Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington today and tomorrow to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. One issue that may come up during the talks is the Afghan government's notorious corruption problem. During an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy sketched out the situation:
You know, Afghanistan is a country that has been in and out of war for 30 years. In that kind of environment, corruption tends to take root in the society writ large. It is a problem for other countries in the region as well.
I think we are seeing renewed commitment to dealing with this problem on the Afghan side. They have recently established a major crimes task force and indicted key officials, the mayor of Kabul, a minister, a police general, trying to signal no one's going to be above the rule of law.
It's a -- we're at the beginning of a process. But again, the -- we are moving in the right direction. We are trying to change the incentive structures that have motivated corruption in the past.
One of the temptations that leads to corruption is available cash. It's been a big problem for the U.S. military since the war began eight years ago. Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale recently told a group of Army budget officials that the Defense Department is making real progress in shutting off the flow of cash into the country. Speaking April 21 during a teleconference with Army financial managers, Hale said:
We need to get cash off the battlefield in Afghanistan and again we’re having some success. Last fiscal year we’re down to about 10% cash payments to Afghan vendors. Of course essentially all the U.S. payments are by electronic funds transfer but we need to continue.
Afghanistan has a serious corruption problem and the less cash there the better in terms of minimizing corruption risk and also helping internal controls. In some cases, Afghanistan needs new systems, not fancy ones that take years; ones we can get there and get to them in six months and that will reduce their workload, which is a major problem.
Hale added that DOD has created smaller pots of money to complete some local procurement projects, particularly information technology, more quickly without having to get approval from a government headquarters official.
On Thursday Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan, will provide an operational update on the war in a closed meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee.