Transcript of His Excellency President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at European Union Conference
“The Way Ahead for Anti-Corruption in Afghanistan”
May 5, 2016
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Ambassador Mellbin, Distinguished Ambassador of UK , Mr. Stanekzai, Members of Cabinet, Members of Parliament! Welcome.
Recognition of a problem is the first step toward generation of political will. I welcome you to the Presidential Palace Complex whose resident has been given a mandate to deal with corruption. The people of Afghanistan elected me because I promised them that I’ll tackle corruption seriously. I invited you here to make sure that both our people and your people understand that there is no disagreement between the international community and the government of Afghanistan regarding tackling this serious issue. The presidency, this palace complex, all of the government must be central to their efforts to understand and eliminate corruption.
I don’t want make the moral case because the case is well-made. The absolute majority of the Afghan people welcome reforms. The obstacle is the inherited system and the set of relationships that in the last fourteen years, particularly in the last fifteen years, we have jointly engendered. So instead of talking about generalities, let me address corruption in the coming months and the actions that we are willing to take. Two months ago, I provided an analytic framework to the ambassadors regarding what drives corruption. Simply put, there are the following drivers:
First, there is institutional capture. The system of appointments has been dominated by prevalence of relations over rules, and that in term is engendering rules of the game that vastly differ from the formal rules. We need to specify the core functions of each government organization and hold and create the mechanisms where the people of this country who are our masters hold the government responsible. This is a deep cultural change because we have inherited a culture of false hierarchy. That culture of false hierarchy makes an official dominate and disregard it. We brought a man from civil society made him deputy minister, and the first thing he did was to beat the police because the police was asking him not to use black film in his car. You see, the issue is not just changing the rules, it is changing behavior.
The second aspect of capture is security. We are extremely grateful for the assistance that we have received, but our security forces do not exercise the monopoly or the legitimate monopoly of force, and until we make sure that the security forces are able to function in that manner and first and foremost are accountable themselves as the largest contracts were in the security sector, our generals got diverted to seeing how they would handle contracts rather than how to manage the war. I want to congratulate Minister Stanekzai for the remarkable job he has done in cleaning Ministry of Defense. Over 80 senior generals have been retired and yesterday again I signed a new batch. But, particularly procurement, and I want to thank Minister Farooqi for his immense work in investigating the procurement. Just one example, Mr. Farooqi argued this on theoretical grounds. One contract for fuel just to supply electricity last year was 1.25 billion; this year the same contractor is bidding 100 – 200 million. You see what the margin is. General Davis to whom I’m grateful for attending to this and the CSTC-A’s partnership. We have saved literally tens of billions of Afs just from cleaning up the contracting of Ministry of Defense but the larger issue is that our citizens are threatened with constant use of illegitimate force. It is not only the terrorist, it is irresponsible armed groups, and the language of violence is a key driver of corruption. A judge who gets to be threatened in one district who refuse state-owned land illegally to a commander was beaten to a pulp. I had the man arrested and brought him to Kabul; he is now under trial. But, this is important that insecurity and our failure yet to consolidate legitimate monopoly of force and (eliminate) corruption within security institutions weakens us. Here, what is fundamental is narcotics as a key driver of corruption. Some of our core institutions that were entrusted with safeguarding citizens’ interests actually are being subverted and it is the networks, and these networks need to be understood.
The third form of capture is economy. Land grab is one illustration of it. Over one million Jeribs of land translating roughly to 300,000 hectares have been grabbed and core to this again was corruption of the courts, corruption of the Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Justice, because there are networks within these. The government lost tens of thousands hectares of land because of collusion, because the government’s case was always argued weakly while private collusion took place to transfer. It is land grab, it is not simply going and grabbing land, it is ensuring that the titles are transferred. Thanks to our reformist Supreme Court Judge, these cases are being reversed and we are going to get back.
And the other form is political capture. Politics has become a means of running the three other forms of capture and sets of relationships that prevail this, because the discourse gets to be subverted and directed towards false set of issues and debate rather than the core issues. Key point: the people of Afghanistan wanted a strong state. A strong state to the people of Afghanistan is the state that is their servant. A state that serves them, a state that provides services, a state that generates growth and jobs. There are certain interests in this country that want weak state institutions because weak state institutions are key to drivers’ survival, and unfortunately in the past, international contractors have been also key to desiring a weak state.
Why was this system created? Huge amounts of money came without the right accountabilities and the kind of advice that was provided was superficial. We dealt with the symptoms rather than with the root causes. Conclusion; we need to deal with the system at systemic level and we need to build. What is the good news? The good news is the people- the absolute majority of the citizens of this country, women, men, particularly the youth, and you do recall that we are the youngest country in terms of age, one of the oldest countries in terms of history, but young in terms of age. The young people don’t want corruption. The women don’t want corruption. Our scholars don’t want corruption. Therefore, we have a golden foundation, but we have to mobilize a systematic effort, because resistance, accusations and subversion need to be really taken seriously.
So, where is political will? Political will is at facing these problems; naming and acknowledging that corruption is our national shame, and we need to address it. Without addressing this, we are not going to have dignity and we will not be able to raise our flag in international meetings and take pride in it because there will always be the shadow. If this diagnosis is correct, and I believe it is, then what do we do?
First, we make the machinery of government function. This both has leadership issues and management issues. Infrastructure ministries. Not a single infrastructure ministry has been taught project and program management skills. Fifteen years of technical assistance, billions of dollars and technical assistance. Show me who has responsibility for which set of projects. I have to go back to my previous days as a facilitator and facilitate this. This is a joint failure. Why is it that people who are paid millions of dollars to design roads failed to design them from satellite imagery and failed to do the ground level reality? We are losing two years in construction because of failure of some of our core partners to do the right supervision. Why is it that eight million dollars are provided for supervision of schools that never got built and yet they were certified as being built? Core functions must be specified partnership, arrangement and accountability really need to be clarified because this is key. We have inherited a system, and some of the rules that are prevalent…We were never an Ottoman colony or from the Ottomans. We have a confusion of rules and regulations. This must be consolidated, and we are very proud that we have focused on consolidation of these rules.
Second, we must end the cycle of impunity. Until now, there has been a perception that anybody in high office has a license to do whatever they want. I am doubling the size of the special crimes task force and they are authorized to investigate both governors, ministers and high-ranking officials. They have a total mandate and right now based on my direct orders they are investigating and we will prosecute. Now they have a prosecutor who has the will to prosecute. Yesterday, a man paid him an enormous compliment, it was the spokesman of Attorney General’s Office; I had a meeting there with all our spokespeople both in the center and the provinces. He said, ‘Mr. Hamidi came alone without an entourage and that’s the type of man we want to come. Welcome Mr. Hamidi, we count on your reforms.
Justice sector is really crucial in this regard. I hope you have seen that now the building blocks of the reforms of the justice sector are in place. First, the Chief Justice, and a second reformist judge was approved by parliament. The third nominee, unfortunately, a brilliant woman, did not make it by votes, but the fourth nominee is the person who runs the narcotic criminal center with total integrity, and I will have a chance to nominate two more people on the Supreme Court and we can assure you that they will be people of integrity and judgment.
The other point that has been taken of course is approval – and I am grateful to parliament – 200 votes of approval for an Attorney General who doesn’t have money or connections. It is a good day for Afghanistan. We hope that this culture becomes more widespread.
Third is, we must stop predatory behavior. Fourth, we have received an inheritance of the past. There are hundreds of files that had been sent to the Attorney General’s Office that had not been acted. We cannot get so busy with the past to forget the now and forget our own accountability. So the Attorney General’s Office and the court system are authorized to classify and make decisions, so a balance between the past and the present and the future, but particularly we are going to be present-oriented. From the day the cabinet and the officials of the government of national unity have been selected, they are accountable and they are prosecutable. And, we must establish this culture, because without that, people will not believe us. I am also willing to submit the presidency to the creation of an ombudsman. If there are any accusations regarding the presidency, I ask the international community to join me to create the best ombudsman office. We do not believe in conflict of interest and because of it, if there are accusations and (these) accusations (are) of part of the anti-reform agenda, let’s have credible mechanisms for dealing with them because it’s important that accusations are dealt with. And, to make sure I invite civil society and the international community to nominate and select an ombudsman.
What have we done so far? I will not give you a laundry list but some key actions. First, we have jailed the two key culprits of the Kabul Bank and Governor Seddiqi who was doing a remarkable job in the bank will tell you not only have we recovered $250 million back the crisis in the banking sector is avoided. Sherlock Holmes; the dog that doesn’t bark needs attention. When I was swearing in, banking could have faced a serious repetition of the previous thing. I personally saw the balance sheet, the ratings, and interviewed every single CEO of the bank and gave them a reform program, and now the Central Bank is seeing this, we believe firmly in the independence of the Central Bank and it is important that the banking sector becomes viable. But, we have avoided crisis now making the banking sector function for the economy rather than for the informal sector is the challenge that governor Seddiqi will preside over.
Second, despite a severe recession bordering on depression, we increased our revenue twenty two percent; that indicates what was the toll that corruption was taking. Twenty five percent of Customs Officers have been fired. The next generation of reforms in the customs are underway, and we hope a series of fundamental changes will occur that will make having a job in customs so undesirable that no one influential would want their kids or their relatives to be placed there, only people with integrity and judgment and in a way to move forward.
Procurement. Mr. Yari has been heading our procurement, and I really want to thank him. He has lost 5 kilos since he took this job while it’s very good for its figure, this is the man who, with a remarkable team, changed the culture of procurement. I have presided over 53 sessions of procurement, I count so. I don’t think in history there is a session that a president and the CEO of a country would have taken this responsibility, seriously. For six months, there was not a single contract that we saw that complied with laws. Now, our sessions are becoming shorter, because compliance is taking place, and I’d like to acknowledge CSTC-A’s contribution and also SIGAR’s and members of parliament; the caucus for integrity are sitting there who are attending as representative, and there is also a representative of the parliament. Result of this; forty five companies have been already blacklisted with at least 11 more in the process of being banned. Interests that are behind these companies. Minister Farooqi did a remarkable job in his investigation of procurement in the Ministry of Defense showing that in most of the contracts, companies that bid actually did not exist. Literally, six companies would bid, four or five of them wouldn’t exist. He traced every single one of these companies, saying is there an office? Is there any establishment? They were (just) names. In other places, there would be post box addresses, but here, thank God, we don’t have post box addresses so they have to have some little room; maybe container.
Third, the Supreme Court. Over 600 judges have been changed. Every single provincial judge in this country was changed. Appellate court judges; 135 that required in the first round my approval, because the Constitution of Afghanistan has a peculiarity; two sets one, theoretically, I am the Chief Judge because it is an Islamic state. So ultimate responsibility comes, that responsibility I delegate to the Chief Judge, but in terms of appointment of top officials, my approval is required. And, secondly another batch came which again over hundred required my approval and three hundred fifty more that required the Chief Justice’s.
The first and second rounds of reforms of the Supreme Court have been completed. Now, we are going to deal with the district level; twenty percent of the prosecutors have been released from their duties. The overwhelming majority of them were graduates of twelfth grade. Can you imagine a country where a significant number of prosecutors who are supposed to know the law and enforce the law are graduates of high school? I interviewed every single judge on the appellate court, and their unanimous judgment was that 80 – 90% of the cases that are submitted to them by prosecutors are legally faulty. And, that’s the job that now Mr. Hamidi and the Chief Justice would deal with.
Public Procurement. I brought you the key in culture because this is the key area. Roughly, twenty percent of the GDP is in government procurement. So the implications of this are immense. We have cleared the top which is formal compliance with the law where in the middle Minister Stanekzai has taken the great step, he’s asked 600 mid-level officials in the Ministry of Defense to declare their assets and he has been focused laser sharp on them, but we need to do the same thing with others. Because the entrenched interest in collusions are at the level of implementation.
Our next task. And, this is the failure of our private sector. We do not have functioning companies. It is not only that we have a weak state, we have a weak market. The weakness of the market institutions are a fundamental block to anti-corruption agenda because the culture previously in the infrastructure was that they would secure the contracts then subcontract them and subcontract them… There are as many as six layers of sub-contracting. And, people who had no business for instance (supplied) food; food business for universities. People who got the contracts specialized in their lines. Back and forth because they were selling contracts ….And we are dealing with it.
Government Financial System; the government financial system is being restructured. Minister Hakimi really needs to be complimented not just for raising the revenue but now for the financial management roadmap. The financial management roadmap is one of the best, and I’d like to acknowledge Australian assistance. This is the best type of assistance that we have gotten, because they have no interest in consulting. Their facilitators; other type of people we have had including companies.
When we created the AFMIS, the first thing was you know; for six months, we had the best then the quality of people declined, because these companies have a number of lead people, they go get the business, start it and then it goes down. And unfortunately, supervision is very weak. But, the type of assistance that we have received from core functioning treasuries; Australia, US, UK and others is really an immense assistance. That is the type of assistance that becomes catalytic because what the financial roadmap is doing it is giving us a clear roadmap where our people own the problem and believe it. There was a culture that we needed to write our documents in English and we have to get out of this culture. If we want ownership, we really have to articulate and write in Uzbeki, Pashto and Dari because that’s a dynamic debate. The key model of this is the Citizen’s Charter. Minster Durrani, Minister Zamir, Minister Firoz and their colleagues have done a remarkable job of debating and discussing, and I was really moved to tears the other day with the conception of the Citizen’s Charter. The next generation of Afghan leaders is in front of you, the torture is being passed and I am delighted. The scope of our colleagues is deeply….of course, I need to acknowledge Minsiter Oriakhel and her colleagues, a culture of inter-ministerial collaboration is taking place. Yesterday, the counter-narcotics center, again as an example of this. So, we are going to reorganize the Auditing Office, we had neither auditing standards nor accounting standards literally. So every company that was giving us an audit did it on their own. I had the misfortune of reading all the audit reports of the telecom sector before my very able colleague Ajmal Ahmadi came and released me of all these things. It is a wonderful addition and his integrity and judgment again needs to be appreciated. Most governments hate their watchdogs. We love working with them, and give power to them and I will give them all the authority that they need to investigate us. But, you make a judgment on the effectiveness or otherwise of AO and let us know, and thereby we’ll decide. What is also important is civil society partnership; Afghan civil society needs to be mobilized and you know what the greatest part of Afghan civil society is? The mosque. Every Friday, there is a referendum across this country in the mosques. The mosques hate corruption, and please we need to mobilize them and Ulema of Afghanistan are going to be extraordinarily important asset in this regard as well.
Now, in terms of moving forward. So, I’d like to make some announcements. First is the High Council on governance, rule of law and anti-corruption. This high council will have the same set of authorities similar to National Security Council, National Economic Council; entry of my very able colleagues, Mr. Roshan, Minister Farooqi, and Nargis Nehan whom you know will be assisting us to put this together and move forward.
What have we done to prepare for this? First is a set of investigations. The famous Farooqi report that you are all asking to be released will be decided upon to be released; the Roshan report that you don’t know about airport is going to be released, and we have investigated all the properties that have been rented by the government and it is a scandal. One illustration; one property was rented by a ministry for 35,000 Afs per month to a company, it turned around and rented the property for 35,000 dollars, and it has been going on for 14 years. We are now creating an inventory of all these assets, we have sufficient investigations to be able to make decisions and commission others, so it’d be important step in that regard.
Second, Chief Justice Halimi and Attorney General Hamidi have agreed that before October, each of them will have five key reforms that are going to be driven by them. We want a condition based contract with the donors to support the justice sector on the basis of these reforms. They will be fundamental in that regard.
Third, we have set up a number priority areas for cleanup. For 2016, Ministries of Interior, Transport, Mining, and Education are on top of our list. And, Ministry of Finance has already prepared a comprehensive action program to work with these Ministries. Why these ministries? And why the approach? We have an enormously long tradition of justice, so first we come to rule of law. We have a long tradition… the circle of justice I hope has been explained to you. Muslim theory of governance is based on the foundational notion of justice. Without justice, there cannot be agriculture. Without agriculture, there cannot be commerce. Without commerce and agriculture, there cannot be an army. Without an army there cannot be an administration, and without an army and administration, there cannot be ruling and governance. It is a simple elegant thing. This is what (it is). So the notions of justice in this country is overdeveloped not underdevelopment. It is delivery. Because of this, I am announcing the establishment of a specialized Anti-corruption Justice Center. The anti-narcotics center has been successful, the chief justice and attorney general have approved this in our first preliminary meeting of the high council, and therefore we would like to implement it and move on so that for Warsaw, it’s active. Not that we will announce by Warsaw, I am announcing it today, we need to make it functional by Warsaw.
Let me briefly focus on these ministries. Ministry of Interior is one of the five larger spenders in this country, but more than that, the Ministry of Interior is the face between citizens and the state, so accountability in this ministry in removal of corruption is critical. The other is, you know because of the imposed war and our need to focus all our energies on containing terrorist attacks, we have not done enough on counter-narcotics. Ministry of Interior is absolutely essential both to the counter-narcotics effort and among other things to ensuring urban growth…. (Inaudible) property rights….and the other (thing) is that constitution gives the responsibility for discovery of crimes to the police. No one else has a right to discover. In the past, the courts have been meddling in this, the Attorney General’s Office has been meddling in every anti-corruption organization. Discovery of the crime is the job of the Police. That’s why the special crimes task force needs to work organically with the anti-corruption center to be able to move this forward. But, the other is, it is also our accountability to your citizens and to your treasuries. The funds that come to the Ministry of Interior must be fully accountable. I cannot have imaginary policemen. Every policeperson, man and woman… we are proud that we have a lot of women now, has to be fully documented. Their payment has to be fully electronic etc.
Mining. As Ambassador Mellbin pointed out, we are at risk of the curse of plenty. Curse of resources, today the mining sector is a driver of terrorist networks. Corruption of the past needs to be investigated. I am willing to have a force by ATI, any international group to look at contracts, we will post every single contract in the mining sector on websites. And, we will be willing to examine all the contracts that have been granted. We invite Afghan Civil Society as it has contributed in the past to investigate the mining sector. Acting minister Habibyar will explain to you as well as the principle of the community consultation.
Education. I am particularly wild about the missing funds that were given to communities to build schools. This is not just stealing, this is a criminal offense against our children. My client is the Afghan child. The Ministry of Education is a means, teachers are a means; schools are a means. We cannot commit a crime against our children. So, fortunately, thanks Nargis Nehan and the colleagues from the Ministry of Education. We have looked at all 110 schools in addition to 150 other schools. We have classified them; now we have a system. But international supervision again was extremely weak. And, whoever hire those we call on those donors that funded these to do their duty, otherwise we need to have a mechanism to sue those people who fail to do their internationally provided resources. There has to be an ombudsman, business needs to have another partner. When firms hired by international donors fail to do their job, what do we do? This is an accountability, this is your resources. Do you want them to go ahead and keep designing false roads both or not supervising school construction and others are accepting certifications. So, it is really important in this regard that we move on education, because that quality will be important. Results of our findings will be made public. I believe in transparency, so it’s important to engage in mutual accountability in the sense that we have accepted it. And, as you see, there is no blame game on our part. We just want to make sure that repetition of the past patterns where Afghan government did not own the problem does not recur and that then we are given international advice that is relevant and pertains to the problem.
Public Campaign. I want to acknowledge that we have been very weak in public communication and my reasoning was very simple. I did not want to raise expectations. A war was imposed on us, we were dealing with a lot of crisis, and we were dealing with fundamental drivers. Now, our way has been clear to our future and our international partnerships are very solid. I want to thank all our international partners; people sitting around me and all of you for believing in us. Last year, we were working with total uncertainty. This year, we are having risks but not uncertainty, and it is an immense change so I want to thank all the ambassadors, all the representatives of international organizations, international financial institutions, the security sector partners for believing in us and for creating a medium-term horizon. This medium-term horizon colleagues will enable us to tackle fundamental changes. We will take actions on land, on contracts and particularly I want to acknowledge the immense work of Mr. Paikar, our very able director general of ARAZI and a member of the Cabinet. ARAZI is an organization that really represents the new generation of reform, a fundamental shift is underway to transfer registration of property from the court that was only transferred as temporary measure in 1960s back to ARAZI, and the Turkish system that we have found most relevant to us is being piloted in Herat and Kabul. This will be a very important point.
In conclusion, again let me thank you for holding this conference and particularly for holding … because it shows that we not only share diagnosis and share a problem, (but that) we’re also partners and working and solving this problem. The road ahead of us is difficult. But there will be forks in the road where difficult choices have to be made that that’s what is going to distinguish us in terms of historical actors. Will we make the easy choice or will we make the harder choice? When a fork comes, those who choose the hard road pave the way for generations to come to benefit from the suffering and the consequences of that decision. We’re willing to take the hard road. But, what is fundamental to taking this hard road is our mutual commitment to transparency and accountability. Corruption thrives in the dark. But here also the dilemma of the reforms. The more we talk about corruption and the more we expose it, people think that it is increased, and it’s fine, but let us understand that this is not fraud on a wave, it is deep structures that we are dealing with so we have to balance fundamental issues that will shift the culture of capture and the commitment unconsciously probably or consciously to a weak state system to a culture we believe in stock state system- bound to its citizens by the bond of rule of law- prevails and meet mid-level actions that experts and specialists will believe in, but also those addressing those symptoms where the public will welcome. So in this balancing act as I hope what your deliberation will be, but also the deliberation regarding dealing with the past and the present. I hope that it has been shown that we have not politicized our anti-corruption team. It is not that we’re using anti-corruption to target anyone, we believe deeply in public discourse and in freedom. But, those who talk must also know their records and we ask you as our partners to advise us on this.
How systematically, how deep do you want us to go to the past; advise us, don’t avoid the problem, because it is extremely important. In terms of today and tomorrow, I want to make sure that you understand that we have the full commitment. This is a fight that we have to win. There is no choice. And we are not waiting for tomorrow to begin, we began yesterday, today we are accelerating and every day we will accelerate the speed. I used to run the 10 mile race and also the 50 meters. In 50 meters it is all about strength in one effort; in 10 miles you have to be steady otherwise you drop or get exhausted in the course of it. So, please help us both achieve the strengths with certain targets particularly by Warsaw and Brussels and then in the longer run.
Very last point, Brussels is crucial to us, we do not want to go to Brussels with speeches. So, please come to understanding with our colleagues. What are those core actions that would create credibility among all our international partners that we have taken action and we have not just spoken. Thank you. Long Live Afghanistan (the president says in Pashto, Uzbeki and Dari)