I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.
Before we delve into the history of corruption in politics lets discuss how corruption is defined, and what it means to be corrupt. Political corruption is the use of powers by government officials or their network contacts for illegitimate private gain.
Forms of corruption vary, but can include bribery, lobbying, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and embezzlement. Corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, though it is not restricted to these activities. Misuse of government power for other purposes, such as repression of political opponents and general police brutality, is also considered political corruption.
Over time, corruption has been defined differently. For example, in a simple context, while performing work for a government or as a representative, it is unethical to accept a gift. Any free gift could be construed as a scheme to lure the recipient towards some biases. In most cases, the gift is seen as an intention to seek certain favors such as work promotion, tipping in order to win a contract, job or exemption from certain tasks in the case of junior worker handing in the gift to a senior employee who can be key in winning the favor.
Some forms of corruption – now called “institutional corruption” – are distinguished from bribery and other kinds of obvious personal gain. A similar problem of corruption arises in any institution that depends on financial support from people who have interests that may conflict with the primary purpose of the institution.
An illegal act by an officeholder constitutes political corruption only if the act is directly related to their official duties, is done under color of law or involves trading in influence. The activities that constitute illegal corruption differ depending on the country or jurisdiction. For instance, some political funding practices that are legal in one place may be illegal in another. In some cases, government officials have broad or ill-defined powers, which make it difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal actions. Worldwide, bribery alone is estimated to involve over 1 trillion US dollars annually. A state of unrestrained political corruption is known as a kleptocracy, literally meaning “rule by thieves”.
Corruption is a difficult concept to define. A proper definition of corruption requires a multi-dimensional approach. Machiavelli popularized the oldest dimension of corruption as the decline of virtue among political officials and the citizenry. The psychologist Horst-Eberhard Richter’s modernized version defines corruption as the undermining of political values. Corruption as the decline of virtue has been criticized as too broad and far too subjective to be universalized. The second dimension of corruption is corruption as deviant behavior. Sociologist Christian Höffling and Economist J.J. Sentuira both characterized corruption as social illness; the latter defined corruption as the misuse of public power for one’s profit.
The third dimension is the quid pro quo. Corruption always is an exchange between two or more persons/parties where the persons/parties possess economic goods, and the other person/parties possess a transferred power to be used, according to fixed rules and norms, toward a common good. Fourth, there are also different levels of societal perception of corruption. Heidenheimer divides corruption into three categories. The first category is called white corruption; this level of corruption is mostly viewed with tolerance and may even be lawful and legitimate; typically based on family ties and patron-client systems. The type of corruption often occurring in constitutional states or state transitioning to a more democratic society is called grey corruption is considered reprehensible according to a society’s moral norms, but the persons involved are still mostly lacking any sense of doing something wrong. The third category, black corruption is so severe that it violates a society’s norms and laws. The final dimension is called “shadow politics;” this is part of the informal political process that goes beyond legitimate informal political agreements to behavior that is purposefully concealed.
Countries with politicians, public officials or close associates implicated in the Panama Papers leak on April 15, 2016
Political corruption undermines democracy and good governance by flouting or even subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in the legislature reduces accountability and distorts representation in policymaking; corruption in the judiciary compromises the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the inefficient provision of services. For republics, it violates a basic principle of republicanism regarding the centrality of civic virtue. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government if procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and public offices are bought and sold. Corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance. Recent evidence suggests that variation in the levels of corruption amongst high-income democracies can vary significantly depending on the level of accountability of decision-makers. Evidence from fragile states also shows that corruption and bribery can adversely impact trust in institutions. Corruption can also impact government’s provision of goods and services. It increases the costs of goods and services which arise from efficiency loss. In the absence of corruption, governmental projects might be cost-effective at their true costs, however, once corruption costs are included projects may not be cost-effective so they are not executed distorting the provision of goods and services.
Consequences on economy
In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments themselves, the management cost of negotiating with officials and the risk of breached agreements or detection. Although some claim corruption reduces costs by cutting bureaucracy, the availability of bribes can also induce officials to contrive new rules and delays. Openly removing costly and lengthy regulations are better than covertly allowing them to be bypassed by using bribes. Where corruption inflates the cost of business, it also distorts the field of inquiry and action, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.
Corruption may have a direct impact on the firm’s effective marginal tax rate. Bribing tax officials can reduce tax payments of the firm if the marginal bribe rate is below the official marginal tax rate. However, in Uganda, bribes have a higher negative impact on firms’ activity than taxation. Indeed, a one percentage point increase in bribes reduces firm’s annual growth by three percentage points, while an increase in 1 percentage point on taxes reduces firm’s growth by one percentage point.
Corruption also generates economic distortion in the public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Officials may increase the technical complexity of public sector projects to conceal or pave the way for such dealings, thus further distorting investment. Corruption also lowers compliance with construction, environmental, or other regulations, reduces the quality of government services and infrastructure, and increases budgetary pressures on government.
Economists argue that one of the factors behind the differing economic development in Africa and Asia is that in Africa, corruption has primarily taken the form of rent extraction with the resulting financial capital moved overseas rather than invested at home (hence the stereotypical, but often accurate, image of African dictators having Swiss bank accounts). In Nigeria, for example, more than $400 billion was stolen from the treasury by Nigeria’s leaders between 1960 and 1999.
University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers estimated that from 1970 to 1996, capital flight from 30 Sub-Saharan countries totaled $187bn, exceeding those nations’ external debts. (The results, expressed in retarded or suppressed development, have been modeled in theory by economist Mancur Olson.) In the case of Africa, one of the factors for this behavior was political instability and the fact that new governments often confiscated previous government’s corruptly obtained assets. This encouraged officials to stash their wealth abroad, out of reach of any future expropriation. In contrast, Asian administrations such as Suharto‘s New Order often took a cut on business transactions or provided conditions for development, through infrastructure investment, law and order, etc.
Corruption is often most evident in countries with the smallest per capita incomes, relying on foreign aid for health services. Local political interception of donated money from overseas is especially prevalent in Sub-Saharan African nations, where it was reported in the 2006 World Bank Report that about half of the funds that were donated for health usages were never invested into the health sectors or given to those needing medical attention.
Instead, the donated money was expended through “counterfeit drugs, siphoning off of drugs to the black market, and payments to ghost employees”. Ultimately, there is a sufficient amount of money for health in developing countries, but local corruption denies the wider citizenry the resource they require.
Corruption facilitates environmental destruction. While corrupt societies may have formal legislation to protect the environment, it cannot be enforced if officials can easily be bribed. The same applies to social rights worker protection, unionization prevention, and child labor. Violation of these laws rights enables corrupt countries to gain illegitimate economic advantage in the international market.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has observed that “there is no such thing as an apolitical food problem.” While drought and other naturally occurring events may trigger famine conditions, it is government action or inaction that determines its severity, and often even whether or not a famine will occur.
Governments with strong tendencies towards kleptocracy can undermine food security even when harvests are good. Officials often steal state property. In Bihar, India, more than 80% of the subsidized food aid to poor is stolen by corrupt officials. Similarly, food aid is often robbed at gunpoint by governments, criminals, and warlords alike, and sold for a profit. The 20th century is full of many examples of governments undermining the food security of their own nations – sometimes intentionally.
Effects on humanitarian aid
The scale of humanitarian aid to the poor and unstable regions of the world grows, but it is highly vulnerable to corruption, with food aid, construction and other highly valued assistance as the most at risk. Food aid can be directly and physically diverted from its intended destination, or indirectly through the manipulation of assessments, targeting, registration and distributions to favor certain groups or individuals.
In construction and shelter there are numerous opportunities for diversion and profit through substandard workmanship, kickbacks for contracts and favouritism in the provision of valuable shelter material. Thus while humanitarian aid agencies are usually most concerned about aid being diverted by including too many, recipients themselves are most concerned about exclusion. Access to aid may be limited to those with connections, to those who pay bribes or are forced to give sexual favors. Equally, those able to do so may manipulate statistics to inflate the number of beneficiaries and siphon off additional assistance.
Malnutrition, illness, wounds, torture, harassment of specific groups within the population, disappearances, extrajudicial executions and the forcible displacement of people are all found in many armed conflicts. Aside from their direct effects on the individuals concerned, the consequences of these tragedies for local systems must also be considered: the destruction of crops and places of cultural importance, the breakdown of economic infrastructure and of health-care facilities such as hospitals, etc., etc.
Effects on health
Corruption plays a huge role in the health care system starting from the hospital, to the government and lifted to the other institutions that promote quality and affordable health care to the people. The efficiency of health care delivery in any country is heavily dependent on accountable and transparent systems, proper management of both financial and human resources and timely supply of services to the vulnerable populace of the nation.
At the basic level, greed skyrockets corruption. When the structure of the health care system is not adequately addressed beginning from oversight in healthcare delivery and supply of drugs and the tendering process, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds will always be observed. Corruption also can undermine health care service delivery which in turn disorients the lives of the poor. Corruption leads to violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms as people supposed to benefit from the basic health care from the governments are denied due to unscrupulous processes driven by greed. In order for a country to keep citizens healthy there must be efficient systems and proper resources that can tame the evils like corruption that underpin it.
Effects on education
Education forms the basis and the fabric in which a society is transformed and different facets of well-being are shaped. Corruption in higher education has been prevalent and calls for immediate intervention. Increased corruption in higher education has led to growing global concern among governments, students and educators and other stakeholders. Those offering services in the higher education institutions are facing pressure that highly threatens the integral value of the higher education enterprise. Corruption in higher education has a larger negative influence, it destroys the relation between personal effort and reward anticipation. Moreover, employees and students develop a belief that personal success does not come from hard work and merit but through canvassing with teachers and taking other shortcuts. Academic promotions in the higher education institutions have been disabled by unlimited corruption. Presently, promotion is based more on personal connections than professional achievements. This has led to the dramatic increase in the number of professors and exhibits their rapid status loss. Utmost the flawed processes in the academic institutions has led to unbaked graduates who are not well fit to the job market. Corruption hinders the international standards of an educational system. Additionally, Plagiarism is a form of corruption in academic research, where it affects originality and disables learning. Individual violations are in close relation to the operational ways of a system. Furthermore, the universities may be in relationships and dealings with business and people in government, which majority of them enrol in doctoral studies without the undergraduate program. Consequently, money, power and related influence compromise educational standards since they are fueling factors. A Student may finish a thesis report within a shorter time upon which compromises the quality of work delivered and questions the threshold of the higher education.
Other areas: public safety, trade unions, police corruption, etc.
Corruption is not specific to poor, developing, or transitional countries. In western countries, cases of bribery and other forms of corruption in all possible fields exist: under-the-table payments made to reputed surgeons by patients attempting to be on top of the list of forthcoming surgeries, bribes paid by suppliers to the automotive industry in order to sell low-quality connectors used for instance in safety equipment such as airbags, bribes paid by suppliers to manufacturers of defibrillators (to sell low-quality capacitors), contributions paid by wealthy parents to the “social and culture fund” of a prestigious university in exchange for it to accept their children, bribes paid to obtain diplomas, financial and other advantages granted to unionists by members of the executive board of a car manufacturer in exchange for employer-friendly positions and votes, etc. The examples are endless.
These various manifestations of corruption can ultimately present a danger for public health; they can discredit specific, essential institutions or social relationships. Osipian summarized a 2008 “study of corruption perceptions among Russians … .30 percent of the respondents marked the level of corruption as very high, while another 44 percent as high. 19 percent considered it as average and only 1 percent as low. The most corrupt in people’s minds are traffic police (33 percent), local authorities (28 percent), police (26 percent), healthcare (16 percent), and education (15 percent). 52 percent of the respondents had experiences of giving money or gifts to medical professionals while 36 percent made informal payments to educators.” He claimed that this corruption lowered the rate of economic growth in Russia, because the students are disadvantaged by this corruption they could not adopt better work methods as quickly, thereby lowering total factor productivity for Russia.
Corruption can also affect the various components of sports activities (referees, players, medical and laboratory staff involved in anti-doping controls, members of national sport federation and international committees deciding about the allocation of contracts and competition places).
Cases exist against (members of) various types of non-profit and non-government organizations, as well as religious organizations.
Ultimately, the distinction between public and private sector corruption sometimes appears rather artificial, and national anti-corruption initiatives may need to avoid legal and other loopholes in the coverage of the instruments.
In the context of political corruption, a bribe may involve a payment given to a government official in exchange of his use of official powers. Bribery requires two participants: one to give the bribe, and one to take it. Either may initiate the corrupt offering; for example, a customs official may demand bribes to allow (or disallow) goods, or a smuggler might offer bribes to gain passage. In some countries the culture of corruption extends to every aspect of public life, making it extremely difficult for individuals to operate without resorting to bribes. Bribes may be demanded in order for an official to do something he is already paid to do. They may also be demanded in order to bypass laws and regulations. In addition to their role in private financial gain, bribes are also used to intentionally and maliciously cause harm to another (i.e. no financial incentive). In some developing nations, up to half of the population has paid bribes during the past 12 months.
The Council of Europe dissociates active and passive bribery and to incriminates them as separate offences:
- One can define active bribery as “the promising, offering or giving by any person, directly or indirectly, of any undue advantage to any of its public officials, for himself or herself or for anyone else, for him or her to act or refrain from acting in the exercise of his or her functions” (article 2 of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of the Council of Europe).
- Passive bribery can be defined as “when committed intentionally, the request or receipt by any […] public officials, directly or indirectly, of any undue advantage, for himself or herself or for anyone else, or the acceptance of an offer or a promise of such an advantage, to act or refrain from acting in the exercise of his or her functions” (article 3 of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption).
This dissociation aims to make the early steps (offering, promising, requesting an advantage) of a corrupt deal already an offence and, thus, to give a clear signal (from a criminal-policy point-of-view) that bribery is not acceptable. Furthermore, such a dissociation makes the prosecution of bribery offences easier since it can be very difficult to prove that two parties (the bribe-giver and the bribe-taker) have formally agreed upon a corrupt deal. In addition, there is often no such formal deal but only a mutual understanding, for instance when it is common knowledge in a municipality that to obtain a building permit one has to pay a “fee” to the decision maker to obtain a favorable decision. A working definition of corruption is also provided as follows in article 3 of the Civil Law Convention on Corruption: For the purpose of this Convention, “corruption” means requesting, offering, giving or accepting, directly or indirectly, a bribe or any other undue advantage or prospect thereof, which distorts the proper performance of any duty or behavior required of the recipient of the bribe, the undue advantage or the prospect thereof.
Trading in influence, or influence peddling, refers to a person selling his/her influence over the decision making process to benefit a third party (person or institution). The difference with bribery is that this is a tri-lateral relation. From a legal point of view, the role of the third party (who is the target of the influence) does not really matter although he/she can be an accessory in some instances. It can be difficult to make a distinction between this form of corruption and some forms of extreme and loosely regulated lobbying where for instance law- or decision-makers can freely “sell” their vote, decision power or influence to those lobbyists who offer the highest compensation, including where for instance the latter act on behalf of powerful clients such as industrial groups who want to avoid the passing of specific environmental, social, or other regulations perceived as too stringent, etc. Where lobbying is (sufficiently) regulated, it becomes possible to provide for a distinctive criteria and to consider that trading in influence involves the use of “improper influence”, as in article 12 of the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of the Council of Europe.
Patronage refers to favoring supporters, for example with government employment. This may be legitimate, as when a newly elected government changes the top officials in the administration in order to effectively implement its policy. It can be seen as corruption if this means that incompetent persons, as a payment for supporting the regime, are selected before more able ones. In nondemocracies many government officials are often selected for loyalty rather than ability. They may be almost exclusively selected from a particular group (for example, Sunni Arabs in Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq, the nomenklatura in the Soviet Union, or the Junkers in Imperial Germany) that support the regime in return for such favors. A similar problem can also be seen in Eastern Europe, for example in Romania, where the government is often accused of patronage (when a new government comes to power it rapidly changes most of the officials in the public sector).
Nepotism and cronyism
Favoring relatives (nepotism) or personal friends (cronyism) of an official is a form of illegitimate private gain. This may be combined with bribery, for example demanding that a business should employ a relative of an official controlling regulations affecting the business. The most extreme example is when the entire state is inherited, as in North Korea or Syria. A lesser form might be in the Southern United States with Good ol’ boys, where women and minorities are excluded. A milder form of cronyism is an “old boy network“, in which appointees to official positions are selected only from a closed and exclusive social network – such as the alumni of particular universities – instead of appointing the most competent candidate.
Seeking to harm enemies becomes corruption when official powers are illegitimately used as means to this end. For example, trumped-up charges are often brought up against journalists or writers who bring up politically sensitive issues, such as a politician’s acceptance of bribes.
Gombeenism refers to an individual who is dishonest and corrupt for the purpose of personal gain, often monetary, while parochialism, which is also known as parish pump politics, relates to placing local or vanity projects ahead of the national interest. For instance in Irish politics, populist left wing political parties will often apply these terms to mainstream establishment political parties and will cite the many cases of Corruption in Ireland, such as the Irish Banking crisis, which found evidence of bribery, cronyism and collusion, where in some cases politicians who were coming to the end of their political careers would receive a senior management or committee position in a company they had dealings with.
Electoral fraud is illegal interference within the process of an election. Acts of fraud affect vote counts to bring about an election result, whether by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates, or both. Also called voter fraud, the mechanisms involved include illegal voter registration, intimidation at polls, voting computer hacking, and improper vote counting.
Embezzlement is the theft of entrusted funds. It is political when it involves public money taken by a public official for use by anyone not specified by the public. Ponzi schemes are an example of embezzlement. Some embezzlers “skim off the top” so that they continually acquire a small amount over a particular time interval. This method reduces the likelihood of being caught. On the other hand, some embezzlers steal a very large amount of goods or funds in a single instance and then disappear. Sometimes company managers underreport income to their supervisors and keep the difference. A common type of embezzlement is that of personal use of entrusted government resources; for example, when an official assigns public employees to renovate his own house.
A kickback is an official’s share of misappropriated funds allocated from his or her organization to an organization involved in corrupt bidding. For example, suppose that a politician is in charge of choosing how to spend some public funds. He can give a contract to a company that is not the best bidder, or allocate more than they deserve. In this case, the company benefits, and in exchange for betraying the public, the official receives a kickback payment, which is a portion of the sum the company received. This sum itself may be all or a portion of the difference between the actual (inflated) payment to the company and the (lower) market-based price that would have been paid had the bidding been competitive.
Another example of a kickback would be if a judge receives a portion of the profits that a business makes in exchange for his judicial decisions.
Kickbacks are not limited to government officials; any situation in which people are entrusted to spend funds that do not belong to them are susceptible to this kind of corruption.
An unholy alliance is a coalition among seemingly antagonistic groups for ad hoc or hidden gain, generally some influential non-governmental group forming ties with political parties, supplying funding in exchange for favorable treatment. Like patronage, unholy alliances are not necessarily illegal, but unlike patronage, by its deceptive nature and often great financial resources, an unholy alliance can be more dangerous to the public interest. The term was first coined by US President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt:”To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” – 1912 Progressive Party Platform, attributed to Roosevelt and quoted again in his autobiography, where he connects trusts and monopolies (sugar interests, Standard Oil, etc.) to Woodrow Wilson, Howard Taft, and consequently both major political parties.
An illustrative example of official involvement in organized crime can be found from the 1920s and 1930s Shanghai, where Huang Jinrong was a police chief in the French concession, while simultaneously being a gang boss and co-operating with Du Yuesheng, the local gang ringleader. The relationship kept the flow of profits from the gang’s gambling dens, prostitution, and protection rackets undisturbed and safe.
The United States accused Manuel Noriega‘s government in Panama of being a “narcokleptocracy“, a corrupt government profiting on illegal drug trade. Later the U.S. invaded Panama and captured Noriega.
Conditions favorable for corruption
Some research indicates that political corruption is contagious: the revelation of corruption in a sector leads others in the sector to engage in corruption.
It is argued that the following conditions are favorable for corruption:
- Information deficits
- Lacking freedom of information legislation. In contrast, for example: The Indian Right to Information Act 2005 is perceived to have “already engendered mass movements in the country that is bringing the lethargic, often corrupt bureaucracy to its knees and changing power equations completely.”
- Lack of investigative reporting in the local media.
- Contempt for or negligence of exercising freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
- Weak accounting practices, including lack of timely financial management.
- Lack of measurement of corruption. For example, using regular surveys of households and businesses in order to quantify the degree of perception of corruption in different parts of a nation or in different government institutions may increase awareness of corruption and create pressure to combat it. This will also enable an evaluation of the officials who are fighting corruption and the methods used.
- Tax havens which tax their own citizens and companies but not those from other nations and refuse to disclose information necessary for foreign taxation. This enables large-scale political corruption in the foreign nations.
- Lacking control of the government.
- Lacking civic society and non-governmental organizations which monitor the government.
- An individual voter may have a rational ignorance regarding politics, especially in nationwide elections, since each vote has little weight.
- Weak civil service, and slow pace of reform.
- Weak rule of law.
- Weak legal profession.
- Weak judicial independence.
- Lacking protection of whistleblowers.
- Lack of benchmarking, that is continual detailed evaluation of procedures and comparison to others who do similar things, in the same government or others, in particular comparison to those who do the best work. The Peruvian organization Ciudadanos al Dia has started to measure and compare transparency, costs, and efficiency in different government departments in Peru. It annually awards the best practices which has received widespread media attention. This has created competition among government agencies in order to improve.
- Individual officials routinely handle cash, instead of handling payments by giro or on a separate cash desk – illegitimate withdrawals from supervised bank accounts are much more difficult to conceal.
- Public funds are centralized rather than distributed. For example, if $1,000 is embezzled from a local agency that has $2,000 funds, it is easier to notice than from a national agency with $2,000,000 funds. Large, unsupervised public investments.
- Pay disproportionately lower than that of the average citizen.
- Government licenses needed to conduct business, e.g., import licenses, encourage bribing and kickbacks.
- Long-time work in the same position may create relationships inside and outside the government which encourage and help conceal corruption and favoritism. Rotating government officials to different positions and geographic areas may help prevent this; for instance certain high rank officials in French government services (e.g. treasurer-paymasters general) must rotate every few years.
- Costly political campaigns, with expenses exceeding normal sources of political funding, especially when funded with taxpayer money.
- A single group or family controlling most of the key government offices. Lack of laws forbidding and limiting number of members of the same family to be in office .
- Less interaction with officials reduces the opportunities for corruption. For example, using the Internet for sending in required information, like applications and tax forms, and then processing this with automated computer systems. This may also speed up the processing and reduce unintentional human errors. See e-Government.
- A windfall from exporting abundant natural resources may encourage corruption. (See Resource curse)
- War and other forms of conflict correlate with a breakdown of public security.
- Social conditions
- Self-interested closed cliques and “old boy networks“.
- Family-, and clan-centered social structure, with a tradition of nepotism/favouritism being acceptable.
- A gift economy, such as the Soviet blat system, emerges in a Communist centrally planned economy.
- Lacking literacy and education among the population.
- Frequent discrimination and bullying among the population.
- Tribal solidarity, giving benefits to certain ethnic groups. In the Indian political system, for example, it has become common that the leadership of national and regional parties are passed from generation to generation, creating a system in which a family holds the center of power. Some examples are most of the Dravidian parties of south India and also the Nehru-Gandhi family of the Congress party, which is one of the two major political parties in India.
- Lack of strong laws which forbid members of the same family to contest elections and be in office as in India where local elections are often contested between members of the same powerful family by standing in opposite parties so that whoever is elected that particular family is at tremendous benefit.
Thomas Jefferson observed a tendency for “The functionaries of every government … to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit [for liberty and property] … without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe.”
Recent research supports Jefferson’s claim. Brunetti and Weder found “evidence of a significant relationship between more press freedom and less corruption in a large cross-section of countries.” They also presented “evidence which suggests that the direction of causation runs from higher press freedom to lower corruption.” Adserà, Boix, and Payne found that increases in newspaper readership led to increased political accountability and lower corruption in data from roughly 100 countries and from different states in the US.
Snyder and Strömberg found “that a poor fit between newspaper markets and political districts reduces press coverage of politics. … Congressmen who are less covered by the local press work less for their constituencies: they are less likely to stand witness before congressional hearings … . Federal spending is lower in areas where there is less press coverage of the local members of congress.” Schulhofer-Wohl and Garrido found that the year after the Cincinnati Post closed in 2007, “fewer candidates ran for municipal office in the Kentucky suburbs most reliant on the Post, incumbents became more likely to win re-election, and voter turnout and campaign spending fell.
An analysis of the evolution of mass media in the United States and European Union since World War II noted mixed results from the growth of the Internet: “The digital revolution has been good for freedom of expression [and] information [but] has had mixed effects on freedom of the press”: It has disrupted traditional sources of funding, and new forms of Internet journalism have replaced only a tiny fraction of what’s been lost.
Media responses to whistleblower incidents or reports, and to matters which generate skepticism in established law and government but may not technically be whistleblower incidents, are limited by the prevalence of political correctness and speech codes in many Western nations. In China and many other East Asian countries the state-enforced speech codes limit or, in their view, channel the efforts of the media and civil society to reduce public corruption.
Size of public sector
Extensive and diverse public spending is, in itself, inherently at risk of cronyism, kickbacks, and embezzlement. Complicated regulations and arbitrary, unsupervised official conduct exacerbate the problem. This is one argument for privatization and deregulation. Opponents of privatization see the argument as ideological. The argument that corruption necessarily follows from the opportunity is weakened by the existence of countries with low to non-existent corruption but large public sectors, like the Nordic countries. These countries score high on the Ease of Doing Business Index, due to good and often simple regulations and have rule of law firmly established. Therefore, due to their lack of corruption in the first place, they can run large public sectors without inducing political corruption. Recent evidence that takes both the size of expenditures and regulatory complexity into account has found that high-income democracies with more expansive state sectors do indeed have higher levels of corruption.
Like other governmental economic activities, also privatization, such as in the sale of government-owned property, is particularly at the risk of cronyism. Privatizations in Russia, Latin America, and East Germany were accompanied by large-scale corruption during the sale of the state-owned companies. Those with political connections unfairly gained large wealth, which has discredited privatization in these regions. While media have reported widely the grand corruption that accompanied the sales, studies have argued that in addition to increased operating efficiency, daily petty corruption is, or would be, larger without privatization and that corruption is more prevalent in non-privatized sectors. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that extralegal and unofficial activities are more prevalent in countries that privatized less.
In the European Union, the principle of subsidiarity is applied: a government service should be provided by the lowest, most local authority that can competently provide it. An effect is that distribution of funds in multiple instances discourages embezzlement because even small sums missing will be noticed. In contrast, in a centralized authority, even minute proportions of public funds can be large sums of money.
Conditions unfavorable for corruption
Wealth and power can have a compounding effect on political corruption, however, the immunity from the law that money and influence bring will not come into effect when a powerful individual injures or harms another powerful individual. An example of this immunity being broken is Bernie Madoff, who while being rich and powerful himself, stole from other rich and powerful individuals. This resulted in his eventual arrest despite his status.
If the highest echelons of the governments also take advantage of corruption or embezzlement from the state’s treasury, it is sometimes referred to the neologism kleptocracy. Members of the government can take advantage of the natural resources (e.g., diamonds and oil in a few prominent cases) or state-owned productive industries. A number of corrupt governments have enriched themselves via foreign aid. Indeed, there is a positive correlation between aid flows and high levels of corruption within recipient countries.
Saudi Arabian dissident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi Government agents after he criticised them many times.
Corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa consists primarily of extracting economic rent and moving the resulting financial capital overseas instead of investing at home. Authors Leonce Ndikumana and James K. Boyce estimate that from 1970 to 2008, capital flight from 33 sub-Saharan countries totalled $700 billion.
A corrupt dictatorship typically results in many years of general hardship and suffering for the vast majority of citizens as civil society and the rule of law disintegrate. In addition, corrupt dictators routinely ignore economic and social problems in their quest to amass ever more wealth and power.
The classic case of a corrupt, exploitive dictator often given is the regime of Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which he renamed Zaire) from 1965 to 1997. It is said that usage of the term kleptocracy gained popularity largely in response to a need to accurately describe Mobutu’s regime. Another classic case is Nigeria, especially under the rule of General Sani Abacha who was de facto president of Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. He is reputed to have stolen some US$3–4 billion. He and his relatives are often mentioned in Nigerian 419 letter scams claiming to offer vast fortunes for “help” in laundering his stolen “fortunes”, which in reality turn out not to exist. More than $400 billion was stolen from the treasury by Nigeria’s leaders between 1960 and 1999.
There are two methods of corruption of the judiciary: the state (through budget planning and various privileges), and the private. Budget of the judiciary in many transitional and developing countries is almost completely controlled by the executive. The latter undermines the separation of powers, as it creates a critical financial dependence of the judiciary. The proper national wealth distribution including the government spending on the judiciary is subject of the constitutional economics. Judicial corruption can be difficult to completely eradicate, even in developed countries.
Opposition to corruption
Mobile telecommunications and radio broadcasting help to fight corruption, especially in developing regions like Africa, where other forms of communications are limited. In India, the anti-corruption bureau fights against corruption, and a new ombudsman bill called Jan Lokpal Bill is being prepared.
In the 1990s, initiatives were taken at an international level (in particular by the European Community, the Council of Europe, the OECD) to put a ban on corruption: in 1996, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, for instance, adopted a comprehensive Programme of Action against Corruption and, subsequently, issued a series of anti-corruption standard-setting instruments:
- the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 173);
- the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 174);
- the Additional Protocol to the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 191);
- the Twenty Guiding Principles for the Fight against Corruption (Resolution (97) 24);
- the Recommendation on Codes of Conduct for Public Officials (Recommendation No. R (2000) 10);
- the Recommendation on Common Rules against Corruption in the Funding of Political Parties and Electoral Campaigns (Rec(2003)4)
The purpose of these instruments was to address the various forms of corruption (involving the public sector, the private sector, the financing of political activities, etc.) whether they had a strictly domestic or also a transnational dimension. To monitor the implementation at national level of the requirements and principles provided in those texts, a monitoring mechanism – the Group of States Against Corruption (also known as GRECO) (French: Groupe d’Etats contre la corruption) was created.
Further conventions were adopted at the regional level under the aegis of the Organization of American States (OAS or OEA), the African Union, and in 2003, at the universal level under that of the United Nations Convention against Corruption where it is enabled with mutual legal assistance between the states parties regarding investigations, processes and judicial actions related to corruption crimes, as established in article 46.
A whistleblower (also written as whistle-blower or whistle blower) is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public. The information of alleged wrongdoing can be classified in many ways: violation of company policy/rules, law, regulation, or threat to public interest/national security, as well as fraud, and corruption. Those who become whistleblowers can choose to bring information or allegations to the surface either internally or externally. Internally, a whistleblower can bring his/her accusations to the attention of other people within the accused organization such as an immediate supervisor. Externally, a whistleblower can bring allegations to light by contacting a third party outside of an accused organization such as the media, government, law enforcement, or those who are concerned.
Because of this, a number of laws exist to protect whistleblowers. Some third-party groups even offer protection to whistleblowers, but that protection can only go so far. Whistleblowers face legal action, criminal charges, social stigma, and termination from any position, office, or job. Two other classifications of whistleblowing are private and public. The classifications relate to the type of organizations someone chooses to whistle-blow on private sector, or public sector. Depending on many factors, both can have varying results. However, whistleblowing in the public sector organization is more likely to result in criminal charges and possible custodial sentences. A whistleblower who chooses to accuse a private sector organization or agency is more likely to face termination and legal and civil charges.
Deeper questions and theories of whistleblowing and why people choose to do so can be studied through an ethical approach. Whistleblowing is a topic of ongoing ethical debate. Leading arguments in the ideological camp that whistleblowing is ethical to maintain that whistleblowing is a form of civil disobedience, and aims to protect the public from government wrongdoing. In the opposite camp, some see whistleblowing as unethical for breaching confidentiality, especially in industries that handle sensitive client or patient information. Legal protection can also be granted to protect whistleblowers, but that protection is subject to many stipulations. Hundreds of laws grant protection to whistleblowers, but stipulations can easily cloud that protection and leave whistleblowers vulnerable to retaliation and legal trouble. However, the decision and action have become far more complicated with recent advancements in technology and communication. Whistleblowers frequently face reprisal, sometimes at the hands of the organization or group they have accused, sometimes from related organizations, and sometimes under law. Questions about the legitimacy of whistleblowing, the moral responsibility of whistleblowing, and the appraisal of the institutions of whistleblowing are part of the field of political ethics.
Measuring corruption accurately is difficult if not impossible due to the illicit nature of the transaction and imprecise definitions of corruption. Few reliable measures of the magnitude of corruption exists and among those, there is a high level of heterogeneity. One of the most common ways to estimate corruption is through perception surveys. They have the advantage of good coverage, however, they do not measure corruption precisely. While “corruption” indices first appeared in 1995 with the Corruption Perceptions Index CPI, all of these metrics address different proxies for corruption, such as public perceptions of the extent of the problem. However, over time the refinement of methods and validation checks against objective indicators has meant that, while not perfect, many of these indicators are getting better at consistently and validly measuring the scale of corruption.
Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, pioneered this field with the CPI, first released in 1995. This work is often credited with breaking a taboo and forcing the issue of corruption into high-level development policy discourse. Transparency International currently publishes three measures, updated annually: a CPI (based on aggregating third-party polling of public perceptions of how corrupt different countries are); a Global Corruption Barometer (based on a survey of general public attitudes toward and experience of corruption); and a Bribe Payers Index, looking at the willingness of foreign firms to pay bribes. The Corruption Perceptions Index is the best known of these metrics, though it has drawn much criticism and may be declining in influence. In 2013 Transparency International published a report on the “Government Defence Anti-corruption Index”. This index evaluates the risk of corruption in countries’ military sector.
The World Bank collects a range of data on corruption, including survey responses from over 100,000 firms worldwide and a set of indicators of governance and institutional quality. Moreover, one of the six dimensions of governance measured by the Worldwide Governance Indicators is Control of Corruption, which is defined as “the extent to which power is exercised for private gain, including both petty and grand forms of corruption, as well as ‘capture’ of the state by elites and private interests.” While the definition itself is fairly precise, the data aggregated into the Worldwide Governance Indicators is based on any available polling: questions range from “is corruption a serious problem?” to measures of public access to information, and not consistent across countries. Despite these weaknesses, the global coverage of these datasets has led to their widespread adoption, most notably by the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
A number of parties have collected survey data, from the public and from experts, to try to gauge the level of corruption and bribery, as well as its impact on political and economic outcomes. A second wave of corruption metrics has been created by Global Integrity, the International Budget Partnership, and many lesser known local groups. These metrics include the Global Integrity Index, first published in 2004. These second wave projects aim to create policy change by identifying resources more effectively and creating checklists toward incremental reform. Global Integrity and the International Budget Partnership each dispense with public surveys and instead uses in-country experts to evaluate “the opposite of corruption” – which Global Integrity defines as the public policies that prevent, discourage, or expose corruption. These approaches complement the first wave, awareness-raising tools by giving governments facing public outcry a checklist which measures concrete steps toward improved governance.
Typical second wave corruption metrics do not offer the worldwide coverage found in first wave projects and instead focus on localizing information gathered to specific problems and creating deep, “unpackable” content that matches quantitative and qualitative data.
Alternative approaches, such as the British aid agency’s Drivers of Change research, skips numbers and promotes understanding corruption via political economy analysis of who controls power in a given society. Another approach, suggested for when conventional measures of corruption are unavailable, is to look at the bodyfat of officials, after finding that obesity of cabinet ministers in post-Soviet states was highly correlated with more accurate measures.
Institutions dealing with political corruption
- Corruption Perceptions Index, published yearly by Transparency International
- FreedomGuard, Ltd., a United States public benefit authority empowered to identify, investigate, and civilly prosecute federal & state government corruption
- Global Witness, an international NGO established in 1993 that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide
- Group of States Against Corruption, a body established under the Council of Europe to monitor the implementation of instruments adopted by member states to combat political corruption
- Independent Commission Against Corruption (disambiguation)
- International Anti-Corruption Academy
- Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that monitors and publicizes corporate and political corruption in international development
Corruption has existed since the Egyptian dynasty and still persists in almost every country around the globe.
After huge corruption scandals in Malaysia and Brazil, Indonesia has just witnessed one of its regions losing more than 90% of its councillors as they are implicated in graft cases.
Looking through history, corruption seems inevitable.
Old myths on corruption
The Oxford Dictionary defines corruption as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”.
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Corruption originates from a Latin word : corruptus. The word is the past participle of corrumpere, meaning “mar, bribe, destroy”.
Corruption is as old as human history. The First Dynasty (3100–2700 BC) of ancient Egypt noted corruption in its judiciary.
The practice also existed in ancient China. In Chinese mythology, every household has a Kitchen God who watches the behavior of its members. A week before Chinese New Year, the Kitchen God ascends to heaven to present his annual report to the Ruler of Heaven, the Jade Emperor.
The fate of the household, whether this be reward or punishment, depends on this report. In an attempt to ensure a good report, many households smear a cake of sugar and honey onto the picture of the Kitchen God they keep in their homes before burning the image, which in Chinese mythology is how the Kitchen God can ascend to heaven to meet the Jade Emperor.
In a similar vein, Greek historian Herodotus notes the Alcmaeonid family bribed the Oracle of Delphi priestesses, one of the most powerful mystical forces of ancient Greek. Dating back to 1400 BC, people all over Greece and beyond came to have their questions answered by the Pythia, high priestess of Apollo. The wealthy Alcmaeonid family offered to lavishly rebuild the Temple of Apollo with “Parian marble” after it had been destroyed by an earthquake. In return, Pythia convinced the nation-state Sparta to help the family to conquer and rule Athens. Since it worked, Aristotle noted even gods can be bribed!
Corruptions around the globe
As the global economy expanded significantly during the 20th century, levels of corruption increased as well. It is difficult to estimate the global magnitude and extent of corruption since these activities are carried out in secret.
Corruption permeates all levels of society from low-level public servants accepting petty bribes to national leaders stealing millions of dollars.
Transparency International estimates Indonesia’s former president Suharto siphoned off anywhere from $15 billion to $35 billion. The Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Sani Abacha of Nigeria may have embezzled $5 billion each.
Brazil’s greatest corruption scandal, codenamed Lava Jato (carwash), unearthed a vast and extraordinarily complex web of corruption. Directors of Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil company, used a slush fund to pay politicians who had appointed them to support the election campaigns of the governing coalition.
Lava Jato ensnared politicians and business leaders from 11 countries, ranging from Brazil to Peru. It sidelined Brazil’s most popular resident, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, now serving a 12-year prison sentence. The case forced the Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, to resign when confronted with an impeachment vote.
Another major recent corruption case is in Malaysia. Former prime minister Najib Razak is being investigated for misappropriation from the Malaysian strategic company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he chaired. The US Department of Justice has alleged $4.5 billion was misappropriated from 1MDB. The lawsuit has referred to Najib as “Malaysian Official 1”, who is alleged to have received more than $1 billion in 1MDB funds. Najib, who was accused of using some of the money to buy jewellery for his wife, has denied any wrongdoing.
Corruption cases involving national leaders are not unique. In 2015, President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala was forced to resign after Congress stripped him of immunity because of his alleged role in a huge corruption scheme involving its national customs service.
In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress this year sacked President Jacob Zuma, who has been charged with corruption.
In 2017, South Korea impeached its president, Park Geun-hye, for bribery and other charges. In 2018, she was convicted of abuse of power, coercion and bribery and jailed for 24 years.
Corruption as a way of life
Corruption has become a way of life in numerous countries. In 2011, Transparency International (TI) reported that two-thirds of Bangladesh and well over half of Indians had paid a bribe during the preceding 12 months.
In 2017, it further reported that globally one in four people had paid bribes in the previous 12 months to access a public service. Nearly 57% of people around the world felt their governments were doing badly to fight corruption. Only 30% thought their governments were doing well.
Another TI study in 2017 showed globally around one-third of people consider their presidents, prime ministers, national and local government officials, business executives, elected representatives and police officers corrupt.
Police officers are seen to be most corrupt in Sub-Saharan Africa (47%) and Asia Pacific (39%). This is a damaging indictment of the extent and magnitude of global corruption perceptions in this age of Homo corruptus (very spoiled and marred persons).
Corruption severely constrains poverty alleviation and economic development. In 2017, nearly 10% of Asians, around 400 million, lived in extreme poverty. Corruption siphons off funds intended for poverty alleviation.
Countries like Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand and the Philippines all face pervasive corruption problems.
If developing countries can control corruption and enforce the rule of law, the World Bank estimates per capita income could increase fourfold over the long term. On average, the business sector could grow 3% faster. Corruption is also a de facto tax on foreign direct investments, amounting to around 20%.
Controlling corruption can improve many socio-economic indicators, including reducing infant mortality rate by 75%.
What we can do?
International financial systems have made it possible for public officials to hide their ill-gotten wealth in tax havens. In 2014, the Panama Papers leaked 11.5 million files. These showed that two national leaders among 143 politicians, their families and close associates from all over the world were using offshore tax havens to hide their wealth.
Similarly, the Paradise Papers leaked 13.4 million files from two different offshore service providers and 19 tax haven company registries. It revealed offshore activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders as well as financial engineering of more than 100 multinational corporations.
Controlling corruption requires strengthening institutions and promptly upholding the rules of law as some countries like Singapore have shown.
Singapore’s late prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, recounted that corruption was commonplace in the civil service during colonial times. When his party came to power, its leaders enshrined anti-corruption as a development priority since it was considered a prerequisite for good governance. Even then, Keppel Offshore and Marine, a unit of conglomerate Keppel Corporation of Singapore, paid a staggering fine of $422 million to US, Brazilian and Singaporean authorities for paying bribes of $55 million to Petrobras and Sete Brasil. The bribes were paid between 2001 and 2014 to win 13 contracts.
President Xi Jinping of China has declared a war on corruption, which has targeted both “tigers and flies”, a reference to senior and low-ranking officials. Many powerful Chinese politicians and bureaucrats, who were previously considered untouchable, are now in jail because of corruption.
In India, virtually no major political leader has been jailed for serious corruption. This has given many powerful politicians and senior bureaucrats a licence to steal. A 2017 TI report noted nearly 70% of Indians who accessed a public service had to pay a bribe.
A silver lining is that over half of Indians now are positive about the government’s efforts to combat bribery. However, more than 40% felt corruption had increased over the preceding 12 months.
Developed countries are not immune to corruption either. The latest high-profile example is US President Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. He has been indicted on eight tax and bank fraud charges, with more charges yet to be judged. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty to eight violations of banking, tax and campaign finance laws. These may prove to be the tip of the iceberg.
Gandhi said: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
As the world’s economy expands, the potential for corruption increases as well.
Corruption can never be eliminated. Whether we like it or not, it has always been a part of human nature and will continue to infect society. As the age of Homo corruptus continues, the best any country can do is to keep it to a minimum.
In Kandahar, Afghanistan, in late 2001 a girl of about nine stripped a Kalashnikov rifle, inspected the bullets and reloaded the sound ones in a matter of minutes. That child lived in a mud-brick house in the middle of a graveyard. Here is its significance. Afghans know how to fight. Once back in control of their country, that girl’s people did not need close air support to beat off a resurgent Taliban, or armoured vehicles packed with delicate electronics that could be maintained only by highly trained mechanics. What they needed was to be proud of their government. But Afghan government officials began stealing their money. And US government officials ignored – even enabled – the crimes.
The loss of the longest war the US ever fought was hardly the first time corruption has shaped history.
‘They preach only human doctrines’ – not Holy Writ – ‘who say that as soon as the money clinks in the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.’ So reads Thesis 27 in a carefully sequenced series of statements that a law student-turned-priest and theology professor named Martin Luther wrote in 1517. At the time, the Catholic Church, the dominant power in Europe from the edge of Ireland nearly to Moscow, was engaged in a vast extortion racket. Worshippers could avoid the torments of a ghastly pre-Judgement Day refugee camp called Purgatory, if they just shelled out the price of an ‘indulgence’, a papal safe-conduct.
In 1517, a sales push was launched in Germany. Half the proceeds were earmarked to cover the staggering debt a young cleric had taken on to buy a powerful archbishopric from the pope. A bling-loving scion of the Medici dynasty, that pope routinely auctioned off Church offices and waivers of canon law. The rest of the return on indulgence sales would go straight to Leo X himself, to help pay for a gaudy piece of real estate.
Thesis 66: ‘The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.’ Why, wonders Luther’s Thesis 86, did the stupendously rich pope not ‘build this one basilica of St Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?’
Without the outraged Indigenous allies who joined him, could Cortés have brought down that great empire?
Nearly all 95 of those epoch-making premises are taken up with aspects of what we would call corruption: harnessing public office to the purpose of self-enrichment. In this egregious case, the offices in question were sacred and the stakes eternal. Public indignation burst across Europe in a shockwave that dramatically reshaped the continent’s politics, culture and economy.
History lurches with such turning points, in which systemic corruption, or the reaction against it, changed the course of world events.
Three years after Luther’s propositions went viral, a mixed army of Spaniards and Native Americans laid siege to a metropolis. In terms of population, and cultural and architectural sophistication, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan rivalled any city in Europe. Evidence in accounts written both by the commander of that army, Hernán Cortés, and Indigenous scholars, suggests that much of its magnificence derived from the Aztec elite’s abuse of public power for personal gain. So arises a question: without the outraged Indigenous allies who joined him, could Cortés have brought down that great empire?
In Corruption and the Decline of Rome (1988) – to offer a final example – Ramsay MacMullen devotes a chapter to the system that would become Pope Leo X’s default 1,000 years later: ‘Power for Sale’. Assessing its impact on the fortunes of Rome, MacMullen wonders how it was possible for a rowdy, materially and technologically inferior coalition of untutored tribesmen ‘so quickly and effortlessly [to] gain control of Germany, Gaul, and Spain’. The question mirrors the general astonishment when, last summer, gangs of shaggy-haired fighters mounted on motorcycles overran Afghanistan in a matter of days.
In both cases, a fatal impact of ‘power for sale’ was the hollowing-out of defence forces. ‘The size of Rome’s armies was contemptible,’ writes MacMullen. And the disgruntled, ill-equipped soldiers who remained on the front did not stand and fight. ‘We are told of a field of battle, a district, an entire province simply abandoned.’ Just what happened in Afghanistan in August 2021.
For corrupt elites, defence budgets represent an enticing opportunity for pillage. Citizens rarely question investments they think will protect them, and the details of expenditures are usually classified.
A common technique is for officers to pad the payroll with what The Guardian in 2016 identified as ‘fake names or dead men’, then pocket the excess salaries. That’s how districts end up ill-defended by units of contemptible size.
Or why not loot the equipment budget, by failing to buy materiel for which funds have been allocated, or by selling supplies – including to the enemy – or by purchasing shoddy alternatives to the reliable food, shelter and weaponry that those who put their lives on the line for their community deserve? That’s how soldiers run out of ammunition in the middle of a firefight with raggedy foes.
Sums of money, weapons and weatherproof tents can be counted; they help quantify corruption’s toll. But to think only in numbers is to overlook the greater harm and the real danger: the moral injury corruption inflicts.
How do you suppose Roman or Afghan soldiers felt, in their scattered handfuls, stomachs empty because of the stench of their putrid breakfast, as they offered themselves up on behalf of their ruling authorities? What sensations scalded their flesh as they realised that their privations were perpetrated by the representatives of those very authorities – by superiors they longed to admire? Can you imagine the pain? The shame?
And when the soldiers put their minds to their predicament? What if the only purpose they could find in this sadism was the accumulation of more gold or dollars than the supposed superiors or their progeny could ever spend?
How are souls deformed under the obligation to violate cherished values in order to survive?
The word that comes to my mind is ‘betrayal’. Have you ever experienced betrayal? Is there a more searing psychic wound? Psychic wounds – betrayal and pain and shame – are powerful goads to action, not always considered.
And what about such a country’s civilians? What breeds in their hearts when, as an Afghan colleague bitterly noted, ‘the very people who are supposed to be upholding the law are the ones breaking it’?
Once, members of the cooperative I set up in 2005 needed to retrieve a piece of equipment from customs. I was away. They could not extract the item without offering an ‘emolument’, as the US constitution calls it. In disgust – partly at themselves – they paid.
What is the impact of having to do something like that day after day? How are souls deformed under the obligation to violate cherished values in order to survive?
The way some react may look like secession. Soldiers abandon their posts. Voters withhold their ballots. Caravans set forth in an exodus of biblical proportions. Or a whole people ‘dissolve[s] the political bands which have connected them with another’, to quote the US Declaration of Independence.
The pain of betrayal and disrespect can also spark violent rage or a desire for revenge. And not just in Afghanistan or ancient Rome.
Pick any country that is beset by crisis today: huge public protests that mow down a president and metastasise into war; attacks by insurrectionists mouthing ideological slogans. Now look at the government of the country in question. Is justice under orders or for sale? Do top officials’ close relatives hold key government jobs? Are petty bribes for low-level officials ‘just the way things get done’?
Yet the violent reactions corruption often prompts may be the lesser of its evils. The greater harm may result from the betrayal itself: a natural or human-made disaster that does irreparable harm – like a chemical explosion in an ancient port city, or a region wrecked by a hurricane; a financial implosion brought on by systemic fraud. Or, let’s take the greatest calamity looming over our species today: the ruin of the natural world.
Since just 2018, for a single example, thousands of square miles of Amazon rainforest – the wettest, lushest and most biodiverse region on this lumpy planet – have burned. To call the Amazon a carbon sink does not begin to encompass the magnitude of this disaster. Think of that place as not just a lung, but as more vital organs of the living Earth than current human knowledge can even identify.
What happens without it? If a single comet slamming into the Gulf of Mexico exterminated 80 per cent of species, ending the age of the dinosaurs, then it doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet, under the current notoriously corrupt governments of Bolivia and Brazil, the race is on to sack it.
Betrayal. No wonder the Earth is lashing out.
How is it, then, that in the West we pay so little attention to corruption? We brush it away, as an innate feature of the human condition, or of the culture of certain foreign countries. Or – sometimes and – as a distasteful aberration, a scandal beneath notice.
Writing in 2016 for a unanimous US Supreme Court, chief justice John Roberts voiced that disregard. ‘[O]ur concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns,’ pooh-poohs his opinion overturning the corruption conviction of Bob McDonnell, a former governor of the state of Virginia, for accepting nearly $200,000-worth of presents from a businessman seeking his help.
The real concern, all eight sitting justices agreed, isn’t corruption, it’s the fight to curb it. Prosecutorial overreach against government officials and corporate executives, that’s what endangers the US.
Within weeks of that ruling, two very different mavericks blasted US presidential politics apart. One started chanting ‘Drain the swamp!’ The other called for a ‘political revolution’. Voters came running. Traditional politicians stood there, agape. The revolution happened, but not the one that guy was hoping for.
Corruption, in other words, unmoored the US political system, with the ultimate consequences still unknown. Yet, here and in other Western countries, it is easier to ignore than it is in Afghanistan. Here in the US, citizens are not regularly shaken down in the street. Corruption is cloaked in legal abracadabras. The safe is cracked with velvet gloves.
A handful of US defence industry giants, for example, all with long rap sheets, garner the vast bulk of Pentagon procurement and service contracts. Those contractors peddle armoured vehicles packed with delicate electronics. They sell defective weapons systems. They submit budgets whose line-items are inflated or even left blank: TBD. US soldiers don’t go hungry. But the wars are lost just the same.
In the US today, such comments imply, bribery is just the way things get done
The perpetrators of this brand of war profiteering wear business suits and enjoy respect. They have embroidered an elaborate fabric of connections with government officials who decide on the size of the defence budget and the uses to which the money will be put. These connections are not just purchased via campaign contributions. Personnel shuttle back and forth between private industry and the Pentagon, to weave a dynamic and powerful network. Its objectives routinely trump the public interest.
Does your country’s defence ministry exhibit a similar pattern? How do banking industry leaders and your government’s finance ministry officials interact? How did those officials and executives fare last time a financial bubble upended your or your neighbours’ lives? Who controls your energy and mining sectors? Have any of those individuals deliberately crippled government agencies tasked with protecting the health of citizens or landscapes?
Now consider how we, the victims – at least in the comfortable classes – often react. Instead of objecting and demanding that such practices cease, we are tempted to explain them away. The pose can seem deliciously counterculture, a sign of realism.
When I interviewed Washington lawyers and veteran court-watchers about the unanimous reversal of McDonnell’s corruption conviction, I got such rationalisations. ‘If that conviction were allowed to stand,’ the chorus went, ‘it would amount to criminalising politics.’ In the US today, such comments imply, bribery is just the way things get done.
Often, we gloss over the phenomenon altogether. We devise purely metaphysical understandings of Luther’s revolt, or of the violent act committed 1,500 years before that by a young rabbi from Nazareth. Surrounded by a rabble of his neighbours, he strode into the august government complex where the corrupt ruling elite of his day stole people’s money. And Jesus started throwing the furniture around.
Did this insurrection truly contain no commentary about the political economy of the earthly kingdom of Herod the Great?
Whose interest does it serve to downplay the corruption that outraged Jesus and Luther? What is lost when it becomes fashionable to insist that the human values of integrity and fairness are phoney, not sacred? Who wins when we work to identify useful functions corruption might serve, or shrug and call it ‘human nature?’ In whose interest is it to presume that people who amass staggering fortunes must be smarter or better than the rest of us, rather than dangerous criminals?
The following article is an example of how corruption adversely affects a country.
According to Transparency International, corruption is the intentional misuse of public resources for personal gain: “It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood, or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.” When coupled with weak government systems and elites looking to take advantage of their power, corruption prevents the average citizen from accessing quality public goods and services like education, health care, or protection by the police.
Honduras has some of the highest rates of corruption in the world, but our work at ASJ has shown that building transparency and integrity are possible. We work to call out cases of corruption and strengthen government systems so that Honduran systems serve its people.
Data from Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index
How Does Honduras Rank in Corruption?
Corruption is difficult to measure, because by its nature so much of it is hidden. Instead, Transparency International, the world’s largest anti-corruption organization, measures residents’ perception of the corruption in their countries, using surveys to build a picture of people affected by bribes, extortion, and other unjust abuse of public power and resources.
On a scale of 0 to 100 (with 0 being highly corrupt and 100 being highly transparent) Honduras received 24 points – its lowest score since 2012.
Out of 180 countries surveyed, Honduras ranked 146th in its levels of corruption – a decline from its position of 132nd in 2018.
Honduras received the second lowest score among Central American countries and the fourth lowest score in all of the Americas.
These results show Hondurans’ deteriorating confidence in institutions amidst the challenges of the pandemic and natural disasters.
Data from Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index
What Is the Effect of Corruption in Honduras?
Corruption is rampant among public officials and public institutions in Honduras, and it has a real cost to society. One study found that corruption cost Honduras over $2 billion in 2018, which is 12.5% of its GDP.
How does corruption affect the average Honduran? Because the majority of Hondurans rely on public services like education, health, and security, corruption prevents them from accessing the services they need to live a full and dignified life. Even though corruption happens at the hands of the wealthy and powerful, it ends up primarily hurting poor Hondurans.
When politicians and public officials use their power to steal money from the state, offer political favors in hiring, or live above the law, it affects those who rely on public services like public schools or public hospitals. It means that teachers aren’t held accountable to show up to the classroom and children miss out on the opportunity for a quality education. It means that public hospitals have no medications to treat sick patients. And it means that police choose to protect the interest of criminals rather than the public. The government’s failure to provide basic services ends up deepening social problems and poverty.
The status of corruption in Honduras can leave many citizens feeling hopeless – a 2019 survey revealed that 54% of Hondurans believe that corruption has increased in the past year. However, the same survey showed that 78% of Hondurans believe that ordinary people can be part of making a difference in the fight against corruption.
What Is Being Done About Corruption in Honduras?
Corruption is one of the biggest issues facing Honduras, but it isn’t a hopeless issue. Participation from civil society and international cooperation has helped to hold the Honduran government accountable, and achieve trials and convictions in several important corruption cases.
More and more reports of corruption are coming to light and being brought to trial: a former president’s wife was convicted for misusing public funds, the current president’s brother is awaiting sentencing for drug trafficking, and dozens of politicians have been implicated in other corruption cases by the MACCIH (the former international anti-corruption investigate body whose mandate ended in January 2020).
There is still much work to be done in Honduras – we need to not only make sure cases of corruption come to light but that people are held accountable for their crimes. A 2016 study showed that in the previous eight years, only one corruption case guilty sentence had resulted in jail time. Continued efforts by civil society, international groups, and the Honduran government will help ensure that we end corruption in Honduras.
en.wikipedia.org, “Political Corruption.” By Wikipedia Editors; theconversation.com, “From our ancestors to modern leaders, all do it: the story of corruption.” By Asit K. Biswas and Cecilia Tortajada; aeon.co, “The Midas Disease: Corruption is a truly global crisis and the wealth addiction that feeds it is hiding in plain sight.” By Sarah Chayes; asj-us.org, “CORRUPTION IN HONDURAS.”;
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