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Karzai warns eradicating corruption will take years


Latest update : 2009-12-15

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told an audience of senior politicians and judges at a conference in Kabul that eliminating rampant corruption in the country would take years. Earlier, a bomb blast killed at least eight people in the Afghan capital.

AFP - President Hamid Karzai opened a key conference Tuesday on how to fight corruption in Afghanistan, warning that reform would take years and defending a mayor convicted of wasting money.

The Afghan head of state, who was re-elected following a controversial August ballot mired in massive fraud, is under intense Western pressure to crack down on graft and he repeated pledges to take concrete action.

"I am a realist. I know that corruption in our government and society cannot be eliminated overnight. We cannot even eliminate it in years," he told the opening of the three-day conference attended by the US ambassador.

"The goal here is not to take unrealistic and unreal steps, measures which are only words and will achieve nothing practical. We should do that which brings results," he said.

The start of the gathering of cabinet ministers, ambassadors, judges, lawyers and counter-corruption bodies was overshadowed by a suicide attack in an upmarket district of the capital that killed eight people.

A month after being sworn in for a second term, Karzai is still trying to stitch together a credible cabinet accepted at home and abroad, in a bid to end months of political paralysis.

Washington has told him to fight corruption or see his cabinet bypassed in favour of lower level officials in an effort to provide services as part of a new US war plan deploying 30,000 extra American troops to fight the Taliban.

But Karzai on Tuesday defended the mayor of Kabul, who was sentenced to four years in prison by an Afghan court for wasting public money, and on justice officials to reopen the investigation against him.

"We must be cautious that the campaign against graft does not itself turn into corruption. A few days ago the Kabul mayor was sentenced to four years in prison. I know the mayor of Kabul, he is a honest person," he said.

An Afghan court found Mir Abdul Ahad Sahebi guilty of wasting around 16,500 dollars of public money after hearing one of a string of corruption, embezzlement and misuse of power cases pending against him.

"The government employee asks him for plots. Government strongmen ask him for land. All government authorities ask him for land.

"Businessmen and those who build residential cities ask him for land, and when it doesn't happen they have influence... they accuse him," said Karzai.

"That is why today I call on the attorney-general and the chief justice to investigate this," he said.

"Is he accused rightly or not? If this is true he can go and spend his four years' sentence in prison and if this is not true and he is victimised why should an honourable esteemed person be defamed?" he said.

Last month, Afghanistan formed a new crime unit to investigate and prosecute major corruption and Karzai is preparing for an international conference in London next month due to tackle the issue.

A High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption set up about a year ago has been hampered in its work by inadequate laws.

Karzai urged his two vice presidents, who include warlord Mohammad Qasim Fahim, cabinet ministers and ranking government officials, to register all their wealth and property -- both inherited and recently acquired.

He painted a disturbing picture of Afghan government employees, who on average are paid 100 dollars a month, becoming rich enough after one or two years on the job to be able to buy homes in Dubai or go on expensive holidays.

"The president of Afghanistan cannot go on holidays from the salary he gets from the government. With a government salary he cannot buy a house, property, a car or even a bicycle," he said.

Date created : 2009-12-15


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