Fight against corruption should be top priority of any government
I have been asked by several persons whether I believe that everything humanly possible is being done to stamp out corruption. I will attempt an answer by pointing to ways how corruption becomes pervasive but will leave the conclusion to the reader.
No one can dispute that charges and allegations of corruption have gained prominence in the national consciousness in recent years, and have been no more apparent than in the central role they play in our politics now more than ever before. Gabriel Lall has made a start, but we all must recognise how this social malady impinges the integrity of the public and private sectors creating the type of feeding frenzy unparalleled for media operatives who have been zealous in their investigations, and who have been placed in the same corner as political opponents out to discredit the government.
What seems to have been lost sight of is the fact that corruption is potentially the greatest threat to economic progress and should be placed as a priority item on the country’s development agenda, through a non-partisan approach.
U Myint (2000) writing on ‘Corruption: Causes, Consequences and Cures’ defined corruption as the use of public office for private gain, where an office bearer uses his official position, rank or status for his own personal benefit.
Myint identifies examples of corrupt behaviour as: (a) bribery, (b) extortion, (c) fraud, (d) embezzlement, (e) nepotism, (f) cronyism, (g) appropriation of public assets and property for private use, and (h) influence peddling.
The public official may be the sole operator in fraud and embezzlement schemes, but there must be two parties (giver and taker) to bribery, extortion and influence peddling arrangements. Among the more prevalent two- (or more) party corrupt practices are government contracts where bribes play a significant role in who gets a contract, and the contract and subcontracts terms.
Bribes also play a major part in determining who gets to avoid ‘wasting time’ by avoiding bureaucratic sloth and moving things along smoothly in the granting of licences, permits to conduct legal business.
Bribes also affect the revenue stream of the country in the amount of taxes, fees, dues, custom duties, and electricity and other public utility charges collected from business firms and private individuals. Bribes have also been known to have been offered to gain access to arguably prestigious schools, acquire bogus medical status certificates, and ownership stakes in prime real estate ownership.
Furthermore, bribes have been known to provide incentives to regulatory authorities to refrain from taking action, and to look the other way, when private parties engage in activities that are in violation of existing laws, rules and regulations such as those relating to controlling pollution, preventing health hazards, or promoting public safety. Bribes can also be an inducement to favour one party over another in legal and regulatory proceedings.
With all the attention currently being paid to charges and allegations of corruption in high places it is not unlikely that those public officials on the lower rungs are escaping detection and sanction. While there can be no moral justification for corruption high or low, it might be instructive to know the reasons proffered for these practices. The lowly public servant might claim poor pay and working conditions etc.; but what excuse do those higher in the food chain have?
Myint argues that greed – and not low pay or the need to their families living expenses of their families- is a main motivating factor, since these people are generally well-off and have a lot of privileges associated with their high office. Other compulsions include the overarching desire to remain in office in an era of expensive elections campaigning. Another factor may be a need to dispense favours, or create the type of enabling environment for corrupt practices to benefit political allies, colleagues and subordinates, and keep them cooperative and loyal.
Patrick E. Mentore