Karzai bows to anti-corruption strategy

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Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, will today bow to international pressure and announce a five-point plan to stamp out corruption.

There was disappointment last week when he appeared to dilute previous commitments to root out the corruption plaguing his country.

But a new blueprint, seen by The Independent, is included in the draft communiqué for today's London conference on the future of Afghanistan and was hailed by British officials last night as "a big step forward". The plan involves:

* A newly strengthened High Office of Oversight, an independent government unit that will investigate and sanction corrupt officials and organisations, and lead the fight against corruption across the Afghan government, police and other organisations, to be enshrined in law within weeks.

* A statutory basis within a year for related anti-corruption bodies, including the Major Crimes Task Force and the Anti-Corruption Tribunal, guaranteeing their long-term independence.

* An independent appointment and vetting process for civil servants and a tougher civil service code of conduct. All new top-level appointments will be subject to the new procedure including the head of the High Office of Oversight.

* Afghan laws to be made consistent with the UN Convention Against Corruption within a year, including the Anti-Corruption Penal Code, which will expand the requirement for top politicians and officials to make asset declarations.

* Setting up a panel of international, independent experts to monitor the government's anti-corruption efforts.

Writing in The Independent today, the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, says that President Karzai must turn his words into deeds and show "leadership and determination". He says the international panel would report to Kabul "as a critical friend, to the parliament and the Afghan people as an aide to calling their government to account, and to the international community to inform investment decisions".

One British official said: "A lot has been said on corruption but this hasn't always been matched by measures to combat what is seen as a serious problem across much of Afghanistan. We've been calling on President Karzai to turn his words into action and this is a comprehensive anti-corruption package that goes some way to do that. We've now got some serious commitment, specific measures and a timetable for making it happen."

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