Call it a favour in Germany, small help in the Honduras or Gombi, Beer, taxi or even “le tschoko” in Cameroon, the words used for corruption are as diverse as its manifestations from bribery to fraud and from cronyism to an end with serious consequences.

Author Uta Mühleis:

Translation Rima Hanano, 03.01.10

A young boy in India rushes his mother to hospital. As she is being transferred to the ward the boy requests the worker to handle his mother carefully. The worker retorts and says: ‘You take care of me first; I will take care of your mother after that’. The above real life incident took place some 15 odd years ago. Maybe it was a different time then but corruption is an ongoing problem in many parts of the world. The numerous corruption scandals that make the headlines and flicker on small screens make this evident. Corruption is a global problem that knows no borders and it affects all strata of society.

It could be said that it is the only omnipresent factor which is so present in our everyday life that we have stopped noticing it. Be it in education, healthcare, the justice system or in the bureaucracy, corruption pervades every nook and cranny of our lives. Corruption is the misuse of public power for ones’ own private gain. Transparency International and the World Bank see in corruption the biggest obstacle to achieving development and fighting poverty. The resources provided by these organisations are wasted by greedy politicians and the recipients in the particular countries never see returns on their country’s assets. The World Bank places the losses incurred by corruption at 12 percent of the world’s GDP. The list of politicians, presidents and prime ministers misappropriating public money while their people suffe, is endless.

The Effects of Corruption

Corruption deters lasting development because it leads to the wasting of public funds and resources. Corruption also impedes the political,  economic and social development of a country. According to Transparency international (TI) the economic damage from corruption is estimated at 4 % of the worldwide economic performance. Moreover, corruption leads to human rights violations in many countries. Vital resources such as water and food are available at very high prices and access to basic needs like education and health care is made difficult or even impossible, in some cases. Matters are made worse by the fact that the corrupted judiciary turns a blind eye to the rule of law.

Where is Corruption present?

Although corruption is a worldwide threat, there is a difference in levels corruption between rich and poor nations. According to a study by Transparency International, 20 % of interviewed households in the Asia Pacific region and Africa pay bribes when interacting with members of the judicial system. In contrast to this, „only“ 2 % of interviewed households in western countries and the EU pay bribes. Especially vulnerable to corruption are crisis-ridden countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan and Iraq (tie) as well as countries rich in resources like  Cameroon.
Singapore, Denmark and New Zealand were seen as the least corrupt countries on the list (see Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index).

The five most corrupt countries:
1. Somalia
2. Afghanistan
3. Myanmar
4. Sudan
5. Iraq (tie)

The five least corrupt countries:
1. New Zealand
2. Denmark
3. Singapore
4. Sweden (tie)
5. Switzerland

Corruption is widespread in India and has become a big threat in the last years. India is ranked 84 out of a 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index  as well in  „Global Corruption Report 2009“ and stands far behind Brazil, China and Mexico. According to a study of Transparency International India and the Centre for Media Study (CMS) from 2008, between November 2007-Januar 2008 Indian households paid on average 8,830 million Rupees (212 million US Dollars) as bribes for basic civic facilities such as water, education and healthcare.

Reasons for Corruption

Corruption is caused by multiples factors and the corruption conducted by high-ranking politicians and officials in economically weak countries has an international dimension. Bribes often come from multinational companies situated in the richest countries in the world. For example, Siemens has been accused of having paid 10 million euro as bribes to Nigerian cabinet members in the years 2001-2004. According to TI, Nigeria belongs to the 35 most corrupt nations in the world. At the same time, tardy administrative systems, ineffective financial organization and above all ,a lack of transparency in many countriespave the way for corrupt activities. In Peru,  it can take up to 289 days to legally create a small business. The official licensing procedure for a building of a house can take up to six years. Moreover, one must consult with an official authority up to 28 times, to obtain a property document. Bribes have thus become commonplace and are effectively the only means of accelerating these slow-acting administrative machineries or to make sure that the very often under-paid personnel in the government service performs his duty. Governments that prevent the freedom of expression and the liberty of the press such as in  Zimbabwe and Honduras or Italy that meekly accepts and tolerates the concentration of media power in the hands of individuals have shown high levels of corruption . Let’s take another example, India: Around one hundred ministers  are supposed to be responsible for the protection of our forests and wildlife. However,  trackers, foresters and other workers are not just underpaid but also often do not receive their salaries on time. The millions of rupees that the government spends to preserve trees and to maintain parks seems not to be direced where it is needed. This often results in the forest officials turning a blind eye, passing the buck or blaming another government department whenever there is an elephant death due to electrification or a tiger death by poisoning. We need to use the RTI (Right to Information Act) to make sure the people responsible have to answer uneasy questions pertaining to their inertia and their duty.

Flighting Corruption

“Corruption is a 10 headed monster which cannot be fought the same time” said Rigoberto Cuellar, the coordinator of the anti-corruption drive in Honduras. We in India can understand this as the monster Ravana whose heads have to be dealt with one by one. Probably, the  most effective means of fighting against corruption is to improve transparency in all spheres of government action. Free and independent media make an important contribution in the fight against corruption. NGOs such as Transparency international (TI), which rank among the prominent global organizations in the fight against corruption, strive for this cause. TI publishes an annual corruption report  in which counties are listed according to their corruption perception index (=the degree of the corruption felt with office-holders and politicians). Other international anti-corruption efforts such as the OECD convention ,are also present in the fight against malignant corruption. It places the bribery of foreign office-holders under punishment. Another example is the UN-convention (UNCAC – UN-convention against Corruption) which calls upon governments to punish bribery and corruption.

Sources, Links und Information about the subject Corruption

OECD, Fighting Corruption.
The Hindu (2008), BPL households worst hit by corruption.
The World Bank, Anticorruption.
Transparency International India.
Transparency International, Global Corruption Barometer 2009.
Transparency International, Global Corruption Report 2009.

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