Maggiano discusses corruption in Afghanistan

March 29, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

Grey Maggiano, justice program manager at the State Department, addressed the challenges of international legal reform and rule of law in Afghanistan on Monday at the Law School. Maggiano focused on the prevalence of corruption in Afghanistan and possible ways to address it.

The talk covered the varying definitions of and opinions about corruption, particularly the differences between American and Afghan perception of it.

Although the United States government is deeply concerned about corruption, it draws a distinction between forms of corruption that directly impact the U.S. and those that affect the Afghan people, Maggiano said. Corruption exists in Afghanistan on a broad scope and in daily encounters that the Afghan people have with their government.

Maggiano discusses corruption in Afghanistan
Greg Maggiano, justice program manager for the State Department, discussed the prevalence of corruption in Afghanistan. (ZACK HOBERG/The Stanford Daily)

The U.S. does not have the means to address the problem on all of these levels, he noted.

“We as the U.S. government can only focus on areas that are most critical,” Maggiano said. “We try to focus on areas of corruption that impact Afghan national security and also the fight against the insurgency.”

While addressing corruption on a broader scope may be highly important to the U.S., the Afghan people are much more concerned with the corruption they witness and experience on a day-to-day basis.

“This is where it gets really hard for both the Afghan government and the U.S. government to deal with corruption, because the things that most deflate people’s public opinion are the local, everyday corruption,” Maggiano said.

In addition to legal definitions, a variety of other factors, including religious and cultural issues, make defining corruption particularly difficult in Afghanistan, he said. As a result, it becomes even more challenging to apply those definitions to government transactions between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Additionally, U.S. actions to fight corruption in Afghanistan raise the issue of how much international pressure is acceptable.

While Maggiano focused on Afghanistan specifically, he also touched on the existence of corruption in other countries around the world and cited Singapore as a nation that has effectively decreased corruption. Looking at the way countries have successfully handled corruption could also help in finding solutions to the situation in Afghanistan, he said.

All things considered, Afghanistan has made many strides, among them the creation of the High Office of Oversight, Maggiano said. But he added that a lack of transparency and mistrust of the office still present significant problems.

Christina Luu J.D. ’13 saw similarities between Afghan corruption and her parents’ accounts of the corruption they witnessed in their native Vietnam. Luu’s recent trip to Mexico, which opened her eyes to other cases of corruption, sparked her interested in the talk.

“It was interesting to hear the attitudes of the people in Afghanistan,” Luu said.

Daniel Lewis J.D. ’12 is co-executive director of the Afghanistan Legal Education Project, an organization made up of Stanford law students who write and distribute legal textbooks about Afghan law.

Lewis thought it was particularly interesting to hear about the different definitions of corruption and the clash between the different branches of the Afghan government in addressing this problem. These branches “don’t always work hand in hand,” he said.

Lewis also acknowledged the great strides that have been made.

“It’s reassuring to know people are dedicated and working to solve corruption,” he said.

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