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UNDERSTANDING CORRUPTION AND ITS MYRIAD FACETS

by SAM KOIM
Corruption, being a very destructive societal disease, is like cancer that eats at every fabric of the society. It comes in various types and stages, ranging from low-level petty corruption to high-level grand corruption. There is no single treatment for this pernicious disease, and literature shows that the best way to combat it is the application of a combination of approaches towards the same goal.
To treat this societal illness, a careful diagnosis must first be undertaken. The diagnoses process will determine the type and stage at which the disease had spread within the society.
For those who care to know more about this hot topic, I have detailed some features of corruption in the following.
THE MYRIAD FACETS OF CORRUPTION
Corruption is like a multifaceted octopus that rears its ugly image in all the facets of the society.
It is an organized crime. Corrupt transactions may transcend agency territorial jurisdictions and span over many different countries. It may involve multiple players, private and government. Some forms of corruption, especially at the higher levels, are orchestrated by very skilful people with the institutional knowledge to bypass detection.
High-level corrupt transactions are usually secretive and organized by people who have the requisite knowledge of the victim industry/agency. It therefore requires skilful corruption investigators to detect. It may also require whistle blowers to come forward and provide the relevant inside information. That may require protection of those informants. In some cases, it might require a party to the illicit transaction to come forward in return for some form of leniency. Corruption investigators have to be vigilant and adept at investigating it.
A single corrupt transaction may pollute an entire government agency. Top-level corruption may involve a patronage arrangement. For instance, if a minister intends to defraud his department, he directs the departmental head, who in turn directs his deputy and the pressure is exerted downwards through the subordinates until the cheque is paid out. Those lower ranking officials who execute the payment may not directly benefit from the improper payment but succumb to top-down pressure in fear of reprisals.
Proceeds of corruption may be laundered through a number of countries in a single day. In today’s technological world, conducting illicit financial transactions spanning a number of countries is possible. This is posing a formidable technical and organizational challenge when it comes to detecting and monitoring these transactions. It requires the cooperation of the victim country as well as those countries tainted by the illicit transfers.
Corruption may be viewed as a moral issue by some, or legal breach by lawyers, or not necessarily a legal offence but an ethical misconduct, or destruction of a political institutions and functions of the State from a political science perspective, or a principal-agent and rent-seeking issue from an economist’s point of view, etc. Different fields see corruption differently as well.
CORRUPTION IS A CULTURAL ISSUE
The prevalence of corruption may reflect the moral health of the society. Its causes may be far deeper and culturally embedded. Corruption is not just a lack of law enforcement issue. It is also a cultural issue. An understanding of corruption entails an understanding of the social contexts that produce and sustain it, such that a change of these contexts would also cause changes in patterns of corruption.
If the general population have the propensity to break rules for private gain, they will always be on the lookout to exploit opportunities. Such an opportunistic culture drives people to proceed on the basis that whatever is not fully protected is up for grabs.
Some forms of corruption may have flourished because the society as a whole tolerates it. For instance, the line between bribery and customary appreciations in the Melanesian culture is often difficult to ascertain as to which is a bribe from customary reciprocal expectations.
Denmark’s culture of honesty evolved over many generations. The integrity systems they have established, called the “Danish Model” had helped to sustain their values and norms.
CORRUPTION REFLECTS INSTITUTIONAL FAILURE
Widespread corruption is a symptom that the state is functioning poorly. It may reflect the health of the nation’s politics. Corruption may also reflect the efficiency of government services. For instance, a lot of bureaucratic taps frustrates business hence bribes are paid to expedite the process.
This may offer some explanations for countries like New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden that do not have centralized Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACA) but are considered as clean countries by the Transparency International’s CPI. New Zealand success is often attributed to it having an accountable and robust national public sector and integrity system that delivers to its people. Denmark’s clean record is attributed to its small population and the quality of government with effective civil service, free press and independent judiciary.
In these clean countries where the systems work, the mere exposing of a corruption scandal is sufficient to attract immediate consequences such as those implicated stepping down from public office, etc. However, in countries where there is an ingrained resistance to accountability, such exposures by the media or watchdog agencies are not effective.
Learned experts warn us that Corruption becomes a major challenge if most of the key institutions of government are weak. Anti-corruption efforts will not be effective in circumstances where essentially every important institution is compromised. Although short-term success is sometimes possible in a dysfunctional environment, the achievements are unlikely to outlive the incumbent regime.
Some political leaders may ascend to power with noble intentions to curb corruption but if they inherit a corrupt regime, it may become politically convenient to turn a blind eye to corruption. In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo, who was considered by many as a man of upright standing, is increasingly becoming a supine leader in the face of insurmountable challenges confronting its anti-corruption agency - Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK). The President inherited a network of corrupt elites in the previous regime who are challenging the work of the KPK.
Ukraine’s ACA known as the National Anti-Corruption Bureau was established in 2015 on the back of a regime change in 2014. The bureau is now facing challenges and resistance from the powerful individuals within the government.
In PNG, we have our own lessons from successive governments on how this pernicious societal disease was or was not addressed.
At the end of the day, once a corruption scandal is exposed, we rely on respective anti-corruption institutions to investigate and take appropriate actions. If those institutions are weak and compromised, nothing will be done about it. It requires the government to take appropriate action to improve those institutions and recruit skilled and honest personnel.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR FIGHTING CORRUPTION?
The burden of combating corruption does not depend on one agency of government or one person. To be successful in combating corruption, it requires a holistic approach. Corruption should become the biggest concern for the country as a whole as its effects are widespread, that it distorts development, diverts resources to the undeserving, and stifles the economy, etc. If corruption denies the public of what is due for them, it matters to them.
THE CURE TO CORRUPTION
When occasional incidences of corruption are not addressed, it engenders a culture of corruption as impunity grows. Such will be curtailed with a strong emphasis on law enforcement which can send a very strong deterrence message. That requires institutional and legislative reforms. However, criminalisation alone is not the only cure for corruption. There must be education and widespread awareness on the issue on how bad this issue is and for people to stay away from it.
The citizens must internalize the moral values. They must have the inclination to do the right thing, not because the wrong things are fully protected, but because it is the right thing to do. The moral restraint is an effective preventative measure for corruption. Once the moral values are internalized, it would generate a natural inclination to avoid conducts that are perceived to be morally wrong.
In Christian perspective, the bible encourages each parent to “Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
A corrupt culture is not immutable but is a malleable behavioral pattern that can change if the environment is fundamentally changed. Countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have come out of a corrupt culture to be where they are.
Just like there may be many causes to corruption, the cure to corruption can be a myriad of responses.
Combating corruption requires the government to demonstrate strong political will to reform and resource anti-corruption institutions, it requires regulatory institutions to effectively regulate and provide oversight to public activities, it requires public officials to be honest and do their jobs without fear or favour, it requires media to continue to expose corruption, it requires public to stand up against corruption, just to mention a few. It requires all our efforts.
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--for those who care to know what we are talking about--