Corruption stunts Afghan rickshaw factory

Sat Feb 7, 2009 1:20pm EST
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By Hamid Shalizi

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Alam Gul Ahmadzai returned from Pakistan six years ago with an idea to open Afghanistan's first rickshaw factory, but he says having a popular product has attracted corrupt officials to his business.

The run-down Ahoo factory (Ahoo means deer in Persian) on the outskirts of the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan has some 30 Afghan workers producing about four of the nifty three-wheelers a month.

Most people in eastern and southern Afghanistan use these small, economical vehicles as their main mode of transport on the crowded roads where four-wheel taxis are rarely available.

"The government should encourage local businesses instead of forcing them to give bribes," Ahmadzai sighs despairingly. "These autos are much better than the ones made in Pakistan."

Corruption is endemic in war-torn Afghanistan -- from rural police at checkpoints taking cash from passersby, to government officials taking a cut from business profits.

European leaders are increasingly vocal in their calls for good governance in Afghanistan while U.S. President Barack Obama has in the past called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to rule effectively and to "get out of the bunker."

Presidential elections are due in August.

"If there is no pressure and intimidation from the government I can manufacture one rickshaw a day," Ahmadzai said.   Continued...