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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Is corruption inevitable?
Corruption is back in the spotlight following the jailing of France's former foreign minister, Roland Dumas.
Mr Dumas was caught in a huge web of corruption centred around the state oil giant Elf Aquitaine. But his is not the only recent case.
In the Philippines, former president Joseph Estrada is being prosecuted for illegal enrichment. Senior Indian politicians were recently filmed taking bribes from fake arms dealers.
And this is only the highly visible side of corruption. Every day, ordinary people have to bribe just to get basic services, like a telephone or an official document.
Is corruption inevitable? What is the cost of all this backhand dealing, and who is paying it? What is it like in your country?
Lyse Doucet was joined by Jeremy Pope from Transparency International for Talking Point on Air, a radio phone-in programme on BBC World Service. You can add to the debate by using the form below.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I had an accident with a cyclist. He got hurt and was bleeding. I sent him to hospital in an auto rickshaw and went to police station to register the accident. The police demanded Rs.200 to take complaint. To push the case quickly, the police demanded another 200. Then, after two weeks I appeared before the judge in the court. The judge and lawyer had a tie. If I don't pay 100 for judge, then judge would penalize me for Rs.1000. Otherwise I would pay Rs.500 as penalty and Rs.100 for judge. To accept the penalty, the cashier in the court demanded Rs.25. With whom can I lodge a complaint? Or where do you want to bang your head? I slowly learnt to forgive 99 dirty creatures for one good soul. Human is predatory, nothing satisfies him.
Pete Swinford, Lafayette, Indiana, USA
The history of corruption is as old as mankind and as such has eaten deep into the fabric of all societies. Anyone that thinks he can eradicate corruption is performing an impossible task. However, it can be curtailed.
Of course, corruption is inevitable if the wrong leaders are in power. Politicians are human beings and part of our role as voters, in such countries as can vote, is to make a judgement of the candidates to decide who is a moral being and who is not. That is not to say we should not be tough on those politicians who are corrupt; they deserve everything they get. But in a democracy, the only people with the power to make things better are the common voters.
Corruption will always occur as long as there are greedy and self-serving people in positions of power and influence. Trying to wipe out corruption is a waste of time - it will always happen, either openly or discreetly. The trick is not to get caught - a trick that obviously Dumas never learnt.
Leigh, USA (UK orig)
Corruption is like cancer. It spreads like cancer. There is no cure for corruption. It is everywhere. In India it is also everywhere. You can't stop it. It is like an everyday thing. You have to give bribe in order to get your work done. If you don't take bribe, you will get your transfer order next day. If the top politicians take bribe, then who will stop the lower working class people to take bribe? It all starts from the top. I wish someone could find a cure for corruption.
Corruption is a social ill that spares no people, no colour, no social stratum and no country. However, it is very relative and manifests itself in various forms but gnaws the pride of the people, thwarts bureaucracies and perverts justice. Corruption could run from sexual favours, appointments to under-table cash. But though done in secret, corruption can never and will never be buried. Even when we succeed to bury it, years after it will resurrect and witness against its very fathers and mothers.
Kus, KTM, Nepal
There is nowhere that is totally free of corruption as long as people are involved. There is little overt corruption in Canada, but it is always difficult to see problems in your own house. There are places in the world where corruption is a way of life. I believe that penalties for persons in positions of authority or political power should be very high. Because they are in authority, they must be held to the highest possible standard and, when caught, pay the highest possible price for the abuse of that authority. No one is perfect, but we expect those in positions of trust to be trustworthy.
As Alexander Hamilton put it so succinctly, "if angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary".
As regards corruption, anyone who observes and understands human nature and human behaviour would have to be brain dead to think that corruption is not a basic feature in human activity. It is too bad that here in the USA we cannot do something to reduce the amount of corruption, but we cannot.
Joe Ryan, Paris, France
I'm sure that regardless of where they are, politicians the world over enjoy a bit of corruption now and then. It might be interesting to find out if those higher-ranking politicians have participated, though. They may have been clever enough not to get caught out.
Corruption in the USA is not as bad on a personal level, as in the Philippines or in Mexico. However, on another level, it can be amazing. The way political campaigns are funded explains just why George Bush Jr was appointed president and his many activities as Governor of Texas. Big oil got exemptions from pollution regulations. Forming a union will get you fired. Public health is a shame, but we do have great highways.
Defeating corruption requires vigilance. Vigilance requires the selfless efforts of a critical mass of moral individuals in society to help stomp out corruption. Unfortunately the contemporary social attitude is pure self-absorption, and society is increasingly full of apathy and full of the unpatriotic. The corrupt love the lazy and love those who quietly enjoy seeing harm being done - so corruption prevails.
People are only human and ALL human beings are prone to succumbing to temptation. How about installing a complex, moderated computer system to run governments around the world? You can't bribe a machine!
Phil W, Bristol, UK
In Scotland, parliament voted on some legislation to compensate fishermen, only for the executive to overturn the democratic will of the people because it didn't suit them. If that was done in a country like Iraq it would be considered the height of corruption, yet in voting-apathetic Britain this is accepted without fuss. That's democracy for you: politicians are allowed to be corrupt, but only with the tacit consent of the people.
Debebe D, London, UK
Living as we humans do, bribery, corruption, or lobbying is our ancient method of bartering. What we need is to have a global governance representative of the people working at the grassroots level, so that no human is poor and no human is exceedingly rich, as wealth is measured where I live as your health. Oiling the wheel of the machine just means someone else gets crushed in the process. Working to one peaceful, loving end is the only way on a large scale.
Corruption is inevitable. Human nature makes it unavoidable.
The easiest way to stop petty corruption in society is to forget the concept that all services should be supplied equally to all people. This is a very hard step to take and to some extent undermines the equality of citizens in a society. But it is the correct step.
In this part of Switzerland people talk of "copinage" - a sort of "it's who you know". It is considered quite normal by respectable individuals to use links with people they know to get jobs, obtain favours or even avoid police punishment. Is this corruption?
In developing countries corruption is rife because wages are really low. It is accepted as part of life by the people and viewed merely as a means of oiling the machinery to get daily activities done smoothly without hassle.
Corruption takes many forms and in developed countries it is camouflaged as lobbying. Multinational corporations pay for costly political campaigns and when their candidate wins it is pay back time.
As long as society is capital orientated, corruption is inevitable. We're living in a society where everyone wants to amass as much wealth as he/ she can. Someone wants to be a millionaire, and a millionaire wants to be a billionaire. So some will try dubious means to get to the top quicker.
Everywhere you go you see corruption. I've just come back from Syria and couldn't believe what I saw - you have to pay for everything there. At the airport I even had to pay for my passport so that I could get it earlier than other people.
In my country corruption used to be common practice everywhere from a higher level to the lower grass roots. It was becoming part of our traditional cultural values and it was feared that it might not be controlled by the government of Pakistan. Now things have changed a bit under the military regime. But it is still a far-fetched idea to say that corruption can be removed from the world. It's like a contagious disease which has infected the whole structure of government.
Edward, Zug, Switzerland
I'm from Ecuador in South America where corruption is just part of our lives. Two years ago I got my ID and driver's licence stolen from my car. The right thing to do was to go and apply for them again. But it was a process that could take too long, so I did what everybody else does, I paid someone to get the documents for me.
Should we leave behind or give tips when a service is rendered? Should we give presents on birthdays or during festive seasons? If 'yes' to all of the above, are we not practising and encouraging a kind of corruption?
Werner L. Stunkdl, Lake Forest, Illinois, USA
Having had the "good fortune" of attending
a private school in one of the most highly corrupt countries
in the world (Bangladesh), I was able to see corruption in
action from very close quarters. I was surrounded by the sons
and daughters of the elite, most of whom have amassed their
enormous fortunes, courtesy of rampant corruption.
What is corruption? Accepting an expensive pair of shoes for turning a blind eye to the activities of a friendly company is. But surely, so is accepting campaign funds from big corporations and then reneging on global environmental treaties? It's just that little bit harder to be caught red-handed.
Is there any country in this world that is not corrupt? Corruption exists because there is a giver and a taker. The giver corrupts because he wants the rules to be bent so that he can make a quick profit. The taker need corrupt money to satisfy his. As long as there is greed in a society there will be corruption. One might say India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and the Philippines are the most corrupt of all nations in the world. I would include USA. The American President is elected through a complicated system that paves the way for business lobbies to fund parties for future favours. Just one example; no president would go against China trade in spite of human rights violations because of American investments in China. This is an example of indirect corruption.
As appeared on these web pages and in the Economist, the least corrupt nation in the world is Finland. As an Englishman living here for a few years now, I can understand why. The Finns are also the third most competitive nation in the world in terms of economic performance, government and business efficiency and infrastructure (Time May 7th from World Competitiveness Yearbook). This proves that it can pay not to be corrupt and still be very effective in business.
Kadavul, San Jose, USA
It takes a strong character to withstand temptation in high places...
Bribery, corruption, embezzlement has always been with us - its human nature. I think the 95% of people, given the opportunity, would accept a bribe - if they thought that no one would know.
Accepting that corruption is widespread, albeit a lot less obvious in first world countries than in developing or third world countries, the problem is that those who see it and report it are the losers. How can this be changed? How can the "whistle blower" be supported and upheld?
Chris W Whybrow, Baguio City, Philippines
I thought the whole reason that bureaucracies were invented wasn't to eliminate corruption, but to minimize corruption by compartmentalizing and limiting the damage that anyone person can do.
But methinks the paradigm has changed in the age of automation, as now a single person in the right spot with the inclination and skill can wreak havoc.
I guess the comment about "Power corrupts" comes to peoples mind, but I don't take that negative view. It assumes that everybody is corruptible, it assumes the concept of original sin to be true.
I think it is more accurate to say: "Power attracts the corruptible". There can be honesty in politics/business/etc, but we are force-fed a diet of movies and media that tell us that everyone has skeletons in their closet. The majority no longer look for, hope for nor expect honesty, and the expectation breeds the result.
Power simply corrupts, and that is why we should simply not trust people with power, be it a politician or the saint next door!
The issue of corruption will never go away until we reach the Utopia, where everybody's dreams of a better life have been fulfilled. As long as poverty, class, hegemony of control, etc exist there will be corruption. "What is in it for me?", as I call it here in Kenya, will continue to bring down politicians, and other people of power. In West Africa the Ibos say "He who brings kola brings life", I think this is corruption in the essence of the struggle to excel, in today's rat-race job market and super profit goals.
Where there is power there is corruption, always has been always will be...
In my country we had so much corruption. We were in major debt with our allies and our financial connections for example with the World Funds. We were in so much trouble when Nawaz Sharif was in power...he was found to have taken most of the money and saved it for himself. Our military decided enough is enough and ousted the money hungry PM out of office. This year I came back to see the country I had once left and saw a major positive change. There are more jobs, less poverty, more water, more food, more security and the list goes on. It is good to have an uncorrupt regime. So whatever the world says about us getting back to democracy, they should first see what kind of corruption they have in their government.
Corruption is part of us. We all want to hook some up or if we want something done and we know someone, we consider it easily done. It is ingrained in our speech when we say that we know the right people or "we have the right contacts". These right contacts may have to bend a little too, in order to accommodate our requests. Basically when one person causes the other to be corrupt, none of them is less guilty than the other. But as long as our mentality remains like this, we are destined to be a corrupt race, some more than others.
A certain amount is inevitable. Certainly reliance on economic systems with little or no competition for services, where success is determined by who one knows is more than what one knows, virtually guarantees a higher level of corruption. This is obviously true for more strongly socialist systems because one party (the government) provides so many of life's services or make all of the decisions and they are a monopoly.
Corruption is only inevitable if your organisation has poor systems of control, lazy management and an ethos of corruption. Something that cannot be said about our much maligned public services. Our civil service as an example is probably one of the finest in the world well controlled and full of people with a genuine public servant spirit. How easily such ideals are lost if they are not nurtured.
Unfortunately this seems to be the way of things these days. There is such a focus in society on being rich that greed has taken over. People are susceptible to money, at the end of the day, we all need it, but we cannot stop at what we need, we have to have more. To get to the position of importance, unfortunately it may be necessary to get there by not strictly legitimate means, as if you don't act underhandedly, someone else will. Unfortunately the good guys rarely win these days.
Yes, in any organization where power and money flow freely corruption is going to and does happen. However we must remember that a lot of our politicians become civil servants out of a feeling of duty and a bond with their fellow citizens. Many truly want to serve their neighbours and do whatever they can to make sure their concerns are voiced. It is sad a few bad apples ruin the perception of our elected officials.
Kapali Viswanathan, Brisbane, Australia. (Indian)
The issue of "corruption" is not very well defined; personally, I broadly translate the word as "abuse of power". In this case, corruption is everywhere. Businessmen earning half a million pounds a year surely do not do enough work to merit that amount of money! The only demarcation line between Estrada, Dumas and the boss of Railtrack is the issue of legality. Morally, however, these cases are the same.
Peillex andré, NANTES, FRANCE
30 May 01 | Europe
Mitterrand ally guilty of corruption
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Heads roll in India bribery scandal
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
What next for Estrada?
06 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
High cost of corruption in Philippines
28 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Wahid cleared of corruption
10 May 01 | Americas
Brazil talks tough over corruption
06 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Corruption suspensions in Malaysia
04 May 01 | Americas
Cuba's anti-corruption ministry
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