Rampant bribery by law enforcement officials has made corruption the biggest concern of people in Afghanistan, bigger than insecurity or unemployment, according to a report released Tuesday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

tp-antonio-costa-cp-7248743

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, is urging Afghan and world leaders to tackle widespread corruption in Afghanistan. ((Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press))

Afghans paid more than $2.5 billion US in bribes between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2009, or about one quarter the value of the country's gross domestic product, the report found.

The report, titled Corruption in Afghanistan: Bribery as reported by the victims, was based on surveys with 7,600 people across the country. It found that 50 per cent of Afghans had to pay at least one kickback to a public official, including police. The average bribe was $160 US.

"Corruption is the biggest impediment to improving security, development and governance in Afghanistan," said Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC's executive director, in a press release. 

'A nationwide anti-corruption drive is needed.' — Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC executive director

"It is time to drain the swamp of corruption in Afghanistan," Costa said.

Bribes are sought so regularly that more than a third of Aghans believe it to be the norm, the report said.

Less than nine per cent of Afghans have ever reported an act of corruption to authorities, leading UNODC to conclude that few believe there is any meaningful recourse.

Call to world leaders

The report comes less than two weeks before a conference of world leaders in London to discuss Afghanistan.

The international community should use the London Conference, which begins on Jan. 28, "to set clear benchmarks" on combating corruption, Costa urged.

But he also called on the new Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai, "to make fighting corruption its highest priority."

"A nationwide anti-corruption drive is needed to strengthen integrity, district by district and province by province," Costa said.