British official urges Afghans to fight corruption

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2012 10:29 AM
British official urges Afghans to fight corruption

A British minister expressed doubts on Thursday that Afghan officials are doing enough to tackle corruption, which has become endemic in the government and society.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, who has been in Afghanistan for three days for meeting with various officials, also warned that if corruption is not addressed, it could "completely destroy people's ambitions for their own country."

"We're not currently sure that the issue of corruption has the priority that it needs to have at the very top," Burt told reporters at the British Embassy in Kabul.

He cited the 2010 near-collapse of Kabul Bank because of mismanagement and hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable loans. The scandal created economic and political turmoil, prompted the freezing of some international aid and became a symbol of Afghanistan's deep-rooted corruption.

Criminal investigations against the bank's top two executives, several bank officials and others are under way, but so far no one has been convicted of wrongdoing.

"Kabul Bank stands out as a symbol of concern where everybody appears to know what happened but the most effective action taken has yet to be seen," Burt said.

He urged the Afghan government to take visible steps to address corruption ahead of a donor conference for long-term development funds in Tokyo in July.

Burt singled out three main challenges. One of them is making sure the nation's vast mineral wealth is properly developed, so that the Afghan people reap the benefits in terms of jobs and revenue.

Afghanistan also must ensure that human rights and opportunities for all, including women, are supported by the state, he said.

As for the "scourge of corruption," Burt said it's "not easily dealt with."

"But some realistic sign that it's taken very seriously _ and should be taken seriously _ is very important, not just to the United Kingdom and to our taxpayers, but to the international community as it considers its position in Tokyo and beyond," he said.

British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, who is also in Afghanistan, visited British forces and met on Thursday with President Hamid Karzai.

He reassured Karzai that Britain would be committed to Afghanistan after 2014, when the foreign troops end their combat mission.