From grassroots to national level action: religious actors, civil society and media standing against corruption

Lailuma Nasiri
VP AJO

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Today in this panel, I represent the women and men of my country at a time when armed conflict and violence roar in Afghanistan. Only a day before, 23 rockets hit Kabul city taking lives of innocents as early as in the morning for which ISIS took responsibility and at least 22 provinces are grounds of active combats. The recent target killings all over the country has posed additional risk to the lives of the public particularly to the civil society members, among them women, working for peace, justice and governance. 
Afghanistan is at a crucial juncture of time as the Intra-Afghan peace talks following a long delay may restart to ensure to bring peace in the country. A meaningful peace that all Afghans see themselves in it and can ensure a safe future for us and the world. Peace is Important and so is to safeguard the gains of the last 20 years, the credit of which goes to the international community and their investment in values of democracy.
Your Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen
I am honored to be part of this prestigious event today. As an Afghan I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the international community for their generous support through out the last 2 decades. Your support in the Afghan peace process, the fight against corruption and strengthening the Afghan civil society for playing vital role in sustaining a long-lasting peace and building corruption free society is crucial and appreciated. I also thank the organizers of this event.
I understand that the role of combating corruption should not be left to the official bodies and the legislative authority alone. Civil society and the public should take an active role in enhancing and demanding democracy and human rights. They should commit themselves to the objectives of ensuring integrity and accountability in response to need for enhancing a system of good governance. The civil society and media have given recognizable contribution in the fight against corruption in Afghanistan despite multiple challenges.
I also emphasize on private sector’s contribution towards economic development and their role in mitigating corrupt practices or processes. Business associations and various private sector representatives must keep the government on its toe towards implementing policies that create conducive environment for business.
The Role of Media as part of civil society in fighting corruption is crucial. It has been logically argued that the fight against corruption could not be won without free media because of the role it plays in the whole process. Free media plays a significant role in the fight against corruption because it helps expose or uncover various hidden corrupt cases particularly using the technology improvements that has created the opportunity to expose corrupt government officials, the existence of effective and efficient electronic and print media has been on the frontline in this context in Afghanistan.
The emergence of well-informed middle class and increase in the number of business people who reject the old system of nepotism and self-dealing and instead engage in openness and fair dealings are the possibilities to help fight corruption effectively.
Civil society stands on a more neutral ground as an independent actor in combating corruption and representing the interest of the public at large. Advocacy for establishing independent  institutions to bring reforms, legal and judicial reforms, freedom of information as well as monitoring of actions and decisions of the government, enhancing the role of the civil society in combating corruption, mobilization of opinion against corruption and corrupt people, empowering the civil society organizations in their fight against corruption are the needs felt in Afghanistan which requires support in and from all fronts.
The fight against corruption is a multi-dimensional approach and it is evident that the civil society plays a significant role in the process. Statistics has it that there is no single agency that can win the battle against corruption unless by partnering with other stakeholders. Since the Civil society acts as a watchdog to the government and also defends the public interest, there is dire need for the due support in the fight against corruption. The civil society should therefore be involved in the enactment of the anti-corruption laws as well as in their enforcement.
 
It is obvious that corruption remains pervasive throughout much of the world, it exists in every society and has always existed and within different forms and scales.
Corruption impact state/institution building and erode trust in government. Corruption is selling Justice for money and when selling justice is stopped, trust start to build. Without justice, peace will not last long, human rights will not be observed and respected and trust on government institutions will not exist. Corruption in public administration results in dysfunctions, inefficiency, irresponsiveness, failure in the democratic process in decision making, lack of trust, unpredictability and state failure, and all the above lead to lack of trust or mistrust of citizens in the fair and impartial application of public resources and authority.
The rule of law is a main component in fighting corruption but the current convenience in policies and procedures avert this component. The efforts to combat corruption are not systematic, while corruption is and until there is a balance between the two, the struggle will not be fruitful and the results will not be significant. Afghanistan is combating insurgency and corruption at the same time, it may therefore not be possible to see tangible results on both fronts but continuing strong and systematic efforts on fighting corruption may help win against insurgency.  Dealing with these problems will require a multi-pronged strategy tailored to the specific pattern of corruption in Afghanistan.
Today, knowledge and awareness must be combined with political will to achieve an impact through more concrete actions as corruption impedes sustainable development which is key in the economic development of every country. Being an impediment factor to economic growth and the cause of economic downturn, corruption is not acceptable in any form or scale and must be addressed and controlled.
As stakeholders in the quality of governance and institutions mediating between the government and the public, civil society plays a key role in fighting corruption. The civil society has not lagged behind in fighting corruption in Afghanistan which comprises of diverse groups having different role in fighting corruption in one way or another whether they are the citizens, religious leaders or organizations and NGOs among others. Understanding the role of the civil society and engaging them in fight against corruption will have a huge impact on the situation with focus on advocacy, policy advice and monitoring and to keep the momentum, supporting the civil society engagement is required whether by the government through engaging them in building trust, international community through providing technical and financial support and the public through understanding the role and using the role and resources of the civil society in making the government responsive, accountable and transparent.
Corruption is a threat to peace and development and has challenged both in Afghanistan. It is unfortunate that with all the efforts in place by all actors, Afghanistan is still at the top of the corruption indexes.  Corruption, like war, has jeopardized peace efforts in Afghanistan and fuel instability and conflict.  With peace dear which I hope will facilitate stability, attention and resources would be directed towards extension of public service to every corner of Afghanistan to serve the people. Equal and timely distribution of resources and providing opportunity of access to justice to all will pave way for a sustainable peace in the country.
War and corruption are two issues which intuitively overlap. Consulting common measures of government corruption, such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, shows that there is some practical basis to this intuition. With a small number of exceptions, the list of countries most affected by corruption in these measures is dominated by those currently at war or recently affected by war. Corruption presents major challenges to development and security, and is often seen to boom in countries affected by war.
Based on Transparency International’s RECOMMENDATIONS ON WOMEN AGAINST CORRUPTION FOR OGP ACTION PLANS, Women play an important role in fighting corruption. Greater participation of women in public life can help in the design of gendered approaches to anti-corruption, which can prevent corruption experienced by women in the first place and allow them to resist it, report it and seek redress when it occurs. Corruption, whether financial or sexual, has far-reaching consequences for gender equality, sustainable development and democratic governance.
A World Bank study conducted in 150 countries in Europe, Africa and Asia reveals that “there is a link between higher representation of women in government and lower levels of corruption.” The real example has been the recent COVID-19 pandemic management by two exemplary women world leaders.
Mainstreaming gender into anti-corruption strategies and frameworks, collecting, analyzing and disseminating gender-disaggregated data on public service delivery and corruption and supporting the participation of women in public and political life can bring more weight to the fight against corruption in Afghanistan and not at a 30% share but an equal fair share of 50%. 
Corruption undermines the protections that constitution, laws, and international obligations provide for freedom of religion, belief, and integrity, freedom of expression, and protection from discrimination on legal grounds. Effective implementation and accountability (i.e. rule of law), is undermined by corruption and education curricula that are weak on tolerance and ethical values.
Despite limited studies and actions in place and religious leaders have been involved in fight against corruption in Afghanistan but not at a level to use the potential fully. Religious leaders can potentially enrich the work of corruption fighters and vice versa. With high levels of local trust and knowledge in the afghan society, they can pinpoint and document the daily eroding effects of corruption on the public. Individually and collectively, they can build on shared ethical teachings to strengthen and reinforce effective action. In contrast, their silence and consent can abet corrupt public and private leaders. Ways of working and thinking between public administration, civil society and religious leaders can keep them apart if opportunities are not created for involving all in the process.
Religious leaders need to be an integral part of addressing corrupt practices within communities and beyond. They can contribute to efforts to address corruption on community and national agendas. The religious leaders, to move from preaching to impact, need the technical experience and tools that needs to be developed.
Partnerships that offer broader tools and strategies to religious leaders, and that open ways to recognize the links between ethical and human rights dimensions is needed. Engaging religious leaders in the reflection and planning processes as well as in developing accountability mechanisms is necessary.
Religious leaders can focus on understanding patterns of corruption, defining meaningful tools to combat them, and agreeing on specific priority areas for action. With common, meaningful objectives and indicators of progress, religious leaders can contribute more to broader community and national strategies, and civil society can broaden their base and find new approaches and arguments for the cause.
To put an end to the brutal domination of corruption and terrorism causing unbearable destructions to our already powerless and vulnerable citizens whose lives are fractured by greed and fear, good leadership, good governance, and good democratic management of the whole society is absolutely important. Religious leaders must denounce institutionalized violence, political corruption and all forms of exploitation of people.
Let’s accept that engagement or role of the religious leaders to influence attitudes towards corruption may not be 100% effective as there are other leaders that play more important role in creating a civic culture and a shared public morality, while the role of religious leaders  can never substitute for a functioning legal system through which corruption is investigated and punished, religious leaders must help public and private sectors to implement international measures against corruption. Our religious leaders have a mission to speak truth to those in power and to call problems by their name.
Let me conclude by stressing that the fight against corruption is a multi-dimensional approach and it is evident that the civil society plays a significant role in the process. Experience has shown that there is no single institution that can win the battle against corruption unless by partnering with other institutions or stakeholders. A lot has been done by the Afghan government, civil society and media with support from the international community but it isn’t enough. More systematic approach to address and mitigate corruption is needed.
Just like war has no winner, we have no choice but to overcome the corruption dilemma and just as corruption is not the result of one person’s deed or an institution’s action, fighting corruption isn’t possible but joint efforts by all. Let’s help each other to find the right solutions and hands-on responses to the challenges in the fight against corruption.

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