A report soon to be released by a special inspector general on Afghanistan purportedly states that corruption is so prevalent that it threatens US reconstruction efforts in that country. Afghanistan is corrupt. No big revelation there. Big money flowed into a war torn, broken country and from the highest to the lowest levels of the society, people wanted some. Getting paid a little extra on the side was one way that many Afghans supplemented their meager incomes in a changing economy. It was also an integral part of a culture that was used to making do under very bad circumstances. But it was not just Afghans. Well intentioned ex pats flooded the country as part of the large reconstruction projects touted to bring Afghanistan out of its brokenness and into the modern age. Soon they were the recipients of salaries elevated by danger pay and post differentials that were larger than anything they ever saw back home. Most saw their pay raises as offsetting the fact that they were far from home, doing a difficult job in a dangerous place. Most worked hard and earned the money, creating miracles in construction and implementation that went largely unnoticed both back home and among Afghans.
Soon, however, the money became the thing that mattered most, taking the place of the noble sentiments of the international community and the hopes for betterment of the Afghans. Soon both sides learned to value the money to be gained more than the success of the work to be done. This was done in a variety of subtle ways on both sides. The high salaries and perks for both Afghans employed by internationally funded projects and their international counterparts soon began to fuel an interesting and dangerous phenomenon. On the Afghan side, they helped to confirm the notion that money was the most important thing and that getting as much of it as possible, while it was still available, was the main goal. On the international side, protecting their high salaries was more important than pointing out what was going wrong so it could be remedied. While some Afghans sabotaged the projects from within by mismanagement that abused procurement practices, made pay offs to suppliers and covered up for sub-standard construction practices by Afghan contractors, many ex pats turned a blind eye and continued on as if nothing was wrong, trying to keep up with the burn rates being given them by their governments, spending money like there was no tomorrow.
So, by the time tomorrow finally came and the US decided to send the special inspector general, most of the damage had been done. Worse yet, many who were interviewed by the inspectors were reluctant to tell the truth about what they knew. There was too much to lose for both sides. The revelation of wrong doing was enough to curtail or even defund a project. Better to keep quiet and in so doing, protect the revenue stream of the contract until its end. Thus, Afghanistan became another well intentioned failure, the initial bright vision of a better life for its citizens crushed by the realities of the power of filthy lucre to subvert.
Is there a lesson here? Of course there is, but that is another blog for another day.