. "The progress in fighting corruption by the unity government is relatively significant, and fighting corruption will not lead to instability of this government," said Yama Turabi, director of the Anti-Corruption Joint Committee.

Turabi stressed that a more coordinated approach will be needed during the unity government's second year in office along with an increase in processing capacity as "the attorney general cannot handle the current number of cases and complaints." He called for more coordination between governmental and nongovernmental offices.

Political analyst Asef Baktash says the Afghan government's achievements in fighting corruption in just under a year are considerable, although "corrupt elements from previous administration remain and continue to spread corruption."