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    The Hidden Cost of Corruption

    The United Nations this week released a deeply disturbing report about the level of corruption in Afghanistan, based on interviews with some 7,600 residents of Afghanistan; however, judging from the results of the study, the UN pollsters might well have been collecting their data about endemic corruption here in the land of the cedars. The UN report, compiled by the Office on Drugs and Crime, cites respondents as saying it was impossible to obtain a public service without paying a bribe. Sound familiar?

    At the end of the day, we do not view the issue of corruption as an excuse to mount our high horse and rail against moral impurity; what disturbs us most is the UN estimate that an additional 25 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP was lost to the maze of baksheesh and quid pro quo.

    Corruption is simply bad public and economic policy. In the briefest terms, corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to expanding our economy. It means substantial losses in productivity, it means missed opportunities and it means slower development, and who would condone a system that invariably leads to these results?

    If we want to search for root causes of the phenomenon, we can observe similar arcs of history here and in Afghanistan – a society stuck in the tribal phase with regularly recurring spates of civil war and unrest. But we cannot blame today’s continuing climate of rampant corruption on the 1975-90 Civil War – the outstretched hand of the person with a little power had been a feature of Lebanese affairs for a few centuries before that.

    While we’re assigning blame, let’s also make clear that our entire political class – no matter their fervent protestations of their lily-white chastity – bears responsibility for the distressing reality. Some helped create this monster, others participate in it and all have failed to do anything significant to fight it. In Afghanistan, for example, 42 percent of the respondents to the UN study said they viewed nepotism as acceptable; in Lebanon, if it weren’t for nepotism, we wouldn’t have any political class at all.

    We are not here to demonize the easy target of this country’s, ahem, leadership. We are advocating a new approach for purely practical reasons that the country’s chieftains would well understand – it will mean a bigger pie for us all.

    Corruption will not wither on its own; we must work to chop it down. The antidote is known and has worked elsewhere: an anti-corruption agency with teeth; bringing the bright glare of transparency to the flow of public monies; and raising the salaries of civil servants to reduce incentives for corruption. We might have our doubts about the possibility for success of an anti-corruption drive in Afghanistan, but at least they have the help of the UN; are we ready to fall behind Afghanistan on the list of the world’s most-corrupt nations?

    The Daily Star
    22.01.2010

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