Afghanistan

Afghanistan's Ex-Finance Minister On Aid, Graft

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Ashraf Ghani, whom President Hamid Karzai appointed to coordinate the recent international conference in Kabul on Afghanistan's future, talks with Renee Montagne about corruption and the distribution of aid.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Secretary Clinton arrived on the Korean Peninsula from Kabul, where she spoke at an international conference of countries that have donated billions in aid to Afghanistan.

We're going to hear next from a man who has a lot of ideas on how to use that money better. Ashraf Ghani spent years at the World Bank. He's a former finance minister who ran in Afghanistan's last presidential election on an anti-corruption platform.

Welcome to the program.

Dr. ASHRAF GHANI (Former Presidential Candidate, Afghanistan): It's a pleasure to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Give us an example of the sort of doable change that can be made in the government that youve suggested, that would change the culture of corruption.

Dr. GHANI: Certainly. The first of these is our new mineral wealth. We have what is considered the largest iron mine in the world. In the next month, a contract for the exploitation of this mine is going to be awarded. So that becomes the critical test - how open this is, how clean this is. Getting this right really matters.

For this to happen, we need our international partners and institutions that have invested in Afghanistan and the private sector that is going to come to understand that this is going to be done without bribes and cleanly.

The other part is - a simple example: driver's licenses. The renewal of this should cost $50. The actual renewal costs $400. So a process of making sure that the citizens can do this rapidly and efficiently will change perceptions and the reality.

MONTAGNE: Although the trick, of course, is to get it done. And you speak of driver's licenses; I was there a year ago and did a story about just that very thing and driver's licenses then, one had to bribe, as you say, $400 to get one. And at that time the government was transforming, supposedly, the Department of Motor Vehicles. Supposedly it would've been done by now.

Mr. GHANI: It has not been done by now, but that's precisely the sense of urgency that now needs to be produced out of this. And unless ideas turn into action, they cannot create confidence.

MONTAGNE: You know, one of the complaints of the Afghan government is that it's not all its fault. What it argues is that because so little of the aid money goes through Afghanistan's own government - about 10 percent - that the other 90 percent is badly used by the West, basically. There's overlapping non-governmental organizations, there's overlapping contracts. You're looking to change that as well.

Mr. GHANI: Absolutely. There are layers of contracting. There is a series of firms around the Beltway called the Beltway Bandits who have really captured the bulk of this. And their key job is not to construct anything but just to get the contract and then to award it to other contractors till the poor Afghan contractor who gets it fourth or fifth-hand really does the job.

And here, again, the Afghan government is asking that all these contracts be disclosed - who they've been awarded to, how much they have been awarded to, who is related to the government, etc.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Ghani, one thing that this conference has agreed to do is to turn over 50 percent of international aid, have it funneled through and used by the Afghan government. And one of the concerns is that this will lead to more people higher up in the government getting that much richer.

Mr. GHANI: It actually will not. It's very much of a qualified commitment. Because that is coupled with provided the Afghan government creates the financial management, accountability, the transparency necessary to make sure that the funds are used properly. And corruption has not been in the use of foreign money - that has gone to the Afghan government, because there is a series of checks and balances, and to make sure that the higher-ups don't steal this and that it is accountable.

Compared to what has been going on through the parallel organizations of contractors, I think the system is likely to prove much more robust, but the key is, of course, to meet those conditions very precisely and to agree on them, so subsequently there will be no blame game and no false accusations.

MONTAGNE: Ashraf Ghani, thank you for talking with us.

Mr. GHANI: It's a pleasure to be with you again.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Ashraf Ghani is a former finance minister who organized the Conference of International Donors in Kabul.

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