The cost of corruption in Afghanistan rose sharply last year to 3.9 billion US dollars (£2.5 billion), and half of all Afghans bribed public officials for services, the UN has said. The findings came despite repeated promises by President Hamid Karzai to clean up his government.
The international community has long expressed concern about corruption in Afghanistan because it reduces confidence in the Western-backed government.
Donor nations also fear aid money could be diverted by corrupt officials or mismanaged. Mr Karzai ordered his ministries, prosecutors and judiciary to fight bribery, nepotism and cronyism with a series of measures in July.
But a survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Afghanistan's anti-corruption unit showed slight improvement in curbing the common practice of paying bribes for public services in the country. "Corruption means you don't get the best in the public sector, you get the best connected or those with the higher income," UN envoy Jean-Luc Lemahieu said at a news conference.
Fifty per cent of the adult population had to pay at least one bribe to a public official in 2012, a 9% drop from 2009, according to the findings, based on interviews last year with 6,700 Afghan adults from across the country. Meanwhile, the total cost of bribes paid to public officials increased 40% to 3.9 billion dollars
That amount was double the revenue collected by the government to provide services, said Mr Lemahieu, head of the UNODC. He also noted that many poor people are unable to pay bribes, leaving them without access to public services or the ability to get government jobs.
The Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption pledged to continue its efforts in fighting the problem, saying the report was an important step toward locating priority areas.
One particularly troubling trend was the emergence of education as one of the most vulnerable sectors. The number of Afghans bribing a teacher jumped from 16% in 2009 to 51% in 2012, according to the survey. Offers were often received for improving exam results and providing information about the contents of the tests in exchange for bribes.
The survey also found that more of the public finds bribery acceptable. Of the adults interviewed last year, 68% said it was acceptable for a civil servant to supplement a low salary by accepting small bribes compared with 42 % in 2009.