Blue Dye, Banks and 119: Afghans Step Up Graft Fight

Blue Dye, Banks and 119: Afghans Step Up Graft Fight
# 01 May 2010 03:02 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. To battle Afghanistan’s endemic corruption, a thousand Afghans every day are dialing 119, APA reports quoting “The Wall Street Journal”.
U.S. officials say traffic on the hotline, introduced in late January for civilians to report dishonest policemen, is an early sign of progress in an antigraft campaign that is also seeing a growing contingent of Western forces begin to train and monitor Afghan security personnel to introduce professionalism to the ranks.
The push comes amid growing U.S. concern that the pervasive corruption inside the Afghan police and army is threatening the war effort by sapping public confidence in the central government and leading the Afghan public to side with the insurgency.
The campaign includes an increase in police salaries so they will have less incentive to seek bribes, and the introduction one month ago of blue dye to mark government gasoline, to help cut down on the large volumes of fuel that are siphoned and resold, a major problem for Afghan security forces.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials are also implementing an electronic funds-transfer system that lets police collect their salaries at banks, to make it harder for senior police officers to demand kickbacks from junior colleagues. Salaries for entire police units had long been sent to regional bases and then distributed in cash.
"Our focus isn’t to take out the guy who’s corrupt; it’s to create the systems that make it harder for corruption to exist," said Jack Kem, a retired Army colonel who serves as the top civilian official at the NATO command in Kabul that oversees the training efforts.
Fixing the Afghan police is a top priority for Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top allied commander in Kabul. His counterinsurgency strategy calls for flushing militants out of their strongholds in places such as Kandahar and then using Afghan security personnel to hold the areas and gradually bring them back under the sway of the Kabul government.
Posters around major Afghan cities advertise the 119 hotline for callers to make anonymous tips about police corruption. Afghans who dial the number—cellphones are cheap and plentiful in Afghanistan—reach a call center at the Interior Ministry, an institution that commands considerably greater public trust than Afghan police or many other parts of the central government. The number corresponds to "911"—as read from right to left in Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan’s two most prevalent languages.
In an undisclosed incident late last year a general, colonel and major in the border police were arrested thanks to the joint Afghan-NATO campaign, Dr. Kem said. Hundreds of Afghan police officers have been brought up on corruption charges since early 2009.
It is far from clear that the push will be enough to solve a problem that has bedeviled the U.S. and its allies since the start of the war.
In a United Nations poll last fall, 25% of Afghans said they had paid at least one bribe to the police, usually at local police stations or at makeshift checkpoints on the country’s main highways. The average bribe was $160, an enormous sum in an impoverished country where economic output per person is just $425 a year. Rampant opium use is also a problem among police forces.
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a German Marshall Fund conference in Brussels in March that the Afghan police were an "inadequate organization, riddled with corruption."
Afghan police officers had long been paid less than either their counterparts in the Afghan national army or the average Taliban fighter. To supplement their earnings, many police officers demanded bribes from ordinary Afghans, spurring deep public anger at the police and the central government.
In response, NATO officials have worked with Kabul to boost police salaries. New officers are being paid $165 per month, a 30% increase, while those in dangerous areas are making as much as $240 per month. Police officers and soldiers of the same rank are now earning equal salaries.
Salaries for entire police units had long been sent to regional bases and then distributed in cash, allowing corrupt supervisors to demand kickbacks from junior colleagues. The new system allows police personnel to receive their salaries at banks.
Last month, the Afghan government also launched a U.S.-backed effort to cut down on the amount of Afghan police and army fuel that is siphoned away and sold on the black market.
NATO buys million of gallons of gasoline each month for the Afghan forces, but an estimated 20% is lost or stolen, according to the Kabul command. Blue dye makes it easier to identify siphoned gasoline and catch traffickers.
U.S. military officials say the blue dye is also a cost-effective way of fighting corruption: they note that a $240 gallon of dye is enough to stain nearly 9,000 gallons of fuel. Offenders can face fines and five to 15 years in prison.