Program to Pay Afghan Police Through Mobile Money Transfers Could Curb Corruption

Afghan police recruits who just finished their first training at the police academy, line up as they arrive with their sleeping bags at a police station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan police recruits who just finished their first training at the police academy, line up as they arrive with their sleeping bags at a police station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Anja Niedringhaus/AP

The Afghan government’s pilot program to pay portions of its national police electronically through credits to their cell phone accounts should be stepped up to help avoid funds being siphoned away by corrupt officials, a special watchdog said on Monday.

In a follow-up report to U.S. commanders preparing for the departure of most U.S. troops, John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, wrote that the Interior Ministry’s continuing to pay 18 percent of its police in cash though a “trusted agent” system puts at risk “up to $45 million” in 2014 alone, about 9 percent of the police salary funds. “Ensuring that police officers receive their full salaries is critical to creating an honest, reliable and sustainable police force,” SIGAR said.

While the vast majority of the Afghan National Police are paid through electronic funds transfer to individual bank accounts, SIGAR noted, the mobile money system – where police receive credits to their cell phone accounts that can be used to buy goods and services at particular stores or traded for cash -- “appears to be an effective way to pay the salaries of the ANP who live in remote areas and therefore do not have easy access to banks.” Though currently used by less than 1 percent of the force, the Afghan ministry intends to expand participation in the program from 1,100 officers to 3,200 officers during the next year.

“Increased participation in the program,” SIGAR noted, “should reduce the administrative and managerial costs per transaction associated with the mobile money system. If expanded participation in the mobile money program results in lower costs and the virtual elimination of salary-skimming, it will be a step forward.”

The United States has spent billions of dollars to train and equip the ANP, Sopko noted.

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