Bribes cost Afghans a quarter of country’s GDP

According to a newly-released report compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), bribes paid to police, military, and public officials over the past year have cost Afghan civilians collectively over US$2.5 billion, nearly the equivalent of a quarter of the country’s legitimate GDP.

Afghanistan GDP

Entitled “Corruption in Afghanistan”, the report was based on polling of approximately 7,600 people in cities and villages around the nation.

According to the report, 59% of those surveyed said that government sanctioned corruption was a more pressing concern to them than insecurity (54%) or unemployment (52%).

The report adds that more than half the population had to pay out at least one bribe in 2009. Furthermore, in a country where the economic output is only $425 per person, the average bribe cost nearly $160. Three out of four bribes were paid in cash.

Another finding is that one in every three Afghans believed that bribery was just a normal part of society. That being the case, only 9% of those surveyed—for whatever reason—ever chose to report these type acts to the proper authorities. The reports go on to say that there is a widely-held perception among 54% of Afghans that foreign nations and non-governmental organizations are just in their country “to get rich.”

Antonio Maria Costa

The head of the UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, said in a statement to the international media, “The Afghans say that it is impossible to obtain a public service without paying a bribe. Bribery is a crippling tax on people who are already among the world’s poorest.”

Costa went on to note that there is a “new caste of rich and powerful individuals who operate outside the traditional power and tribal structures and bid the cost of favors and loyalty to levels not compatible with the under-developed nature of the country.

Criminal graft has become similarly monumental, perverse and growing and is having political, economic and even security consequences.”

“It’s time to drain the swamp of corruption in Afghanistan, to stop money and trust disappearing down a big black hole. Corruption is the biggest impediment to improving security, development and governance in Afghanistan.”

This report was released Tuesday, nine days before a scheduled international conference on Afghanistan in London. There, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to face criticism for his perceived passive stance on corruption from the coalition of nations—especially the United States—that have thousands of troops committed to Afghanistan as part of the Global War on Terrorism.

President Karzai was sworn in for a second five-year term last November after a controversial and hard-fought election during which he was widely accused of various types of fraud. Nevertheless, he has staunchly defended his record on corruption, stating that the entire issue had been “blown out of proportion by Western media.”

His latest controversial statement has been to state that only drug money saved the world financial system from a complete collapse, effectively identifying major banks as money-launderers for about $325 billion in proceeds as reported by The Guardian.

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