Corruption is the abuse of a position of authority to benefit oneself. This is manifested in bribery, extortion, blackmail, bias in granting favors, as well as, laziness and the dereliction of duty by those paid a salary or a bonus.
Corruption is widespread, and can be found in the highest of public echelons, all the way down to the simple doorman, who is bribed to let in those unauthorized to enter. Some may philosophize, that corruption at the top is worse than the “mere peanuts” that the poor doorman receives, but the principle is the same. By permitting and accepting small corruption, we tacitly condone greater corruption. Where do we draw the line between small negligible corruption, and that which is slightly bigger, and that which is much bigger… and that which is huge?
Corruption is as old as humanity. It existed five thousand years ago in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, two thousand and five hundred years ago in Ancient Greece (where Socrates and Plato complained about it), two thousand years ago in the Roman Empire, etc. It still exists today, although in varying forms depending on each country’s level of development, awareness, culture norms and applicable laws.
Corruption usually thrives in Government organizations, in the elective process among elected officials, in educational institutions and in charitable and religious undertakings. Corruption within the private sector is a shareholders’ problem which they should address directly.
Corruption feeds and grows on:
1. The existence of conflicts of interests in public officials.
2. Unclear public services offered, and their descriptions, prerequisites and conditions.
3. Unsupervised authority granted to officials when carrying out their jobs. And the absence of unified codes and procedures that apply to one and all.
4. Excessive authority granted to senior officials to arbiter problems as they see fit, and which differs from person to person.
5. Absence of transparency.
6. Presence of a social culture that condones or turns a blind eye to corruption, and does not fight it seriously or socially renounces it.
7. And lastly, as Tacitus, the Roman Senator and historian said one thousand and nine hundred years ago, “Corruption is encouraged in the presence of too many laws”.
The Main Evils of Corruption:
1. Differentiates between the members of a society and destroys the concept of fairness and equality.
2. Reduces peoples’ feeling of belonging to a nation, and diverts their loyalty to wherever their toasts are buttered.
3. Increases the costs of private sector projects and reduces their returns, which discourages new investments, slows sown the economy and eliminates the growth of new jobs.
4. Finally, corruption is like a rotten apple, it soon spreads its rot to other apples.
How to Deal with Corruption:
There are different ways to deal with corruption, depending on each country’s level of development and its prevalent culture. But the easiest, cheapest and fastest way is to preempt it, is by closing the loopholes that allow corruption to fester. The most important loophole shutters are:
First: Eliminate the Erratic and Discretionary Nature of Public Services:
1) Fix the work Process: Redraw (and publish) the work process of each and every task in all Government organizations, so as to enable the public to directly measure the quality and speed of the services rendered to them – without the need to plead or pay for the intervention of officials.
2) List the Services Available: List all the public services rendered by the Government offices together with a full description of the prerequisites for each service (documentary or otherwise). This ensure citizens are fully aware of their rights, and prevents officials from willfully rejecting their lawful requests.
3) Exceptional Cases: Each exceptional case must be studied and minuted by a specialized committee.
4) Purchases: The Government’s buying requirements must be expressed through clear descriptions, specifications and advertised early enough to include the maximum participants. Supplier offers must be assessed by a specialized committee, and its minutes made public immediately.
5) Supplier’s Comments: All suppliers should be required to submit their comments on each purchasing job they participated in, regardless of whether they were awarded the job or not. This is to expose any practices they deem as unfair.
6) Variation Orders: An official investigation must be carried out for each variation order, so as to discover its cause and assess if any negligence or collusion was involved, and hold that person or party responsible.
7) Penalties: All penalties, individual or corporate, must be studied by a specialized committee, and its finding minuted and made public, to assure every citizen that he is not being singled out, and that the law applies to all.
8) Appointments: All public employee appointments should be subjected to identical qualifications and prerequisites for each job or task. This may be supplemented by blind vocational or professional tests, or, if necessary by a lottery.
9) Acceptances in Universities and Similar: Should follow the “Appointments” procedure above.
Second: Dealing with Conflicts of Interest:
Must reconfirm the ban on public officials holding private jobs or engaging in business. This includes dealing with companies owned by related parties up to the third degree. Also, full annual financial disclosures must be demanded from public officials.
Third: Reduce the Number of Laws:
Too many laws impede smooth operations and encourage the growth of corruption. The worst are the unclear poorly defined laws, contradictory laws and temporary regulations that are no longer valid nor practical, but have been forgotten by those who issued them.
Fourth: Instill an Anti-Corruption Culture:
This is the duty of the school, the Mosque and a well-designed public information and propaganda campaign.
Fifth: Activate the Anti-Corruption Agency:
As the detailed Anti-Corruption Agency bylaws have, at long last, been issued, the Agency should embark in full force on its war against corruption. However, it should not restrict itself to financial disclosures or whistle-blowers, but take the initiative and expand its targets to include the direct investigation of the many hot-beds of corruption. Also, it should take advantage of the international anti-corruption laws and conventions, which provide a wealth of information of payments and bribes by foreign companies to corrupt officials and middlemen.
The above are the initial steps to deal with corruption, but they will not succeed, unless a new anti-corruption culture emerges in the society. This reminds us of a dialogue two thousand and five hundred years ago, between Socrates, the philosopher, and his disciples. When Socrates asked their views on Injustice (including corruption), they all disdained injustice except for one disciple, who stated that injustice is a good way to accumulate wealth. When Socrates reprimanded him, and reminded him that the Gods punish the unjust, he responded that the Gods love and forgive those who make offerings and sacrifices to them, and accordingly, he will seek to accumulate wealth unjustly and then allocate ten percent of his wealth as offerings and sacrifices to the Gods, thus obtaining their forgiveness.
In spite of living in the twenty first century, many present day corrupt individuals still think with the same flawed logic of that pagan disciple two thousand years ago!