Back to my second paragraph, where,
One Afghan official helpfully explained to diplomats the “four stages” at which his colleagues skimmed money from American development projects: “When contractors bid on a project, at application for building permits, during construction, and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.”The article is describing how contractors (we don't know what kind, Afghans? foreigners? that's detail that matters don't you think?) skim off money at these four project phases. Let's go through the phases.
First phase, umm, isn't that a phase where we could do something about it? We're the ones with the cash. Not only that but who are we relying upon to publicize bids, make sure businesses know how to bid etc? No, this is not something that small to medium businesses know how to do, that's why organizations like Peace Dividend Trust are on the ground.
Second phase, ok, that's an internal problem but that seems to be something that donors could work on (ie support the relevant ministry office). Don't you find it crazy that nine years into this thing we're still not sure how ministries work and we still don't know how corruption happens for things like applying for a building permit? Really, that's reminds me that it took an Integrity Watch Afghanistan Survey for us to find out that it takes 20 steps to get a driver's license (and seriously plenty of donor country officials found out through the survey).
Third phase, now this is an interesting one. One of the crazy things I've learned is that we don't really monitor projects. No, really, we don't. Why? Well, outside of Kabul, the auditors we've hired (and it's not just us, other donors too) just won't go, it's not safe. The quote in the graph talks about US money. Fear not, it's not better when it's (donor) money funneled through the World Bank's Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which, as I've repeatedly been told, is "not designed to detect fraud." The ARTF is how most donors provide direct budget support. Its recurring window operates on a reimbursement basis so the auditors get receipts (yes receipts, they won't go out and make sure the school was actually built) and give the Afghan authorities the money for the projects. I get that in some places Westerners really can't go the school but why the hell can't we help civil society organizations do this kind of monitoring, pay their transportation costs, provide them with a GPS equipped camera and get them to take pictures every week and keep doing it for a year after the project is done? It would be pretty easy to tell whether the school is being built where the people said it would and whether we should keep paying for teachers and books.
Fourth phase, the ribbon cutting ceremony. This is something where we should be putting out foot down. No, we won't cover that expense. This is like donors getting played by senior Afghan officials on salary top ups. "What do you mean you didn't know that X just had a meeting with another donor who said "no" to a top up yesterday"? And now we're saying yes because we don't want to lose their "support." We've been at this nine years and we're still surprised about this kind of thing?
Ok, third paragraph:
"It is hardly news that predatory corruption, fueled by a booming illicit narcotics industry, is rampant at every level of Afghan society." And then a trite reminder about Transparency International's latest ranking on corruption perception.
The first sentence annoyed me. First of all, when is corruption ("the abuse of entrusted office for private gain") not predatory? I'm trying to think of an example but I'm drawing a blank. Second, "fueled by a booming narcotics industry"? In the preceding graph you said it was fueled by American money. Now I'm not saying it can't be both, because it certainly is both but why do you now focus on the latter?
So I would ask you to consider this: in 2001, the international community provided Afghanistan with $250 million in assistance money (I know it was under the Taliban, still it's an interesting baseline). Yes, you read that right, $250 million dollars (I got that from the World Bank's fast facts page on Afghanistan).
What kind of impact do you think the cash we're pouring in now is going to have? In 2008 (the last year for which I could find figures), the drug trade represented about $3.4 billion while US assistance alone that same year was $5.7 billion. In a country where we just figured out it takes 20 steps to get a driver's license (even though we've been there nine years), those numbers are really alarming so let's not boil down corruption like this. The rest of the article goes on to explain more local dynamics but I think we need to keep in mind that we have a role a responsibility here as well and that it's a big one.