- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BERLIN | Afghanistan has slipped three places to become the world’s second-most corrupt country despite billions in aid meant to bolster the government against a rising insurgency, according to an annual survey of perceived levels of corruption.

Only lawless Somalia, whose weak United Nations-backed government controls just a few blocks of the capital, was perceived as more corrupt than Afghanistan in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Iraq saw some improvement, rising to 176 of 180 countries, up two places up from last year. Singapore, Denmark and New Zealand were seen as the least-corrupt countries in the list based on surveys of businesses and experts.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s inability or unwillingness to tackle cronyism and bribery over the past five years have resulted in an increase of support for the Taliban insurgents. That has prompted calls by the Obama administration for Mr. Karzai to curb the practice or risk forfeiting U.S. aid.

Since 2001, the U.S. Congress has appropriated at least $39 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Afghanistan, according to a report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. European nations send about $1.5 billion a year and more than $13 billion since 2002.

International donors are increasingly questioning how much of the billions of dollars in aid might have been misappropriated.

The report said examples of Afghan corruption ranged from the sale of government positions to daily bribes for basic services.

Mr. Karzai unveiled an anti-corruption unit and major crime-fighting force on Monday after heavy pressure from Washington.

In reaction to the report, Ershad Ahmadi, the deputy director general of the High Office of Oversight and Anti-corruption in Afghanistan, said, “Corruption is a phenomenon that will not go away overnight. It is a problem that will continue to be with Afghanistan for a long time.”

Robin Hodess, Transparency International’s director of policy and research, said Tuesday that for a country to improve on the corruption perceptions index, it is imperative that “citizens believe that they have a government that works for them.”

In Iraq, corruption has become widespread since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A Bertelsmann Foundation report used in the corruption index noted that in Iraq “non-security institutions remain weak and debilitated. The Iraqi leadership faces many structural constraints on governance, such as a massive brain drain, a high level of political division, and extreme poverty.”

The United States, which was in 19th place compared with 18th last year, remained stable despite Transparency International’s concerns over a lack of government oversight of the financial sector.

The report also pointed out that the U.S. Congress is another reason for concern, because it is “perceived to be the institution most affected by corruption.”

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