Remarks by Ambassador Bass Marking International Anti-Corruption Day

President Ghani, Vice President Danesh, Chief Justice Halim, Speakers of Parliament, Ministers, Colleagues:

I am pleased to speak on behalf of the United States government at this important event to mark International Anti-Corruption Day and Afghanistan’s efforts to tackle corruption.

I have been the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for just over 2 years now.  During that time, we have worked on many difficult issues together — some successfully, others less so.  These compelling subjects have commanded our attention, focus, and sustained work together – the United States, Afghanistan, members of the Resolute Support coalition, and other partner and donor countries and organizations.

These compelling issues are:

  • Conflict & terrorism – supporting the brave men and women of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as they work to protect the Afghan people and respond to terrible acts of terrorism.
  • Drought – dealing with the consequences of a two-year drought that increased the suffering of millions of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens.
  • Peace process – working to reduce violence and begin intra-Afghan negotiations to secure a political settlement to the main conflict.
  • Elections – supporting Afghanistan’s electoral commissions and other institutions to conduct Afghan-led parliamentary and presidential elections.

Irrespective of our success, or lack of progress, on these issues, each of them received at least as much attention, focus and determination – from us, and from Afghans – as they deserved.

Unfortunately, the fight against corruption is not among these issues – it is not in the same category.

That does not mean there has not been progress or effort.  The new national anti-corruption strategy, the asset declaration requirements for public officials, and other measures to increase transparency are important steps forward.

Anti-corruption is not in the same category as these other compelling issues because it has not received as much attention, focus or determination – from Afghans – as it deserves.  This is especially true given the conclusion of the Asia Foundation’s latest survey, in which 80% of Afghans surveyed cited corruption as a big problem.

Before I arrived in Afghanistan, as most ambassadors do, I consulted former U.S. ambassadors and U.S. military commanders.  Virtually all of them cited corruption as the issue that worried them most – that posed the greatest threat to Afghanistan’s future success.

Corruption in Afghanistan is the issue that most troubles and frustrates our elected representatives.  This is a divisive period in U.S. politics – there are not many issues on which our legislative and executive branches, or our two major political parties, agree.  But one of those issues is the problem of corruption in Afghanistan – and the frustration over the lack of success in addressing it.

Corruption here is the issue that most imperils the continued financial support from the international community that this government and the wider society require – today and tomorrow.

Please take a minute to imagine your optimal outcome from a peace process.  Imagine the Taliban embrace significant reductions in violence necessary to begin intra-Afghan negotiations.  Imagine the result of those negotiations was a settlement within the current constitutional framework of the Islamic Republic, as you desire.  Imagine the Taliban are ready to lay down their weapons and make peace.

Even if all of these steps occurred, failure of a settlement is still quite possible – because governments, international financial institutions and commercial lenders will not provide the financial support necessary to implement a settlement, if they lack the confidence those resources will be used properly.

The good news is that almost all Afghans agree corruption is a big problem.

However, few Afghans will acknowledge any responsibility for curbing it.

Someone else – another ministry, entity, political party, ethnic group; or person – is always described as the obstacle to tackling corruption. Someone else is always the problem.  This is the reason corruption remains so pervasive.

Until and unless most Afghans see fighting corruption as something they must do – there is little prospect of success.  My discussions outside Kabul show me many ordinary Afghans are ready to play their part.

But until ordinary Afghans see the same rules applied to the powerful, the well-connected, and the many categories of people in this country who think rules do not apply to them, you will not succeed in addressing corruption.

Strategies are helpful.  Priorities are important.  Transparency makes a big difference.

But your focus now must be on ending the culture of impunity and special treatment.

The international community cannot care more about this issue than Afghans do.  It will not care more than Afghans.

If you do not make progress addressing impunity and curbing rampant corruption, you will not hear my government, and other governments, speaking louder and more urgently about this issue.

You will hear silence.  And Afghanistan will receive much less support.

Because we will have turned our attention, and our resources, to governments and societies making a stronger effort to tackle corruption and criminality.

We remain committed to working with those in Afghan society – inside and outside government – who are fighting to reduce and eliminate corruption.  But we cannot substitute for determined, committed work by Afghans.

Thank you.