Corruption exists on every level in every country on planet earth. It has existed since before
oldest recorded annals.
Corruption is older because we cannot blame the art of writing for bringing on this plague.
Corruption can simply be defined as a form of dishonesty or criminal offense undertaken by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, to acquire illicit benefit or abuse power for one’s private gain.
Corruption may include many activities including bribery and embezzlement, though it may also involve practices that are legal in many countries.
Political corruption occurs when an office holder or other government employee acts in an official capacity for personal gain.
Corruption is most common in kleptocracies, oligarchies, “narco-states and mafia states” ( are mine).
There are two important points in this definition worth taking a closer look.
First, “dishonesty or criminal offense”. Second, “practices that are legal in many countries.”
When corruption is defined as dishonesty or criminal offense, it falls into the same category as theft, white-collar crimes, organized crime, and or treason.
Corruption is therefore punishable under law.
How the laws in each country take on corruption varies greatly and takes us to the second point regarding some corruption practices being legal in many countries.
Being legal does not make it right. Laws are set by humans and often set to protect the same people creating the laws.
We have some glaring examples in history, of legal activities not being morally correct; notably, the holocaust in Germany during WWII, the slave trade in US during the first 100 years of the Union, and more.
The fact is corruption has three faces; the one who corrupts, the one being corrupted and the victim.
There is always a victim in the equation.
The first two play an equal part in the act, although the two may not necessarily have equal standing.
Often one has the ability to intimidate or coerce the other into being a part of the scheme.
Although the corrupter and the corrupted have equal share in the act of corruption, humans seem to be biased toward the latter.
A person who is receiving a bribe, taking them, accepting them, is looked upon with more contempt than the person paying the bribe. This is a mistake. They are equally bad, different side of the same coin.
The one often forgotten is the victim because it is anonymous, a faceless someone in the crowd.
The victim does not have a voice and as anonymous may not even know he is being cheated on or that he is paying for someone’s crime.
The victim can be more than one, various individuals, group of people, company, companies, union, towns, or cities.
In many cases, even a whole nation can be the victim of corruption.
Unfortunately, when a nation is the victim, it seems to be that everyone competes to come up with justifications for the corrupted deal, why it was necessary and how it benefits the victim.
It may even go so far as a whole nation will rise up in support of the corruption as happened in the USA after 9/11 with the, then, proposed invasion of Iraq.
In that case, the corruptors were able to use the tragedy of 9/11 to lie themselves and the nation into a war that had no base to be.
In that war everyone lost except few weapons manufacturers and corrupt politicians.
In that case only 4 republicans voted against the resolution, and there was overwhelming support for it or up to well over 70% according to Gallup.
US lost over 2.4 trillion dollars of taxpayer money in the war and over 4,490 dead.
However, these losses are insignificant when compared to the losses of the Iraqi people.
Official numbers are 150,000 dead (that is casualties of war), a very low estimate, not including any direct or indirect civil deaths caused by the war.
It is hard to find data on financial costs carried by the people of Iraq, but I believe it is fair to say they have forgone any economical benefits for 20 years and will be paying for this for another 40 to 100 years to come.
Misconceptions about corruption
It is often said that one nation or a culture is more prone to corruption than another. There is no evidence to support this.
Although there is a difference between countries when it comes to corruption, it has little to do with the culture
in each country, but more with the different situation affecting the population of different countries.
Let us look at what is the cause of corruption.
A simple search will give long list of causes, including decline of personal ethical sensitivity, no sense for service, lack of courage to denounce corruption, cultural environment, lack of transparency, inefficient regulation and controls, slow or ineffectual judicial process, lack of moral criteria, government effectiveness, GDP per capita, and the list goes on and on.
However, when you look closely at each of these factors you can start dividing them into two elated categories, fear, and greed.
Fear is primarily caused by uncertain future. Uncertain in terms of economical stability or in worst case uncertainty about own safety or even life.
Greed is a response to uncertainty. I need to take the opportunity now since I can’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Greed also exists in its pure form, that is, selfish desire for wealth and/or power.
In reality, no evidence that one culture is more prone to corruption than another.
In his book, Kicking Away the Ladder, Ha-Joon Chang, tells a story of an English businessman traveling to Germany and Japan in 18th century.
After visiting both countries, the gentleman did not give much for either culture.
He referred to them as a “lazy and thieving bunch”. That is hardly a description that comes to mind when discussing either Germany or Japan.
The fact is situations have changed in both of these countries.
If either population would inherently be lazy or thieving, the changed situation would not have brought about change in behavior.
It is easy to judge and point fingers when disagreeable situation is observed.
Under the surface, however, are always some underlying causes, hard to see and difficult to understand.
To improve the situation, these causes must be pulled up onto the table and dealt with.
The question remains, what to do about corruption?
Transparency International is a global movement working in over 100 countries to end injustice and corruption.
They list 5 key elements to stop corruption:
a. End impunity
b. Reform public administration and financial management.
c. Promote transparency and access to information
d. Empower citizens and
e. Close international loopholes.
Others, like the Inter-American Development Bank, have additional items on their lists as to how to tackle corruption.
In my humble opinion, they all fail in addressing the two primary causes for the corruption, fear, and greed.
You will not find on any website or brochure dealing with corruption and mention of fear or greed when they talk about solution.
If the causes are not dealt with the action is only a dress-up.
Back to Germany and Japan. When the Englishman was traveling through these two countries in the 18th century.
There was no international body dealing with corruption, or “cultural” problems such as pathological lying or thieving.
There were no forums where people were able to express themselves or get advice on how to address such issues.
One wonder then how come these characteristics do not still apply to Germany and Japan today.
Maybe one can find the answer in the social changes that took place in these countries during the last quarter of the 18th and into 19th century.
Strengthening the legal system, transparency, or administration of a government to combat corruption seems to be futile effort if the government is the principal culprit of corruption.
It is not likely that a government will start punishing itself for crimes, when they receive direct benefit from committing these same crimes.
Here we come to a key ingredient in this conversation,
Every time corruption is mentioned the question is if it is being punished, and if so, how severely.
While laws are necessary and the penal code is important, punishment has never solved anything.
Punishment does not work as a deterrent on drugs in the US, or petty theft in the cities of Europe or smuggling or graffiti around the world.
The only thing affected by the punishment is the
person receiving it and the price of the goods in question goes up.
What is the alternative then?
While the penal code and punishment will continue, prevention must be taking place as well, starting with the education system.
Children go through the education system without learning about the value of anything.
They know the price of everything but value of nothing.
Ethics, social/community services, mutual assistance is something students may read about in books but just like carpentry or medicine is not worth much without practice.
In New York, an interesting experiment was conducted. One of the worst, most dangerous, neighborhood was cleaned up, painted and beautified. Immediately crime in the area went down.
Why would that be? Simple, the fear was taken out of the equation.
Corruption thrives on insecurity and fear. If we deal with the fear, the greed can easily be dealt with later.
Greed unfortunately is built into our human DNA.
When all the small things have been taken care of, and only the big, national, and international corruption is left, then that may be dealt with through elections and bigger international forum.
Transparency becomes meaningful when the majority supports it.
Having all political leader’s publicly display their tax reports and personal possessions will make it easier for the public to trust them and for them to work without being accused of something they have not done.
My conclusion is that while corruption is rampant around the world and exist on every level and every corner of human society, those who have been able to control the corruption to some extent have done so by molding their social infrastructure in a way that discourage corruption.
They rely more on social deterrent than punishment, more on the carrot than the stick.
We can not expect society to behave radically different from the officials elected by society, from among members of the society.
Therefore, it is imperative to educate children, teens and adults on the perils of corruption and the damage it causes in the society, emphasizing the suffering of
At the same time, it is important to develop strong, independent press willing to take on and expose corruption wherever it’s found.
- Mr. Thorgeirsson, a Columnist with The scholar Media Africa based in Puerto Rico-USA, is a coach in Personal Finance. He has MBA in Finance and Marketing from Inter Americana University, Puerto Rico. His contact: firstname.lastname@example.org