What is Corruption?
Corruption is operationally defined as the misuse of entrusted power for selfish gain. Corruption can be defined as the deal according to rule and against the rule. Facilitation of payments where a bribe is paid to receive preferentially is not only a bribe but corruption.
On the other hand, when a bribe paid to obtain services unfairly; the briber and the recipient are both corrupt. In its real sense, corruption means any abuse of a position of trust in order to gain an undue advantage. Corruption is in one way contagious as it affects society far and wide. Corruption can occur in relation to officials as well as between private persons. It is particularly prevalent in certain kinds of transactions for example when awarding public contracts. Corrupt practices can range from small favours in anticipation of future advantage to the payment of large sums of money or unreasonable gifts to senior members of an influential organization.
Corruption generates the destruction, ruining and the spoiling of society and indeed the nation. A corrupt society stops valuing integrity, virtue and moral principles. In fact, society changes for the worse because it begins to decay and sets itself on the road to self-destruction. All the same, corruption is an age-old phenomenon caused by selfishness and greed.
What kind of environment does corruption need to thrive?
The most visible form of corruption in Africa is the political one which is the abuse of powers by state officials for personal gains. Even in our time, a keen observer can note that nations which were once flourishing have disintegrated because of corrupt leaders. Nations with the tyrannical ruling elite who think they are smart and ignore punishing the corrupt within, end up destroying the nation. Corruption thrives where temptation coexists with permissiveness. Visible forms of corruption include extortion, graft, bribery, cronyism, nepotism, embezzlement and patronage. Corruption allows criminal activities such as money laundering, extortion and drug trafficking to thrive under national protection. Corruption in all its forms thrives worldwide with bribery alone crossing one trillion US dollars annually. Unchecked political corruption is known as a kleptocracy, which literally means “rule by thieves”.
Where institutional checks on power are missing, where decision making remains obscure, where civil society is thin on the ground, where great inequalities in the distribution of wealth condemn people to live in poverty. Corruption cannot be divorced from sick economics. In societies where traditional, religious, ethical teaching and standards of morality are weak, corruption thrives. For these values to be revived among people, the religious leaders the judiciary, the law enforcement agencies and the education sector have an important role to play.
What necessitates bribery and corruption?
At times, bribes are given to avoid punishment. For some people, being corrupt is a way to get what they desire. Societies that ignore the value of justice, the syndrome of corruption become a way of life. People getting very low wages feel they have to demand bribes in order to lead decent lives. But they do not realize that this corruption will end up affecting beneficiaries permanently. Corruption hinders economic growth and deters social investment. The impact of development assistance is reduced and natural resources are overexploited causing further harm to the community’s environmental assets. Resources are diverted from sectors that urgently need them, such as education and health to trivial ones such as travels. Where corruption is rife, the rule of law is eroded to the extent that the whole nation becomes a thief.
Can democracy resist corruption?
In a modern democracy, the power of governing bodies is inherent in the political mandate given by the people. Power is entrusted and it is supposed to be used for the benefit of the whole society instead of the personal benefit of the individual that holds it. Since corruption misuses openly the power entrusted to members who matter, then in the end even democracy gets corrupted as the temptation to steal becomes a challenge anywhere. It is important to put in place control mechanisms and establish systemic hurdles to prevent people from abusing their power. Formation of conscience is one sure way of combating this menace. Society can fight corruption by letting the state know that they have had enough of it. The authorities move very quickly when the Press most especially radio and television name openly the corrupt.
There is an old axiom often applied to those with political positions that money corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Citizens need to agree that abuse of any public office is immoral and punishable as a criminal offence. Some forms of corruption may escape legal notice, such as the hiring of relatives for key positions but they may not escape the scrutiny of a watchful and informed public. Corruption is cancer on the integrity of any institution and nation. People created in the image of God should be honest.
What are the costs of corruption?
New public officials begin their careers with the intention of becoming corrupt-free but later succumb to a sinister form of peer pressure. Being placed in a position of significant political power can be overwhelming, and the temptation to bend or break rules for a perceived “greater good” is always in view. The cost of corruption is five-fold: political, economic, social, moral and environmental. On the political front, corruption constitutes a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of lawmaking officers and institutions lose their legitimacy. Though this is harmful in the established democracies, it is even more so in newly emerging political theories. Accountable political leadership cannot develop in a corrupt climate.
Economically, corruption leads to the depletion of national wealth. It is often responsible for the funnelling scarce public resources to uneconomic high-profile projects imaginary projects, such as valley dams, pipelines and refineries, at the expense of less spectacular but more necessary infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and roads, electricity and water to rural areas. Furthermore, it hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, thereby deterring investment.
The effect of corruption on the social fabric of society is the most damaging of all. It undermines people’s trust in all system of leadership. Frustration and general apathy among a disillusioned public result in a weak civil society. That, in turn, clears the way for despots as well as democratically bankrupt political leaders to turn national assets into personal benefits. Demanding and paying bribes to become the norm. Those unwilling to comply often emigrate, leaving the country drained of its most able and most honest citizens. On the moral aspect, the corrupt person loose view of others and imagine to be the only person in need. The person thinks that the beginning and the end can only be determined from the benefiting side. Environmental degradation is yet another consequence of corrupt systems. The lack of environmental regulations allows climatic change to affect the country with consequential results. At the same time, careless exploitation of natural resources among them timber and minerals by both domestic and international agents end up causing irreversible environmental degradation thus killing innocent citizens as money into private pockets accumulate.
Can the costs of corruption be quantified?
The short answer is “no”. Some experts use regression analyses and other empirical methods in order to try to put a dollar figure on the cost of corruption. It is virtually impossible since payments of bribes are not publicly recorded. No one knows exactly how much money is being “invested” in corrupt officials annually. This is because bribes do not take only monetary form; in fact; favours, services, presents and so on are just as common. At most, one can research the correlation between the level of corruption and, say, democratization, economic development or environmental degradation are losing the ground. The social costs of corruption are even less quantifiable but it disastrous. No one knows how much the loss of an energetic entrepreneur or an acclaimed scientist costs a country. Moreover, any estimated social costs in shillings would be inadequate to the task of measuring the human tragedy behind the resignation, illiteracy, or inadequate medical care as we have even witnessed around us in recent times. But even if one were able to calculate the damage, the increase of the debt burden and other factors, how would one measure the erosion of public confidence and the deterioration of a government’s legitimacy which are the direct result of corruption?
How can we stop corruption?
Around the globe, corruption impacts people’s lives in a multitude of ways. In the worst cases, corruption costs human lives which are irreplaceable. Grand and petty corruption are making life more difficult for everybody. The quality and impact of living in a corrupt-free nation depends on patriotism and a life of profound commitment and biblical values. All citizens must listen to their conscience and do what it takes to respect the rule law. No one can claim to be corrupt-free, what is called upon is a spirit of vigilance in keeping alive the essential dimension of honesty. Churches and more so the Catholic Church has the obligation of being the conscience of the nation. In the process of maintaining corrupt-free deals, we become models whom the society will desire always to imitate. Let us not be afraid to speak to people about honest living and to introduce them by our own example to life. It is not only thieves who are rich. Even a lot of honest people are rich and even generous. Let us make sure that we became rich only in the right way and then all of us will be happy. To be corrupt free we need to be prudent, intelligent, moderate, courageous, willing to sacrifice, wise and educated. Let us build a corrupt-free society anywhere we live.
Fr Paulino Mondo