Absolute corruption empowers absolutely

January 20, 2013 | By | Filed Under AFC Column, Features / Columnists 

By Khemraj Ramjattan

It is not often that you come across a passage which captures exactly what you think of a subject, in this case why so rampant corruption in the Police Force, but you are unable to articulate it in such a manner.
I came across just such a striking articulation and analysis recently in a wonderful book “Why Bad Behaviour is Almost Always Good Politics” by De Mesquita and Alistair Smith (2010 Public Affairs).
Their chapter on “Absolute Corruption Empowers Absolutely” was just brilliant. With minor modifications and abridgement, I wish to convey why so much corruption in our Police Force continues, and why it is allowed to continue.
With all the Recommendations from a variety of Commissions and Reports, political grandstanding by PPP politicos of this and that Strategy document, there is something obscenely deliberate about permitting the occurrences and re-occurrences which have forced the Government to most ridiculously want to just change the name to Police Service.
Here is the reason so brilliantly captured in that passage I read over the holidays.
“Low salaries for police are a common feature of corrupt regimes and Russia is no exception. At first blush this might seem surprising. The police are crucial to a regime’s survival. Police officers are charged with maintaining civil order – which often boils down to crushing anti-government protests and bashing the heads of anti-government activists. Surely inducing such behavior requires either great commitment to the regime or good compensation. But as elsewhere, the logic of corruption takes a more complex turn.
Though private rewards can be provided directly out of the Government’s treasury, the easiest way to compensate the police for their loyalty – including their willingness to oppress their fellow citizens – is to give them free rein to be corrupt. Pay them so little that they can’t help but realize it is not only acceptable but necessary for them to be corrupt.
Then they will be doubly beholden to the regime; first, they will be grateful for the wealth the regime lets them accumulate; second, they will understand that if they waver in loyalty, they are at risk of losing their privileges and being prosecuted.
Remember Mikhail Khodorkovsky? He used to be the richest man in Russia. We do not know whether he was corrupt or not, but we do know that he was not loyal to the Putin government and duly found himself prosecuted for corruption. Police face the same threat.
Consider former police major and whistleblower, Alexei Dymovsky. Mr. Dymovsky, by his own admission, was a corrupt policeman in Novorossiysk, a city of 225,000 people. He noted that on a new recruit’s salary of $413 US a month (12,000 rubles) he could not make ends meet and so had to turn to corruption.
Dymovsky claims he personally only took very small amounts of money. Whether that is true or not, we cannot know. What we do know is what happened next.
In a video he made and sent to Vladimir Putin before it became famous on YouTube, Mr. Dymovsky also described a practice that is considered common in Russia. When officers end their shifts, they have to turn over a portion of their bribes to the so-called cashier, a senior member of the department. Typically, $25 to $100 a day. If officers do not pay up, they are disciplined.”
According to his own account, Mr, Dymovsky eventually grew tired of being corrupt. As the New York Times reported, he inquired of Vladimir Putin, “ How can a police officer accept bribes? …. Do you understand where our society is heading? … You talk about reducing corruption,” he said. “You say that it should not be just a crime, that it should be immoral. But it is not like that. I told my boss that the police are corrupt. And he told me that it cannot be done away with.”
Dymovsky became something of a folk hero in Russia. It seems his whistle-blowing was much appreciated among many ordinary Russians. The official response, however, was quite different. He was shunned, fired, persecuted, prosecuted, and imprisoned.
The public uproar that followed led eventually to his release. No longer a police officer, he established a business guiding tours of the luxurious homes of some of his police colleagues. Most notable among these is the home of Chief Chernositov.
The Chief’s salary is about $25,000 a year. Yet he owns a beachfront home on land estimated to be worth $800,000 US. The chief offers no account of how he could afford his home and, it should be noted, he remains in his position as chief. He certainly has not faced imprisonment for his apparent corruption, but then, unlike Mikhail Khodorkovsky or Aleksei Dymovsky, Novorossiyk’s police chief has remained loyal to the governing regime.
As for Dymovsky’s whistle-blowing, it did prompt a response from the Kremlin. Russia’s central government passed a law imposing tough penalties on police officers who criticize their superiors. As the Times notes, the law has come to be known as “Dymovsky law”
Corruption is a private good of choice for exactly the reasons captured by the Dymovsky Affair. It provides the means to ensure regime loyalty without having to pay good salaries, and it guarantees the prosecutorial means to ferret out any beneficiaries who fail to remain loyal. What could be better from a leader’s perspective?”

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