Fighting Corruption From The Top In Kabul

In Kabul, where corruption in government is the norm, Ramzan Bashardost (far right) stands out.

In a city where most government officials drive shiny new SUVs, politician Ramzan Bashardost's little car stands out, with a sign on the roof that says "I am not afraid of anyone."

Bashardost is a crusader against rampant corruption in Afghanistan. And that's made him the people's hero, CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports.

"In Afghan Parliament, in Afghan justice, in Afghan court: we have corruption. The corruption becomes practically legal in Afghanistan," he said.

Outside a tent he's pitched in front of Parliament, Bashardost listens to peoples' complaints.

Fatah's brother, for example, is in jail, but he can't afford to bribe his way in for a visit.

Sometimes, a phone call from Bashardost - and the threat of exposure - will make a corrupt officials back off.

Most Afghan families survive on about $350 a year.

Surveys show that they pay almost a third of that in bribes. It starts at a place most people pass daily. At every road checkpoint, the police are on the take.

Families have to pay bribes to get their power switched on, or ID papers issued.

Wealthier people shell out thousands for government jobs.

One neighborhood in Kabul is nicknamed The City of Loot - and it stands as proof to Afghans that corruption reaches the highest levels of government. Many of the new mansions were built by public servants earning - at least officially - a few hundred dollars a month.

Public disgust is open - and growing.

As Bashardost's campaign shows, only a serious anti-corruption drive will restore people's faith in their government - and its American allies.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."