New Jersey and Afghanistan: ‘Perfect Together’

Unfortunately, there are many similarities between Afghanistan and New Jersey. I have been stationed in Afghanistan for a little over four months. I am certainly not an expert on Afghan ways or Afghan politics.

However, I have seen some very disturbing things that have extremely damaging effects on the population here as well as the stability of the region. I also see some similarities between my home state of New Jersey and Afghanistan.

Corruption is rampant here in Afghanistan. It was reported recently that the minister of industry and mines accepted a $30 million bribe from a Chinese company that was awarded a contract to mine copper in Afghanistan.

There are reports of alleged corruption from provincial governors that pilfer U.S. funds that are meant for the redevelopment of Afghanistan.

As a side note, I disagree with the word redevelopment as it indicates that this country was developed in the first place. This is the most primitive place I have visited in the world.

When you have bad leaders that are corrupt, you cannot progress as a society. That is clearly the case here in Afghanistan, and I believe it to be the case in New Jersey.

Just to give you a case in point, former Marlboro Mayor Matthew Scannapieco was convicted of accepting $245,000 in bribes from local builders.

He lined his pockets, due to his own personal greed, and made the people of Marlboro suffer with extreme overdevelopment that the infrastructure could barely handle. Not to mention the fact that neglected his duties with regard affordable housing obligations. This behavior is common practice in Afghanistan.

In certain provinces, the governor will charge the chief of police $100,000 for the job. Once appointed, the chief hires police officers that will kick up money every month to him to secure their jobs. Additionally, when

comes time for payday, the chief documents that there are 100 police officers, when in fact there are really only 30. The chief keeps the other 70 phantom police officers’ pay. It is a giant Ponzi scheme.

Corruption is such an everyday part of life in this country, it is expected that you must bribe someone to get building permits, licenses, a trial in court, and to travel on the road system here.

Police will set up checkpoints and demand cash from you just for riding on the roads.

Provincial governors are involved with builders and construction companies and rig the bids so their friends get the contract and end up getting a large kickback from the company.

People are tired of having to pay off officials for items that are expected to be free, and in the end, the people suffer for it.

When you open a newspaper in New Jersey, you will most likely see a story about a corrupt official or group of officials that were caught taking bribes. Once again, we the people suffer for it.

How did things go so horribly wrong in the state of New Jersey with regard to corruption?

When I tell my fellow military officers I am from New Jersey, they laugh and say, “Well, at least you are used to the corruption.” We live in a beautiful, diverse state that can be the shining star in our nation. Instead, people know us as the state with the highest corruption, highest property taxes and the “What Exit?” joke.

It saddens me to see such a similarity between life here in Afghanistan and New Jersey. I don’t think the conditions will change anytime soon either.

Political figures are very rarely held accountable by the people who elect them. How often do people vote for people because they saw their name in the paper or heard from someone else that they are a good person?

Why not get to know the people you are electing and figure out where they stand on issues that affect you most?

If you are one of the people who do the latter, congratulations on putting in the effort, however, you are in the minority.

Political figures should be held to term limits. Some people argue that the people set the term limits and if they want them out of office, they will vote them out.

Since most people do not take an active role in learning about the people they elect to office, how can they determine what the appropriate term limit is? In my humble opinion, the following rules should apply to public officials:

• Set term limits to a maximum of 12 years.

• Create stronger laws and penalties to combat political corruption.

• Mandatory jail time for those convicted of corruption.

• Mandatory ethics training for all politicians and appointed officials.

• “Clean” election zones that will not allow money to come in from lobbyists or other parts of the state or country.

• Create a website of “Ethical Offenders” determined by municipal and state ethics boards.

Bad leadership coupled with corruption will destroy our state and will create an environment of animosity and polarization, and will lead to a dysfunctional state that will hurt all who live there.

Everyone has to accept responsibility for voting for the right person based on skill sets, positions on issues, and ability to work together (bipartisan) to get things done.

If people do not accept responsibility and do not become educated about political candidates and issues, nothing will change and we will continue down this disastrous course.

For the record, I am an elected official in the township of Marlboro as well as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
Jeff Cantor