Afghanistan — Pay Raises, Training Combat Afghan Corruption

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2010 — Cor­rup­tion has con­sti­tut­ed a viable threat in Afghanistan for some time, but mea­sures are being tak­en there to help keep Afghan offi­cials hon­est.

Increased train­ing, as well as salary and com­pen­sa­tion reforms for Afghan police and sol­diers are among the tools being employed to reduce cor­rup­tion, Army Col. Thomas J. Umberg, chief of anti-cor­rup­tion activ­i­ties for NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan, said in a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day.

When offi­cials don’t need to take bribes or behave uneth­i­cal­ly to pay the bills and feed their fam­i­lies, Umberg explained, cor­rup­tion will decrease across the board.

“If you don’t have sys­tems in place that lim­it oppor­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion, you’re going to have it,” Umberg said. “And then, if you don’t pay ade­quate salaries, then you also cre­ate an envi­ron­ment for cor­rup­tion.”

Umberg explained that Afghan sol­diers and police his­tor­i­cal­ly were under­paid, due in part to their pay sys­tem. Rather than being paid in reg­u­lar install­ments by the gov­ern­ment, sol­diers received pay from their lead­er­ship, who received a bud­get for salaries.

“The … com­man­der would receive the pay for all his sol­diers or patrol­men,” the colonel explained, “and then [would] pay the sol­diers and patrol­men as he thought appro­pri­ate. As you can imag­ine, that pro­vid­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty for all sorts of dif­fer­ent meth­ods of pay­ment.”

Now, Umberg said, about 95 per­cent of Afghan sol­diers receive elec­tron­ic direct deposits for their pay­checks, and police are receiv­ing a liv­ing wage. Police have been prob­lem­at­ic, he added, because they’ve resort­ed in some cas­es to “shak­ing down” peo­ple on the street for their pock­et mon­ey. Start­ing patrol­men make $165 month­ly, though if they work in a more hos­tile area, such as south­ern Afghanistan, they can make as much as $240 a month.

“And in the past, when the patrol­men were gross­ly under­paid, there were chal­lenges just sort of sur­viv­ing,” Umberg said. “And today, on $165 or $240, you can live in Afghanistan. Now, you can’t live all that well, but you cer­tain­ly can live. So that’s one way to meet the chal­lenge.”

Train­ing also has helped to reduce cor­rup­tion. Pre­vi­ous­ly, local sta­tions were giv­en the respon­si­bil­i­ty of train­ing new recruits on cor­rup­tion. That has proven to be inef­fec­tive for a num­ber of rea­sons, Umberg said. Now, anti-cor­rup­tion train­ing is cen­tral­ized and giv­en before a patrol­man reports for duty.

“Part of the train­ing con­sists of train­ing with respect to ethics and cor­rup­tion, and the Islam­ic and Quran­ic under­pin­nings with respect to, in essence, steal­ing from the com­mu­ni­ty,” Umberg said. “Because that’s what you’re doing when you shake down folks or engage in that kind of graft: you’re steal­ing from the com­mu­ni­ty.”

The train­ing is very care­ful to focus on under­ly­ing beliefs that pro­hib­it cor­rup­tion and oth­er dis­hon­est behav­ior, the colonel said. Because the Quran and Islam­ic teach­ings deter dis­hon­esty, there isn’t a feel­ing of impos­ing ideas on Afghan trainees, said he added.

“We define cor­rup­tion as where you put your per­son­al inter­ests above that of your job or your mis­sion,” he said. “So for exam­ple, if you are hir­ing some­one based on cri­te­ria oth­er than who would do the best in that job, that’s cor­rup­tion. Obvi­ous­ly, to take a bribe, that’s cor­rup­tion — you take a bribe to do some­thing that is a detri­ment to the mis­sion.”

Cor­rup­tion, ethics and issues of hon­esty are fair­ly uni­ver­sal ideals, so it’s not real­ly nec­es­sary to tai­lor the train­ing to any sort of “cul­tur­al norm,” the colonel said.

“I don’t think we need to impose West­ern val­ues,” he said. “The Islam­ic and Quran­ic under­pin­nings — as you know, vir­tu­al­ly every­one here is Mus­lim — they’re pret­ty strong and pro­found with respect to cor­rup­tion. So we don’t need to impose our val­ues upon them.”

Umberg said he sees hope in young Afghans who don’t see mod­ern­iza­tion as a bad thing. They have strong faith, fam­i­ly val­ues and nation­al pride, he said, and those things make them want to make a bet­ter Afghanistan.

“I was on an inves­ti­ga­tion sev­er­al months ago, and a young, 24-year-old sergeant was report­ing cor­rup­tion on behalf of a senior offi­cer — at some risk to him­self,” Umberg said. “I asked him how he had the courage to come for­ward, and he said, ‘I do this for my faith, my fam­i­ly and my coun­try. I’m stay­ing here.’ ”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)