Corruption is a considerable problem in many countries, undermining the rule of law and impeding broad-based democratic and market development. Afghanistan, unfortunately, is one of the most glaring examples of the pernicious nature of corruption. A recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime backs up this perception with precise data. The report found that Afghan citizens pay a total of $2.5 billion a year in bribes, or 23% of Afghanistan’s GDP. This is nearly the same amount generated from Afghanistan’s entire narcotics trade ($2.8 billion a year). Nearly 60% of those surveyed place corruption above security or unemployment as areas of concern to the country.
Those tasked with enforcing the law were cited as the worst aggressors: nearly 25% of Afghans reported having to pay at least one bribe to policy and provincial officials. Judges, prosecutors, and members of the national government were not far behind, with 10 to 20% of those surveyed reportedly paying those officials bribes. What is more, the report found the average bribe to ring up at $160. With Afghanistan’s GDP per capita amounting to $425, the average bribe could account for some 40% of per capita output.
While the report outlines specific steps the Afghan government could take to fight corruption, what remains is a disturbing account of the institutional factors facilitating systems of bribery. Some of the last persons or institutions a rural citizen (3/4 of the population live outside urban areas) would go to with a report of corruption would be the army, courts, prosecutors, or members of the local municipal council. Afghan citizens must be able to know that they can rely on their institutions of governance to squelch the supply-and-demand cycle of corruption.