Foreign aid has flooded into Afghanistan over the past decade and a half, including over $104 billion in US aid dollars alone; indeed foreign aid currently comprises 60% of Afghanistan’s budget expenditures. But despite—or perhaps because of—these immense expenditures, corruption still plagues the Afghan government and economy (Afghanistan ranks 175/177 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index)–and this greatly concerns the Afghan people. Since 2008, the American effort to address corruption in Afghanistan has been overseen by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR, currently headed by attorney John Sopko, conducts audits and investigations, and issues recommendations and reports to reduce fraud, waste, and inefficiency. SIGAR’s unique approach—centralized, independent oversight over all agencies involved in Afghan reconstruction—has yielded tangible benefits, including saving almost half a billion dollars through a single audit. Reform efforts by the United States and the international community have improved Afghan legal structures, including by crafting comprehensive anticorruption laws and strategies, though serious problems remain.
Yet maintaining accountability and oversight over foreign aid will be even more challenging as U.S. troops leave. In SIGAR’s most recent quarterly report, Sopko points out that “[l]arge areas of the country . . . will soon be off limits to U.S. personnel due to base closures and troop withdrawals.” Nonetheless, the U.S. will continue providing external financial assistance as Afghanistan even as America’s footprint shrinks, and the United States will continue to foot the bill for much of Afghanistan’s public sector even as the US withdraws all but 9,800 troops by December 2014. What can American policymakers to do address the problem of corruption in development aid to Afghanistan during and after the withdrawal?
At first blush, perhaps not much. The US has struggled to stem misallocation of American funds previously, and its levers will weaken as its presence diminishes. Nevertheless, the US will retain significant influence in the near future, and there are a number of concrete steps the US can and should take to limit the extent of corruption in US development aid to Afghanistan, and to support anticorruption efforts in Afghanistan more generally: Continue reading