Afghan President Ashraf Ghani appears keen to end illegal payoffs allegedly paid by cabinet members to secure endorsements from lawmakers.
Ghani is expected to soon submit a list of 12 new cabinet nominees for the compulsory parliamentary confirmation. Anticipating rejections, he is pushing to prevent members of Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan Parliament, from seeking bribes in return for confirming cabinet nominees through a majority vote in the 250-member house.
For more than a decade, Wolesi Jirga’s ability to endorse cabinet ministers or question their performance through a no-confidence vote has been a headache for presidents tasked with making appointments to cabinet posts.
Already identified as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, Afghanistan faces waning public trust in a government rife with graft allegations involving ministers and lawmakers.
The issue has been particularly acute for Ghani’s national unity government, which has touted its anti-corruption efforts as a major achievement. The distribution of cabinet posts has been one of the most divisive issues often requiring the president and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to engage in extensive consultations to placate bickering supporters.
“The president recently told a cabinet meeting that any ministerial nominee attempting to bribe lawmakers to get their confirmation vote will be dismissed,” presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Minapal told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s current government introduced its first nominees to the parliament in January 2015, nearly five months after assuming office in September 2014. But Wolesi Jirga endorsed only eight of the 25 cabinet nominees. In subsequent years, lawmakers continued to reject nominees and even declared no confidence in some ministers they had previously confirmed.
Ironically, the Afghan president extended the parliament’s term for nearly two years after it completed its five-year term last year, but the Afghan government was unable to hold elections amid deteriorating security and mounting Taliban violence.
Lawmaker Nader Khan Katawazi acknowledges that some lawmakers either sell their confirmation votes in return for cash or condition it with the nominee returning favors.
“They usually secure promises that once in office the minister will appoint people they recommend to lucrative jobs or offer them contracts,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
In July, a former information and culture minister accused lawmakers of demanding bribes. In a lengthy Facebook post, Abdul Bari Jahani accused the parliament’s deputy head, Haji Abdul Zahir Qadir, of explicitly asking for bribes and even offering loans to some of the 16 nominees.
Qadir, however, rejected Jahani’s accusation. While claiming to be serious about clamping down on major corruption, Kabul has not prosecuted a single lawmaker on bribery charges.
“We need evidence and documents [to prosecute people]. Unfortunately, people only make claims about the demands of bribes,” Minapal said. “Our investigative agencies and prosecutors are working to unearth evidence.”
Katawazi is not optimistic. He says neither the lawmakers who demand bribes nor the nominees who pay them are ever likely to advertise their culpability.
“Ultimately, it is an issue of conscience. I don’t think the president’s initiative will have far-reaching consequences,” he noted. “Do they fear God and vote in accordance with the will of the people and keeping in view the merit of a candidate?”
Past corruption allegations have not ruined careers. In May 2013, while facing possible impeachment, then Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal publicly named and shamed lawmakers including Qadir. He won the public’s sympathy and survived impeachment, but little was done to investigate his allegations.
Lawmaker Abdul Qadir Zazai Watandost is part of a parliamentary delegation liaising with the administration. He says that in a meeting with the Afghan president, they assured him of support to end bribes between lawmakers and cabinet nominees.
“We would like to end bribes not only in this arena but all areas of the government,” he said.
Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Yousaf Zadran contributed reporting from Kabul.