June 17, 2010 / 10:10 AM / 7 years ago

Afghan anti-graft body to publish officials' assets

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s top anti-graft body plans to go public on Saturday with the assets of government officials, a move that follows mounting foreign criticism of widespread corruption.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signs a decree giving more authority to an anti-graft body in Kabul March 18, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/Files

President Hamid Karzai won international plaudits when he pledged to crack down on graft after his reelection in November, but some diplomats have since complained about delays and the scale of implementation.

Western nations with troops in Afghanistan, and eyeing withdrawals next year, describe corruption as a challenge to stabilising the war-ravaged country -- on a par with the renewed Taliban insurgency and the booming illegal drugs trade.

Mohammad Yasin Usmani, head of the government-appointed High Office of Oversight, said his agency would on Saturday begin releasing the asset-disclosure forms filled by 2,000 officials.

“This is the first time that such a list will be published, to inform the public,” he told Reuters on Thursday, adding that there would be no editing of the original forms.

Among the first forms due for release are those of Karzai, his two deputies, cabinet ministers, the head of the Supreme Court and other top judges, as well as the attorney-general.

The forms of regional governors, police chiefs and other senior government officials would follow, Usmani said.

As a measure against nepotism, officials were also required to list their first-degree relatives. Any official found to have withheld information risked prosecution, Usmani said.

The High Office of Oversight further plans to track how much assets serving officials accrue by mounting investigations when they retire or quit government.

“We have various ways of checking this,” Usmani said.

“First, the people living in their neighbourhood are a good source for us. Next come the banks and the courts” where property is registered.

CONSTITUTIONAL REQUIREMENT

The registration and publication of officials’ assets is in line with the requirement of the Afghan constitution instituted in 2003, after U.S.-led forces toppled Taliban rule.

Usmani gave no explanation for the delay in implementation. But next month will see a major international conference in Kabul where foreign donations, Afghan government accountability and anti-corruption efforts are expected to top the agenda.

Among top officials who filled in the forms, Karzai is the least privately endowed, Usmani said. He declined to elaborate or to name the richest government official.

Senior current and former Afghan officials own building and other properties valued in the millions of dollars, including in lucrative foreign hub cities like Dubai, residents say.

Some officials have also been involved in major businesses and contracts awarded by foreign forces. Police have been questioning 17 current and ex-ministers on graft suspicions.

Karzai has acknowledged a corruption problem, but says the problem has been exaggerated in Western media. He insists the biggest corruption trigger is Western nations’ poor oversight of billions of dollars’ worth in aid contracts that dwarf Afghanistan’s budget.

That argument appears to have found some agreement abroad. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March that Washington must do more to clean up its contracting procedures. (Editing by Dan Williams)

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