The U.S. has come up with another idea to curb corruption in Afghanistan. This involves investing $200 million in satellite and smart phones, as well as GPS equipped video cameras to monitor American aid projects. The U.S. has spent over $100 billion in Afghanistan since 2001, and much (over a third) of it has been stolen or wasted. This is not a new problem. Foreigners have long found that dealing with the corruption in Afghanistan is extremely difficult. Their Afghan counterparts will do anything to get to aid money they can plunder. This ranges from lots of lying to death threats (and worse) for auditors who get too close to identifying who stole what. When cornered on a corruption matter, Afghan officials will scramble to throw up a smokescreen of accusations and other distractions. Stealing from foreigners has traditionally been a very popular Afghan activity. It is something of a national sport. It is also a blood sport. Where cleverness and guile won’t work, physical violence, even murder, will be used.
There is some skepticism about the new plan working. The inability to monitor aid projects in remote areas has always been a problem. Even using Afghan monitors (bringing back photos) has not always worked, for there are areas that even Afghans fear to enter (because the auditor is from a different tribe or ethnic group or simply because the corrupt officials or contractors are known to kill those who interfere with their stealing). Even using UAVs (which cost over a thousand dollars an hour to operate) has limited capability because you can’t see all the cheating from the air.
Nevertheless, U.S. aid agencies are under pressure to do something and a $200 million effort is enough to offer some protection from criticism about all the stealing. In this case, however, the smart money is on the thieves.