Afghanistan demands list from diplomats in anti-graft fight

KABUL, July 24 Tue Jul 24, 2012 6:22pm IST

KABUL, July 24 (Reuters) - Afghanistan has asked major Western backers and diplomats to furnish a list of contractors they use with close ties to top Afghan officials as part of efforts to crack down on rampant corruption worrying international donors.

Graft remains one of the biggest headaches for President Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's international backers, who demanded at a conference in Tokyo this month that the government combat graft as the price of future aid worth $16 billion.

Karzai in turn has accused the international community of helping to fuel corruption and has asked foreign donors to stop awarding massive reconstruction projects to contractors linked to senior officials in his government.

"As part of fighting corruption outside the government, we have asked the United States and UK embassies, and NATO authorities, to give us a list of names of major contractors related to senior officials," a senior government official told Reuters on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

"We have made plans to fight corruption at all levels, within and outside the government."

Afghanistan is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International.

Much of the money has been siphoned from billions of dollars worth of aid and reconstruction projects, some awarded to contractors with ties to Karzai's extended family, damaging the president's own popularity.

"The contractors often misuse the names of senior officials and use that influence to win tens of millions of dollars they earn from the projects," the official said.

Karzai called last month, just ahead of the major donors' meeting in Tokyo, for parliament to do more to tackle graft and said "corruption has reached its peak in Afghanistan".

While the call fell short of Western hopes for tough action and prosecutions, his remarks were seen as one of the strongest commitments to fight graft since U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001.

Karzai promised he would bring administrative reforms from top to bottom in his government, a vow which was welcomed by the international community.

Karzai's chief spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the decree on administrative reforms would be signed by Karzai "very soon" but rejected reports that some Cabinet ministers and provincial governors under a graft cloud would soon be sacked.

"Each ministry and government administration will be given a timeframe to introduce reforms, better governance, and most importantly tackle graft," Faizi told Reuters.

Highlighting the worries among Karzai's backers, Britain's aid watchdog this year called on the government in London to tighten its oversight of aid to Afghanistan.

Karzai's government has yet to prosecute a single high-level corruption case. (Editing by Rob Taylor and Nick Macfie)

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