“Unbearable” Corruption in Afghan Province

Local people say they are becoming ever-more alienated from their government.
By Khushal Zaland

Tribal elder Haji Suleiman has spent the last three days waiting in Farah’s department of population registration in the vain hope of obtaining his identity card.

The documents, known as tazkira, are vital to access basic facilities from medical care, education and banking to employment and voting.

But despite waiting from when the office opened at 9am until late afternoon, Suleiman returned to his home in the province’s third district empty-handed each day because, he said, he refused to pay a bribe.

“On average each day 50 people are waiting, lined up in front of each government department, to try and get the officials to do their job,” Suleiman said. “But they are mistreated in an unbearable way. Officials at all the departments make people bribe them and in short, if you don't pay them they will not do their work. It’s a fact.”

Locals in the western province of Farah, one of the poorest in Afghanistan, say that the level of corruption is becoming untenable.

Farid Bakhtawar, the head of Farah’s provincial council, said that graft was widespread and that nepotism also played a large part in staffing issues.

“Over the last 16 years, a large number of heads of department and senior officials in Farah province have only hired their relatives and [effectively privatized] these departments,” he said.

Bakhtawar warned that without intervention from Kabul local people would grow ever-more alienated from the government.

Local activist Javid Tabish said that funds were regularly funneled off by corrupt civil servants, rather than reaching the state treasury as intended.

“Not only there is corruption in revenue-generating departments in Farah, but for the last 15 years government funds are systematically flowing into the pockets of officials,” he added.

Farid Ahmad Haibat, another activist, said that corruption in the judicial system was so bad that locals often turned to unofficial channels or even Taleban courts to have their disputes resolved.

“Farah residents have lost their trust and faith in the judicial system,” he said. “That’s why people will first try to resolve their problems through local councils or elders and if this doesn’t work they then refer themselves to the Taleban’s court.”

For their part, officials in Farah deny that corruption and bribery are endemic in the system.

Ataullah Fikrai, head of the provincial appellate court, said that while peoples’ cases might progress slowly, he closely monitored his employees’ work.

 “I stop each client at the door to the court once or twice a week to find out if any judge had sked for money or whether his case had been delayed,” he said. “I even deal with the smaller cases myself.”

Rahela Mashal, the director of Farah’s administrative reform and civil service commission, also said that great efforts were being made to prevent both bribery and nepotism in the recruitment process.

 “I do not think that employees in Farah have been hired based on financial or political relations,” Mashal said. “I have not come across anything like this. All employees are hired based on their competency and ability, through fair and open competition.”

Farah governor Mohammad Arif Shah Jahan resigned on January 25, 2018, citing protests of failing security in the province.

Before he stepped down he told IWPR that there was indeed corruption in the local government, and acknowledged that there were officials and civil servants who openly took bribes.

But he argued that he lacked the authority to take decisive action.

“Anyone who is involved in corruption also knows that the local government does not have the power to prevent it, and that’s the reason he gets involved in bribery without any fear. I have repeatedly asked the government to provide me with the authority to enable me to combat corruption, but it has not been done yet.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.