A recent study by the anti-corruption body, Integrity Watch, showed that Afghans paid more than $3 billion in brides in the last year alone.
That’s many times more than the annual income of the central government.
As Shadi Khan Saif reports from Kabul, Afghanistan has a long way to go to counter deep-rooted corruption.
From getting a highly paid government job, to securing a lucrative contract, to simply getting a new ID card, money talks in Afghanistan.
27-year old Kabul resident Obaidullah Gulyar has visited the ID card office in Kabul four times to try and get his new card.
“The officials kept dragging the issue for no reason. I told him straight up, do not expect a bride from me, I am a medical student and will not pay a single penny as a bribe,” Gulyar told me.
Only then, was his card finally processed.
But, not everyone in Afghanistan is as educated and bold enough as Gulyar to counter the vicious nexus of bureaucracy and corruption.
A study last December by the country’s top anti-corruption watchdog, Integrity Watch, revealed that an estimated $3 billion was paid in bribes last year. That’s an almost 50 percent increase compared to 2014.
This survey indicates that after insecurity and unemployment, corruption is the third-biggest problem that Afghans face.
Sayed Ikram Afzali is the executive director of Integrity Watch in Afghanistan.
“The National Corruption Survey has revealed that the state of governance has hit an unprecedented low, and the level of corruption has swollen to an unprecedented high. The amount of money given away as bribes this year has reached $3 billion, that is one billion more than what we monitored in the previous survey,” reported Afzali.
Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the international community has poured more than $100 billion into the war-ravaged country.
But the money has largely been squandered.
Institutions are fragile and corrupt, and infrastructure is well, inadequate at best.
Inamul Haq, a resident of Kabul’s southern district has seen the road leading from his area to the city poorly constructed, then damaged, and then hastily rebuilt three times in several years.
“We have seen in the past 15 years that construction contracts are traded by two and three contractors with everyone taking their cut, finally only a very little amount of money is actually spent on the project,” Haq says.
Heavily reliant on foreign aid, which has more and more pre-conditions attached to it, the Afghan government is desperate to prove it is doing all it can to curb corruption.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani is known to work day and night, poring through every single procurement file, and personally interviewing almost each and every individual for important government posts.
But Humera Ayubi, a leading women’s lawmaker, and member of the parliament’s anti-corruption committee, believes much more than that is needed to cleanse Afghanistan of corruption.
“It was not always like this, we had a government in the past that literally did not recognize corruption, only a few individuals at a very low level would take bribes with a feeling of guilt and everyone condemned such people, but now there is no strong political will against corruption despite the fact that the leaders of the government are making loud claims in this regard,” Ayubi said.
The resilient Afghan nation, however, is resisting this culture of corruption in different ways.
Art Lords is the name of a local movement of volunteers that are fighting corruption in a unique way, including through a series of murals painted around Kabul.
The Art Lords recently won a global award for their creative approach to raising awareness about corruption.
Omaid Sharifi is the president of the movement.
“Our aim is to work for the younger generation and make sure they do not indulge in this terrible cycle, and assure them that fairness, truth and loyalty are indeed the basis of what is right,” Sharifi stated.
For now in Kabul, that’s a work in progress.