Reforming the ANDSF Payroll Management System: The Limits of a Technological Solution

In my last post, I discussed the how the problem of “ghost soldiers”—soldiers who are inaccurately listed as on active duty, for purposes of generating salary payments that are then stolen—adversely affects the capacity and readiness of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). To make things worse, not only is the government making salary payments to soldiers who don’t exist, but some ANDSF personnel who do exist are not receiving the full salaries they are due. Approximately 20% of Afghan National Police (ANP) and 5% of Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel are paid in cash through so-called “trusted agents,” who are supposed to facilitate salary payments to ANDSF personnel when electronic funds transfers (EFTs) are not possible, but according to reports, corruption in the system could take as much as half of an employee’s salary. And while most ANDSF personnel receive their salaries via EFT to their personal bank accounts, this only reduces the threat of pilfering in the final distribution stage; it does nothing to correct for errors, either intentional or inadvertent, generated earlier in the process.

What can be done about these problems? The U.S.-led multinational military organization working with the Afghan government to reform and strengthen the ANDSF, known as the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), is applying a technological band-aid that focuses on implementing a set of computerized systems that track personnel and pay. While these measures are helpful, they do not fundamentally change the incentive structures that drive corruption, and so are unlikely to represent a long-term solution, particularly after direct U.S. involvement winds down.

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The Toll Corruption Takes on Afghan Security Force Capacity

Corruption in Afghanistan and its role in the ongoing instability of the country has been discussed on this blog before (see, for example, here, here, and here), but for the most part in fairly general, strategic-level terms. In this post, I’m going to zoom in and explain in greater detail two particularly insidious types of corruption that plague the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF): 1) the problem of “ghost” soldiers, and 2) the pilfering of fuel, weapons, and other supplies intended for security force personnel. These forms of corruption leave Afghan security forces hollow and ill-equipped to accomplish the missions assigned to them. As long as pervasive corruption continues to undermine force capacity, readiness, and morale, the prospect of Afghan government forces gaining the upper hand on the Taliban and other insurgents remains slim.

“Ghost soldiers” are fictitious troops added to personnel rosters by corrupt officials who then collect the extra pay allocated for these (in some cases deceased, in some cases no longer active, and in some cases totally made-up) soldiers. To give a sense of the scale of the problem, consider the 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army. In 2015, local officials suggested that up to 40 percent of names on the books did not correspond to actively-serving soldiers. For the 215th Corps, with an authorized strength of 18,000, that would mean fewer than 11,000 soldiers were actually available to fight. Earlier this year, US Army Major General Richard Kaiser, commander of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CTSC-A), told the Wall Street Journal that the US had removed from the Afghan military payrolls more than 30,000 suspected ghost soldiers. That group of names amounted to over one-sixth of the Afghan army, significantly less than 40 percent but nevertheless a staggering figure. For reference, 30,000 is the same number of additional US troops President Obama sent to Afghanistan in December 2009 in a surge deemed necessary to turn the tide in the conflict.

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U.S. to Honor Corruption Fighters from Afghanistan, Angola, Guatemala, Malaysia, and Ukraine

Afghanistan NGO leader Khalil Parsa, Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, Guatemalan judge Claudia Escobar, Malaysian civil society activist Cynthia Gabriel, and Ukrainian investigative journalist Denys Bihus will share the 2017 Democracy Award for their work promoting democracy in their countries.  Bestowed annually by the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. democracy promotion agency, the ceremony will be held June 7 at the U.S. Capitol.  Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will both speak.

This year’s award is significant for three reasons.  In the wake of concerns Trump Administration rhetoric has raised about America’s commitment to human rights and democracy, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi’s participation is a reminder that a strong, bipartisan consensus on these basic, universal values remains deeply embedded in U.S. political culture.  Second is the recognition by the National Endowment, perhaps the world’s leading advocate of democracy, that the fight against corruption is an essential element in building a democratic state.  Finally, the award is one more sign that those fighting corruption at home are not alone, that the international community supports them and stands with them.

More on the ceremony, biographies of each recipient, and the National Endowment’s democracy promotion work here.

Guest Post: Did the London Summit Make a Difference to Open Contracting? Does Open Contracting Make a Difference for Tackling Procurement Corruption?

Gavin Hayman, Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership, provides today’s guest post:

Anyone remember the London Anti-Corruption Summit last May? It seems like a long, long time ago now, but it was a big deal for us when 14 countries stepped forward at the Summit to implement the Open Contracting Data Standard to open, share, and track all data and documents coming from the billions of dollars that they are spending on public contracting and procurement each year.

One year later, how well have these countries have followed through on their commitments, and how much of a difference open contracting has made in combating corruption in public procurement? After all, it is government’s number one corruption risk; it’s where money, opacity, and government discretion collide.

The news is generally positive: the Summit commitments appear to have promoted genuine progress toward more open contracting in many of those countries, and the preliminary evidence indicates that such moves help reduce procurement corruption. Continue reading

Guest Post: The US and Afghanistan Need a New, Long-Term Anticorruption Strategy

Ahmad Shah Katawazai, Defense Liaison at the Embassy of Afghanistan to the United States, contributes the following guest post:

President-elect Trump has declared that he will stop American taxpayers’ money from being squandered abroad. This position poses a threat to a continued US presence in Afghanistan, in light of Afghanistan’s endemic corruption. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-Elect Trump’s pick to be National Security Advisor, has been arguing from a long time that abetting corrupt officials–“backing thugs”–would tarnish the U.S. military’s reputation. Thus Trump might threaten Afghan officials that the US will cut off foreign aid if the Afghan government fails to crack down on corruption.

The U.S.-led coalition mission in Afghanistan laid the foundations for systemic corruption right from the start of the war in 2001. The U.S. provided millions of dollars in cash to the so-called warlords, as well as opium and arms smugglers. These warlords and criminals needed to protect themselves, and they found that the best way to do so was to secure high-level governmental positions. It is these people who are mainly responsible for running the mafia-style corruption machine in Afghanistan.

Yet Western policymakers neglected this problem, largely because they were focusing more on security as their top priority. What these policymakers failed to grasp was the fact that corruption could turn into a serious security threat in Afghanistan. For too long the focus was solely on fighting the insurgents, but corruption undermined this fight by fueling grievances against the Afghan government and the West. Corruption, including the diversion of Afghan resources and donor aid for the private gain of the political elite, impoverished and alienated the common people. Public anger over massive graft and corruption in the country turned people against the government and the West, thus strengthening the ranks of Taliban. Moreover, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)‘s recent report, “U.S. money was flowing to the insurgency via corruption.” Corruption in Afghanistan cuts across all aspects of the society, with 90% of Afghans saying that corruption is a problem in their daily lives, and this endemic corruption threatens the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s government.

What has been achieved in the past 15 years in Afghanistan—at the cost of billions of dollars and the sacrifices of thousands of lives—today remains at jeopardy. The country is in a fragile and vulnerable position. Yet it would be shortsighted for the US to simply disengage, or threaten to cut off aid if the Afghan government fails to crack down sufficiently. What is needed both from the Afghan government and the new U.S. administration is a unified, long-term, practical, results-oriented strategy that could produce solid outcomes. It would be wise for the Trump administration to come up with such a strategy. Afghanistan should remain a priority because of its geo-strategic location and an important U.S. ally in the region. Given the existing circumstances and the need to bolster Afghanistan’s security and economy, and to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents, a long-term commitment and a coherent strategy to get corruption under control would be in the interests of both the U.S. and Afghan governments.

For Foreign Aid and Fighting Corruption, Less Is More

The US government learned many hard lessons from its military occupation of Iraq. With respect to corruption in security and reconstruction projects, one of the clearest lessons—emphasized by the 2013 final report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), among others—was that smaller, short-term projects were more effective, and less susceptible to massive and debilitating corruption, than big, long-term projects. Indeed, a month after publication of the SIGIR report, Paul Cooksey, the Deputy Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, testified to Congress that large amounts of money should not be injected into an unstable region without enough well-trained, experienced personnel to oversee it. The better strategy, he argued, was to use small projects that could be more tightly managed. For example, one battalion commander in Iraq mentioned that greenhouse and drip irrigation projects—which allowed farmers to use water more efficiently and grow vegetables year-round—were small enough to be easily monitored to completion. This may not be as grandiose as building massive infrastructure, but it can still have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Yet despite the clarity and consistency of this message, it has not been heeded in Afghanistan. Continue reading

Guest Post: Aid Agencies Need to Improve Their Anticorruption Strategies and Implementation in Fragile States

GAB is pleased to welcome back Jesper Johnson, who contributes the following guest post:

Last year, Nils Taxell, Thor Olav Iversen and I contributed a guest post about the EU’s anticorruption strategy and its implementation (calling development aid a blind spot for EU anticorruption efforts), based on a report which was presented twice in the European Parliament. This material was part of a wider comparative study of the anticorruption strategies of the World Bank, European Commission, and UNDP that has just been published as a book by Edward Elgar. The book is the first major comparative study of work to help governments in fragile states counter corruption by the three multilateral aid agencies. The focus is on fragile states, where aid agencies face the greatest challenges in terms of both strategy and implementation. Although many recent reports and agreements, including the OECD’s New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report, have emphasized that agencies need to change the way they work in fragile states—in particular, the traditional policy frameworks cannot be uncritically copied from a non-fragile contexts—this message has not yet trickled down to the way these three multilateral aid agencies do anticorruption. Anticorruption and state-building policies are often disconnected or incoherent, and challenges rooted in the organization of the agencies prevent strategies from translating into results. More specifically, all three aid agencies shared a number of characteristics that inhibited their ability to address corruption in fragile states more effectively: Continue reading