Monday, November 20, 2006

A Window Into Afghan Corruption

This excerpt from an article in today's The Independent:

Syed Mahmood Gailani, a member of parliament from Ghazni, is grappling with some of these problems. He and fellow MPs have been asked to look into the construction of a failed dam and find out who was responsible.

Mr Gailani, 28, polled the third largest number of votes in the country as an independent candidate in the general election and is seen as one of Afghanistan's future leaders. "I am going to Ghazni City in an armed convoy because the road is so dangerous and this is meant to be one of the main roads in the country," he said. "I cannot go to any of the outlying areas. We also cannot go to the dam by road because of the Taliban. We need to fly there, and if a helicopter is not available the journey would be wasted.

The government is warning many MPs in private not to go to their constituencies because they might get killed. So this is not exactly democracy working. Corruption is a huge problem and I am afraid people close to President Karzai are heavily involved. People are asking what has happened to the billions of dollars of aid money, given by the international community, which was supposed to have been spent in Afghanistan. There is no accountability.

"Take this dam for example, its cost is anything between $700,000 [£370,000] and $2m, there are no proper accounts. The NGO involved and the locals are blaming each other. The ones to suffer are the poor."

Hundreds of these poor queue outside one of the country's largest civilian hospitals, Sehateful, for treatment every day. India and Japan supply most of the medicine for a children's clinic and a group of volunteer Indian doctors is working there.

Amrullah, 29, a casual labourer, has brought his eight-year-old son, Khairulla, suffering from a heart condition, for treatment. "The doctors here are good people. But my son needs an operation and I don't think they can do that here.

"In other hospitals, they want bribes to give you treatment. I went to one where they could do the operation and they wanted $600. How will I get that kind of money? My son cannot go to school, he cannot walk, but there is nothing I can do. We had a lot of hope when the Taliban went but there is very little of that now."

Adult patients, turning up at a rate of a thousand a day, have to pay for treatment. Dr Nooral Haq Yousifzai, the acting director, said: "The government gives $1,500 for three months. That just lasts a few days. We look after the acute emergencies. For everyone else we give a shopping list and they have to buy the supplies from the bazaar if they want treatment.

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