I can understand why formulation of “anti-corruption” policies is never mentioned in the targets or indicators of the UN MDG’s, in correlation to poverty and economic growth. I presume the subject matter may not be within the realm of UN’s aims, duties and functions, as provided for in its charter. However, there is a vague reference to it wherein one of the targets included in MD Goal No. 8 is a commitment from the world leaders to “good governance”, by supporting, among others, transparency and accountability at all levels but said indicator is specifically geared towards allocation and spending of international aid and donations only. Based on my recollection, “governance” is a high-tech jargon coined by the donors which involves several things including power and politics where donors themselves may not be able to interfere. Outside of this “good governance” box, however, there is no mention on how to address the systemic graft and corrupt practices in other forms by some people from both the public and the private sector that are prevalent in third world and developing countries. I think neglecting the problem of corruption, be it petty or large scale, in any poverty reduction goals may be futile as we all know that corruption in any form is undoubtedly, not just a perception, a major deterrent to poverty eradication.
As you may be aware, corruption happens not only in third world or least developed economies but also in rich, developed and industrialized countries such as the US. Thus, it is present in all government societies regardless of level of income and development, location, race, culture and traditions. However, the degree of impact of corruption, as one of the causes of poverty, is rampant and is adversely felt more among the poorer nations where some people are susceptible to accepting and committing all forms of corruption activities, which include among others, misuse and abuse of power, fraud, bribery, extortion, collusion, embezzlement, “kickbacks”, money laundering, nepotism, or even undue influence and the like.
I recall in my home country, most or if not all of the politicians running for higher office would like to associate themselves with the poor. As part of their strategies, they go to urban slum areas and remotest towns and villages with promises of high hopes and aspirations, i.e. improve people’s lives and ultimately help them get rid of their miserable plights. One recent winning candidate even has this slogan, which says, “When no one is corrupt, no one gets poor”. This only shows that corruption is still prevalent and permeates in every level of society, from local and national governments, judiciary functions, big ticket and small companies, military services and so on and so forth. How do we explain this? Oh, in so many ways. I just don’t want to delve in this blog the nitty-gritty of the transactions which I myself have observed in my long years in public service. We all know it’s happening but majority of us either turn a deaf ear or wear a blind eye for certain reasons beyond our control. As I said earlier, corruption is not just a perception but is actually happening both upstream and downstream, especially those people engaged in front line operations or people entrusted with revenue generating activities and with “juicy” positions, so to speak.
While I do agree with some schools of thoughts that bad macro-economic policies and fiscal reforms adopted by certain poorer Governments as a result of negotiations with multilateral agencies (e.g. World Bank, IMF, etc), may have posed threats to economic recovery, I still consider corruption as one of the major causes, and likewise one of the effects of poverty, (it’s a “chicken and egg” situation”). I hate to say this, but this is the truth, corruption in the bureaucracy can be likened to a dreadful disease which may be hard to resolve in its final stage. I don’t know why some groups don’t consider it as a serious problem. Is it because they are either guarded by their own rules, or afraid to encroach on other’s turf, or worried they might break their “hard-earned” local or international/bilateral relationships? I don’t have answers to these series of questions for now but only time can tell.
As Karl Kraus said, “corruption is worse than prostitution” which means that committing any kind of corruption activities is far morally horrible than engaging into prostitution considering that the former will ever jeopardize not only the morality of the corrupt person but the morality of the entire country as well. The consequence of a large deal of corruption, for instance diverting funds intended for a noble purpose to someone or to few individuals personal gain, can be devastating to the concerned individuals and those around them. A classic example is one of a top ranking official in Asia where she stood trial with her cohorts for embezzling about 300,000 dollars (depositing certain fund donations to her family’s personal trust fund accounts) which was originally intended to build a state orphanage. Before the charges and the trial happened, said prominent lady official was included in Forbes list of the world’s 50 most powerful women. Truly, the act of corruption itself does not only affect one’s persona (in this particular case the lady top official dropped instantly from glory to humiliation), but it also contributes making a particular economy poorer without any conscience to humanity (particularly the impoverished people) and the country’s future generations.
As mentioned in my previous blog on poverty, the Government’s leadership of a certain economy can trap poverty if there’s political will and political direction to do it. Candidly, there’s political will from Governments most of the times, but do they have the heart to do it? There seems to be no sincere commitment as some of the leaders themselves who were responsible for instituting anti-corruption policies may have been allegedly guilty of amassing the State’s wealth in their favor. At present, there are local (e.g. ombudsman offices) and international (e.g. Transparency International) watchdogs which acts as overseers, monitors and prosecutors for corruption related activities throughout the world. There are also civil society and advocacy organizations and some media which supports in this endeavor.
Believe me, the issue of corruption, as insurmountable as it is, can not be eliminated by said credible organizations and crusaders alone, much more overnight or just by a click of a finger, particularly if it’s already widespread. It’s worrisome that such ill-fated activities appear to be ingrained in the system, considered as a way of life, or a norm in an organization where management and employees tolerate the existence of corruption and no longer bother about their values and integrity and just couldn’t care less about the adverse effects of what they’re doing. Some of them may have been wrongly informed or may have skewed existing rules and regulations, or may have learned to rationalize that doing so is part and parcel of their day-to-day operations; that it is okay for them to receive bribes in exchange for a swift delivery of public service or to expedite a needed public document and so on and so forth. Based on a study conducted by the World Bank, petty corruption was endemic in all sectors in almost all countries, and this is more vexing as it involves the delivery of basic public services to the poor, such as healthcare, education, power, land administration, taxation, military, police and judiciary. However, I don’t discount the fact that there are “good guys”, decent men and women in Government and business which do not engage in corruption activities. Thus, if only all people from both the public and private sector will abide with the rules and regulations, just like the “good guys” , would it be fair to say that corruption can actually be eradicated? Does it mean that corruption involves or affects one’s values alone?
In the penultimate paragraph of my previous blog on poverty, it was indicated that poverty can be eradicated with proper Government policies, right attitude and participation from all of us. I will also clamor for the same thing, that corruption can be reduced, eliminated or cured if only all of us will start to change, change of our attitudes is of utmost importance, starting from the leader to the bottom. However, I believe corruption is not just about ethics, it has to be side by side with a well managed bureaucracy coupled with transparency, accountability, institutional checks and balances, dedication and loyalty to the service. There are existing civil service rules and regulations or policies within the respective offices, governing public servants as far as discipline, spending, saving, property ownership and the like, which are meant to prevent them from engaging in said unhealthy practices, and if these are property enforced (i.e. if caught and punished for corrupt behavior), there may be no corrupt people in any organization.
There have been success stories where attitude change was promoted and utilized by certain Governments as a measure and solution to eradicate corruption. The Hong Kong Government for instance, specifically thru its Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), adopted a long term, three-pronged approached, one major strategy of which is to educate the people about attitudinal change putting emphasis on integrity and moral values. Educating the people did not only include behavioral change, proper attitudes but also changing faulty conviction and beliefs. Children in schools in fact were not only informed about the implications of corruption related activities but it also included a process to instill values. As a result, thousands of people volunteered, in addition to advocacy organizations and media, have been enlisted to support in the battle against corruption. Said strategy proved successful, turning a once upon a time most corrupt place to a clean Hong Kong nation.
With the Hong Kong Government’s encouraging experience, it is neither impossible nor unrealistic that other nations would not be able to replicate and successfully do it. Only skeptical people who have reservations and often reacts with a shoulder shrug doubting certain leaders ability to promote change, certainly should have no place in the society. These are the people who are complacent, lukewarm and consider corruption as inevitable. What is needed are people who have the passion and the willingness to change for the better. As we’ve learned, battling corruption is definitely not a one-man show, it requires a concerted effort from all of us. As the song goes, “No man is an island, No man stands alone, Each man’s joy is joy to me, Each man’s grief is my own”. How I wish everyone would sincerely help each other someday, especially to those in need, the poor ones.
May I end this blog quoting an excerpt from a speech of one of the leaders in South East Asia, prescribing a simple cure for poverty and corruption:
“We can only end poverty, if we fight corruption and this is where everyone has a major role to play. It can be done in simple ways, by showing common courtesy to strangers, by paying taxes, by following traffic rules, and by disposing of our waste property”.
“We can do even more by reporting any wrongdoing that might be brought to our attention. Let us challenge ourselves and our leaders to brave the straight path”.
Oh yes, let’s challenge ourselves to make a change in our lives, to change our attitudes. Let’s challenge our leaders, demand action and hold them accountable. This is a call for all the people throughout the world. Remember, battling poverty and corruption merely requires simple ways!
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