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Afghan's First Choice For Afghanistan Presidency

Biography

Dr. Ramazan Bashardost is Afghanistan’s former Planning Minister, current Member of Parliament and an Independent Candidate in the upcoming Presidential Elections. read more...

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  Afghanistan weakened by corruption as fears grow over Taliban

  By Nick Meo in Kabul

 Saturday 11 October 2008

 

Last Updated: 3:02PM BST 11 Oct 2008

Its gaudy constructions, built in a style derided locally as "wedding cake", are the homes of Afghanistan’s new rich - former warlords, businessmen who deal with foreigners, and politicians who can mysteriously find some way to afford the sky-high prices.

Afghans wonder, in private at least, whether drugs wealth is invested from the opium trade, which now makes up 50 per cent of the economy. They complain too that some mansions have been built with money creamed off from the nation’s other great illicit activity.

"Corruption is the biggest problem for the Afghans and it is our tragedy," said Dr Ramzan Bashardost, a former planning minister who now plans to stand against President Hamid Karzai in next year’s presidential election on an anti-corruption platform.

"It is your problem too," he added. "It was the taxpayers of Britain who paid for Shirpur."

Dr Bashardost may be exaggerating for effect - he is known as a populist - but corruption has reached such epic proportions that given the huge amounts of British government and European Union spending he may not be too far off the mark.

Billions of dollars in donor aid pour into Afghanistan for new roads, hospitals, and schools, but Afghans complain bitterly about the poor results and the muddle is so great that there are no reliable figures on how much is stolen or is simply frittered away in waste.

Finally, however, as doubts grow that the increasingly bloody battle with the Taliban can be won, corruption is being identified as a fundamental problem - a cancer that is eating away at the new Afghanistan, wrecking the credibility of the government and handing the Taliban a potent propaganda weapon.

A draft US intelligence estimate that was leaked last week identified rampant corruption as the main cause of a breakdown of central government authority. It also warned that Afghanistan is on a downward spiral with a government which seems unable to stop the Taliban’s rising strength.

There are moves in the US to appoint an inspector-general for Afghanistan reconstruction to examine how America’s own development billions have been spent, after a counterpart in Iraq uncovered muddle and waste on a vast scale.

President Karzai’s only real effort so far to tackle the problem has been the appointment last year of an attorney general who declared war on corruption – but who was removed in July and accused of corruption himself.

The World Bank says corruption is severely undermining nation building and Transparency International demoted Afghanistan on its Corruption Perceptions Index this year, from 117th place out of 159 in 2005 to 176 out of an expanded list of 180 nations this year.

Dr Bashirdost fights a one-man campaign for honesty in government from a tent on a piece of scrap ground opposite the Kabul parliament, where dozens of people come daily to tell him about their troubles.

He told the Telegraph: "Corruption is so open now, even inside the government. In the courts the judges want dollars not Afghanis in an important case, and you hear about them holding up bills to the light in the courtroom to check that they are not forgeries. There is no sanction against corruption - nobody big has ever been jailed.

"Building is sub-standard - when I was minister for planning I don’t think I ever saw a new clinic, bridge or school that was decent quality. The taxes of the British and European people are not going on infrastructure to improve the lives of Afghans - they are going on luxuries, nice cars and good houses. The Afghan people are angry about this, and they are angry with the West for allowing it."

The consequences can be seen at the Khair Khana Hospital in Kabul. The building was renovated with $2.2 million of Italian money but the work was so shoddy that big lumps of plaster have already started falling off the hospital’s exterior.

Inside is even worse, with ceilings threatening to collapse, and the water supply has never worked properly. An administrator refused to let the Telegraph in to see conditions, but a hospital porter complained that one of the sub-contractors had disappeared with much of the renovation money and he said that staff were bitterly disappointed with the finished result.

All over Afghanistan are similar stories of jerry-built bridges, roads to nowhere, and clinics that threaten to collapse in the first heavy storm, mainly because dishonest sub-contractors skimp on materials or work. Many of them are ex-warlords who have used their connections to set up lucrative businesses. They exploit the lack of any real scrutiny over spending on most projects.

Hundreds of schools have been built since 2002, one of the successes trumpeted by Western politicians, but many stand empty with no teachers because nobody remembered to make a budget available. Others collapse during their first winter because snow builds up on their cheap flat rooves.

The high cost of security – hiring gunmen – forces up the price of building a kilometre of road from about $200,000 in the north of the country to around $1 million in the south, although there have been cases of roads in Kabul costing as much as $2 million per kilometre.

Straightforward bribery is also rife. A UN report in August estimated that up to $250 million in bribes changes hands annually, costing the average Afghan family $100 when 70 per cent of the population earns only one dollar a day.

At Kabul’s main court it didn’t take long to find angry litigants.

Alah Nazer, a farmer who had a dispute with a richer neighbour, said he was sure he would lose his court case because he could not pay the biggest bribes.

"We expected better than this after the fall of the Taliban," he said. "The rich are on top and the poor are trampled underfoot. I voted for President Karzai in 2004 but now I hate him, he knows what is happening and he will do nothing to stop it."

Back in Shirpur, a neighbouring community which lives under the shadow of the new mansions is also fighting an unequal court battle. Before Kabul’s most exclusive district was built four years ago dozens of families were pushed out by developers who bulldozed their homes to erect mansions.

Those remaining live on a dusty scrap of land with stinking open sewers in the streets outside their one-storey mudbrick homes. They too have been threatened with eviction, to make way for a park which Shirpur’s wealthy inhabitants can enjoy.

"Two years ago the chief of police gave our land to some strongmen, and now we are fighting them," said Mohammed Asef, a 60-year-old with a long white beard.

"Our families have been here for 70 years but we have no land title. We are going to court to try to prove that this land is ours. The problem is there is so much corruption now, so how can we succeed?

"The government doesn’t care about people like us. Even in the Taliban times it was not as bad as this."


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