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Afghanistan's rampant bribery skyrockets

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 7:22 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans paid bribes totaling about $3.9 billion last year — twice the country's domestic revenue — and two-thirds of the population approve of civil servants taking kickbacks for providing basic services, according to a U.N. survey released on Thursday.

The results indicate corruption is deeply rooted in Afghanistan despite President Hamid Karzai's pledges to clean up the problem and years of internationally backed efforts to curb the country's extensive networks of bribery and patronage.

The data also point to the toxic impact of the billions of dollars in foreign aid and contracts that have poured into Afghanistan over the last decade — inflating even the cost of bribes.

Although fewer Afghans in 2009 reported making such payoffs, the total cost of the bribes jumped by 40 percent, suggesting that poorer Afghans were less likely to afford public services.

The information is a worrying sign for Karzai and his Western sponsors, who say that endemic corruption undermines public confidence in the government and pushes some Afghans to support the Taliban.

“We see some improvements, but by the same token, the problem is extremely serious,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, regional representative for the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime, which released the survey along with the government's anti-corruption body. “Corruption is rampant in Afghanistan, and the perception of the population is we cannot escape this.”

The survey polled 6,700 Afghans from across the country and found that 50 percent last year paid a bribe to a public-sector worker — down from 59 percent in 2009, the last year the survey was conducted.

But 68 percent of those polled said it is acceptable for civil servants to augment their low salaries by taking small bribes from people in exchange for public services. And by a similar percentage,the Afghans polled approved the hiring of civil servants based on family ties or friendships.

Among the most troubling findings is that education has become one of the government sectors most plagued by graft. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they paid a bribe to a teacher in 2012, up from 16 percent in 2009.

“It says the rich who can easily pay get better access to services, while the poor who cannot pay may not get access,” Lemahieu said. “That alienates a lot of the population, makes them frustrated, and, in the worst scenario, can fuel the insurgency.”

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