CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Sobh bacheir, a very good morning to all of you – what an impressive congregation !
Your Excellency President Ashraf Ghani,
First Vice President Saleh and Second Vice President Danesh,
Foreign Minister, National Security Advisor, Distinguished Ministers,
Honourable Chief Justice,
Members of the Parliament,
Colleagues of the Diplomatic Corps, Representatives of Civil Society, Private Sector, the Academia, and the Media.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to welcome you today on the occasion of the 6th Annual European Union Anti-Corruption Conference.
We deliberately integrated this EU brand event this year into the last of five Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework II workshops, namely the one on ‘Effective Governance and Anti-Corruption’.
Allow me to first thank H.E. President Ashraf Ghani, who has kindly offered to host the conference again this year at the Palace and agreed to deliver the keynote speech.
Today’s Conference takes place at a crucial moment two weeks before the Afghanistan 2020 Conference, where donors will pledge long-term support and in that context reflect on the Government’s anti-corruption efforts.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
according to Asia Foundation’s ‘The Survey of Afghan People’ 2019, over 80% of those surveyed consider corruption as a major problem. This figure is alarming. Ordinary Afghans are confronted with corruption in their daily lives, whether at the police check-points or in interactions with other authorities, but they are also disillusioned by the corruption of those in higher offices.
For Transparency International, a Berlin-based watchdog and offspring of the Worldbank’s governance work, Corruption is defined as “the misuse of entrusted power for private gain”. The less a citizen associates himself or herself with the “public good”, the more he or she will rely only on “private gains”.
Misuse of power or public resources are a great burden on any country. It stifles economic initiative, it allows the corrupt to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society. It erodes trust of the people in their Government.
Some of the populisms in Europe and around the world can be attributed to a feeling of a detached elite – out of reach for oversight or even prosecution.
Some comparative European research shows that the population’s perception of a country’s “quality of democray” and the perception of it being “free-from corruption” are mutually reinforcing. Meaning: The less corrupt a country is perceived, the more democratic it is seen.
Therefore, effectively addressing corruption
It means state-building.
It means building trust.
Building such trust is a necessary ingredient for sustainable peace and much more than a technical issue.
In the ongoing Afghan Peace Negotiations it is all about trust. A minimum of trust between the sides.
Trust in the supremacy of a pluralistic, democratic Afghanistan. Trust in the Republic.
And let there be no doubt: Corruption is certainly not only an Afghan problem. It exists in all societies. Some countries have made more progress combatting it, than others. The EU institutions, for instance, have been working hard to make its own independent European Antifraud Office OLAF ever more effective. OLAF investigates, takes legal action where needed (including criminal prosecution) and provides recommendations to us. All of our European institutions receive whistle blower reports that are sent to OLAF for investigation. Also in my delegation. Also in Afghanistan.
Globally, whenever and wherever progress was made, it was because of collective efforts, by the legislative, executive and judicial branch by media and civil society at large - all promoting a culture of legality and justice.
Afghanistan can do the same.
It will take time, and we should be patient, but people should demand consistent progress. Certainly, under your leadership, Mr President, with the implementation of the 2017 Anti-corruption strategy, Afghanistan already has made progress.
For example, the regulatory framework and the merit-based civil service recruitment have been considerably improved. These are important steps.
And talking about legislation, the Parliament of Afghanistan would have a key role to play
- To finally pass the necessary anticorruption legislation,
- to hold the Government accountable through oversight
I was very concerned to hear that the Wolesi Jirga rejected the Anti-Corruption Law.
And then comes implementation of laws and strategies by the executive,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
With the necessary political will at all levels, Government has to create a culture of integrity and accountability in public service. There should be no exceptions. No one can be exempt from merit-based recruitment from audits or criminal investigations. Everyone must be equal before the law.
And in order to provide the necessary checks and oversight, let me encourage the Government to establish the long awaited independent anti-corruption commission and to develop a genuine long-term anticorruption strategy.
A strategy that builds on a thorough independent impact assessment of the previous strategy. We should learn from the past - what went wrong and how we can fix it.
In the intervening period, the EU together with the UK and others (and I recognize my colleague Allison Blake with whom I am co-chairing the Ambassadorial working group) suggest that the updated version of the previous strategy serves as an interim guiding document on anticorruption. We expect the new strategy, drafted in consultation with civil society and the international community, to be in place by mid-2021.
The EU continues to be a strong supporter of Afghanistan’s anti-fraud agenda also in our development cooperation. This is at the core of the State Building Contract with your government.
A contract which has helped implement reforms in public finance management to increase budget transparency and to close loopholes for misuse and embezzlement of funds.
We have also been supporting your public procurement reforms which are helping your taxpayers get value for money in government transactions. In addition to our work in agriculture and health…
Against this backdrop, I am particularly concerned about reports on widespread mismanagement of funds allocated to combat Covid-19, which, if true, are deplorable on a scale of its own. Particularly because Covid also affects Europeans, the poorer primarily and it will be a constraint on our own budgets.
Turning to the judicial branch, we need progress on fraud investigations, the prominent ones in particular.
One example is the recent efforts at documenting corrupt practices at the Customs and Revenue services, where the attention should now focus on prosecution.
And the long shadow of the Kabul Bank scandal: Despite the presidential decrees in 2014, the case is not yet sufficiently resolved and the former CEO has been released from jail to "house arrest".
Also the Farooqi report has still not been made public and after five years due prosecutions have not been completed.
Effective investigations and prosecutions have to be carried out, in particular of high-level suspects, demonstrating that corrupt actions have consequences.
We need to make substantial progress on enforcement of court orders and warrants, including the many issued by the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre.
And what is an effective judiciary without a fully endowed supreme court ?
Three out of nine seats at the supreme council judicial council are vacant and should be filled.
Finally yet importantly, Anti-Corruption Alliances will have to extend beyond the public sector. Civil society and the media do commendable work to expose corrupt practices. Government must nurture a culture of transparency and provide maximum access to information for journalists and civil society.
As far as the EU’s assistance is concerned, we are supporting Afghanistan in strengthening investigation, prosecution and sanctioning of corrupt behaviour, for example by supporting the professionalization of the Attorney General’s Office and the anti-corruption units.
What we need to see now, as your investment partner in anti-corruption efforts, are the returns:
How the institutions we helped set up eliminate corruption, catching, as they say, both the small fish and the big fish.
Today’s EU Anti-Corruption Conference,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
shall provide inspiration for the final drafting of the Afghan Partnership Framework, which will be a key document setting out our mutual commitments. Moreover, it can provide inputs to the enrichment of the ANPDF II, when it comes to defining the priorities of the Government for the next four years in fighting corruption.
I trust, you are ready to contribute to help draft this important document.
At the Afghanistan 2020 Conference in two weeks in Geneva, the international community will enter into a renewed robust partnership with Afghanistan.
With specific commitments from the Government of Afghanistan, including on improving the fight against Corruption.
Any weak outcome would be a betrayal not only of the Afghan people’s trust, but also of equally Covid affected donors’ trust, which would have a negative impact on their appetite for pledging.
As I said before, trust and unity are the key factors for Afghanistan’s future. Trust in your country’s self-reliance
Trust in your governance and justice system. And trust in your own strength.
The EU will continue to stand by those in the Government, Parliament, the judiciary, and the Afghan people making courageous efforts to prevent and combat corruption.