Afghanistan's Karzai targets governors in anti-graft fight

KABUL Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:32pm IST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) attends Afghan Independence Day celebrations in Kabul August 18, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/Files

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L) attends Afghan Independence Day celebrations in Kabul August 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani/Files

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KABUL (Reuters) - President Hamid Karzai is considering sacking or moving the governors of a fifth of Afghanistan's 34 provinces as part of a shakeout of corrupt or underperforming officials aimed in part at soothing foreign donors.

Karzai is likely to replace seven governors on Thursday whose performance he considers unsatisfactory, including those in the volatile Baghlan, Wardak and Nimroz provinces in the north and southwest, as well as Takhar in the north, several government sources told Reuters.

Ehsanullah Tahiri, a spokesman for the Office of Administrative Affairs, confirmed that among those to be moved was Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal, a former army colonel who is liked by foreign diplomats but has been unable to make headway against Taliban insurgents.

"They have not been able to improve good governance in their areas," Tahiri said, declining to give further specifics.

Karzai in late July issued a decree ordering all ministries to cut down on nepotism and corruption, and told the Supreme Court to speed up existing probes into graft and suspect property dealings.

The 23-page decree, while less radical than Western donors had hoped, suggested a growing realisation within government that corruption must be addressed and senior figures prosecuted, with $16 billion of aid being made conditional on a crackdown.

While the document was vague on time frames, Karzai's office said improvements could be expected by the end of September.

Several cabinet ministers are also under a corruption cloud.

They include the finance minister, Hazarat Omar Zakhilwal, who has been accused of stashing more than $1 million in overseas banks and properties. Zakhilwal has promised to fight the accusations, which were aired on Afghan television.

TROUBLE WITH PARLIAMENT

Afghan media and government sources said Karzai was considering the extent of changes on Wednesday night, wary of too much political upheaval after parliament last month forced the removal of the defence and interior ministers.

The head of the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, Azizullah Lodin, said he did not expect changes in top positions as a result of Karzai's decree.

"To stop corruption in Afghanistan, that is not possible as it is in the United States and England and other countries," Lodin told Reuters in an interview ahead of the provincial shake-up expected on Thursday.

"I am a salmon trying to go against the river, but in some places there are bears and they have an open mouth."

Lodin said his office had handed 131 files to the Attorney-General's office in the last two years, but only a handful had been followed up and no senior figure had yet been jailed for corruption.

"We did our job. These files were about very particular (instances of) corruption, high corruption, grand corruption, even some ministers," he said.

Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand's Mangal, said no official word had been received from Karzai's office.

"But there are rumours and these rumours are meaningful. There will be something behind them," Ahmadi said.

Mangal was tipped as a possible candidate for the vacant Border and Tribal Affairs ministry in Karzai's cabinet, he said, or a shift to become governor of Herat, which accounts for 20 percent of national government revenue from trade with Iran.

Giving Mangal a ministry could trigger another row for Karzai with lawmakers, some of whom might withhold their approval because of concerns about Mangal's overseas property dealings, said Kandahar MP Shekiba Hashimi, a member of parliament's internal security commission.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Abdulaziz Ibrahimi; Editing by)

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