Contrary to accepted opinion, corruption is not just a grand international scheme. For entrepreneurs, corruption is both local and personal, composed of any number of transactions, skimmings, gifts, bribes, or extortion. To help entrepreneurs fight corruption, so too must the approach and solution be local and personal and consistently applied.
Over the course of recent months the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Afghan National Center for Policy Research (NCPR) have been hosting a series of roundtable meetings on the issues and practical implications of fighting corruption in Afghanistan convening key local stakeholders for rigorous discussion. But, as Afghan Supreme Court Justice Mohammad Omar Barbrakzdi told us in February, "This is a good start... We must all continue our efforts to effectively combat corruption."
To broaden these efforts CIPE and Charney Research next conducted a survey, released in May of this year, of Afghan business attitudes towards a variety of subjects, including corruption. What we found was a society hardly resigned to corruption being an impossible problem to solve -- quite the opposite, in fact. The survey found that 90 percent of the over 700 business leaders felt that "corruption is a significant problem and more needs to be done to combat it." Afghans are prepared to support a comprehensive effort to fight corruption, but they need leaders and they need concrete measures that stand a chance of success.
It is also worth noting that a majority of Afghan businesses -- 56% -- claim they need to pay bribes, provide unofficial "fees," or make gifts in order to operate, usually at the local level. Thus, fighting this solely at the national level does not appear to be addressing a major share of the problem felt by the Afghan people as a whole.
The culmination of these efforts was a gathering last week in Kabul. CIPE and NCPR recently gathered around 100 community and business leaders for a conference in Kabul to begin building a national Afghan-led consensus to combat corruption, including an outline of key policy recommendations from the Afghan perspective. Tribal leaders/Maliks from 21 provinces, parliamentarians, academics, government officials, political activists, religious leaders, policymakers, leading members of the private sector and business associations, delegates from civil society, journalists and representatives from the United Nations and international donor community participated in the event.
The first recommendation on the communiqué is establishing a clear, comprehensive anti-corruption law covering areas such as conflict of interest and asset disclosure. Without such a law, Afghanistan's High Office of Oversight for the Implementation of Anti-Corruption Strategy is one island all by itself, unable to enforce laws that do not exist; nor can it oversee government activity that no one is required to disclose.
Besides the anti-corruption law itself, other recommendations included establishing an open and competitive procurement process, improving judicial independence, and simplifying or reducing tariffs and regulations that create opportunities to bribe officials who look the other way. With such a wide variety of institutions involved in these anti-corruption reforms, the need for a broad-based anti-corruption consensus is clear.
Perhaps most importantly, participants departed with a sense of personal ownership in helping to solve the problem of corruption. Participant Malik Haji Ghulam Sideeq said, "The people of the districts and villages are suffering from corrupt local government officials, and we now plan to combat corruption in our villages by saying NO to corrupt practices."
Governing without the broad-based participation of Afghans is a large reason why corruption persists in the first place. With wider involvement, particularly from Afghan's local business community that would benefit most from lower corruption, Afghanistan's institutions will reflect the true values of its citizens, as outlined by the conference participants: Honesty. Cleanliness. Integrity. Transparency. Service.