Corruption is defined as the impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle or as inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means – such as bribery. Corruption is defined by the World Bank and Transparency International (TI) as “the misuse of public office for private gain.” Corruption is generally considered to be a symptom and outcome of weak governance. Examples of corruption include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. While corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and trafficking, it is not restricted to these activities.
“Stemming corruption requires strong oversight by parliaments, a well-performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society,” said Huguette Labelle, chairwoman of Transparency International.
Every year, Transparency International ranks 180 countries to create its corruption index. The least corrupt countries for 2009 are New Zealand and Denmark, respectively. The most corrupt countries are Somalia and Afghanistan, respectively. In comparison to Transparency International’s 2008 ranked list, the least corrupt countries stayed the at the same ranking and the most corrupt countries only slightly changed- Somalia topped the list both years while Myanmar was the runner up in 2008.
Somalia ended up as the most corrupt country on Transparency International’s list for a variety of reasons. In 1992, most of Somalia was a disaster area. It was effectively destroyed. It had no government, no police force, nor even basic services. Murderous warlords battled savagely for control of the capital, Mogadishu and armed thugs and bandits roamed the country destroying and taking everything insight. The fighting and the drought claimed over 300,000 lives, and heartbreaking spectacles of emaciated bodies of famine victims were seen on a daily basis. Although droughts have played havoc with agricultural production, the food supply has been far more threatened by never-ending armed conflicts. It is true that external factors, including the colonial legacy, the Cold War, and other foreign meddling in African affairs, have played a role in creating the region’s problems. However, the primary causes of Africa’s crises are of internal origin: misguided political leadership, corruption, capital flight, defective economic systems, senseless civil wars, and military vandalism. The basic problem here, besides a lack of competence, is total corruption. The top people line their pockets through political influence. It is difficult to prove the corruption, even when a top official speaks out about wrongdoing.
Somalia’s problems could have been avoided if their leaders and elites had used their common sense. In Africa the people are the peasants– the majority in every African nation. Some minimum level of stability, peace, order, civil society, and respect for civil liberties is necessary for productive activity. The principal beneficiaries of economic prosperity ought to be the peasants, not the elite minority that constitutes less than 10 percent.
Another corruption-ridden country is Afghanistan. Corruption has multiple and severe adverse effects on Afghanistan. In addition to the direct financial costs of corruption (higher costs of contracts and public services, loss of public funds due to theft or misuse of government facilities and assets) there are substantial costs related to time devoted to corrupt practices by government officials, private businesses, and the public as well as, especially in the case of the security sector, the human costs (e.g. of threats, intimidation, victimization of people by security forces). Widespread corruption deters and distorts private investment. But perhaps most important, are the adverse implications of corruption, and popular perceptions of widespread corruption, for the effective functioning, credibility, and legitimacy of the state. A particular problem in this regard is drug-related corruption, allegedly involving senior Government officials, which interacts destructively with corruption in the security sector (especially the police) and justice sector. Not surprisingly, the basic forms of corruption in Afghanistan appear to be broadly similar to those found in other countries. These include petty corruption and bribery, extortion, outright theft of government assets, patronage, and corruption in government procurement. Examples of the former in Afghanistan include the apparently common practice of demanding money from the public for required forms and documents; bribery in return for obtaining an electricity connection, uninterrupted power service, or under-assessment of electricity bills; theft of fuel in municipal sanitation departments, etc.
On the other hand, New Zealand is ranked the least corrupt country. Unlike much of the world, New Zealand is a nation where corruption is virtually unknown. It is unheard of to have to bribe public officials to do the jobs they are paid to do. Genuine wrongdoing is quickly exposed and offenders are dealt with in open court under fair and transparent laws. New Zealand has a zero tolerance policy on corruption and bribery, which means that it does not accept bribery within its own ranks or in cooperation with external partners. Not even a New Zealand police officer can be bribed. Anyone who tries to will be arrested on the spot. Everyone knows this, which is why nobody tries to, not even the worst, most desperate or richest criminals. While there have been a few instances of bribery among low-level public servants over the years, the offenders are caught and vigorously prosecuted. New Zealand has had their share of fraudulent businesspeople, but they are also prosecuted. Their justice system is a stiff and regimented one, with fiercely independent judges selected because of their legal abilities alone, not because of political views.
Like New Zealand, Denmark has also adopted a zero-tolerance policy. The zero-tolerance policy means that anti-corruption clauses are now found in all Government Agreements and in all contracts with companies involved in preparing and implementing Denmark’s development. All of Denmark’s contracts include an anti-corruption clause, whereby companies will have to sign a declaration on non-bribery. Non-compliance with this clause might lead to a cease of contract and exclusion from future contracts.
The common denominator for the least corrupt countries verses the most corrupt countries basically boils down to having an organized government and rules and regulations. In New Zealand and Denmark they clearly have a solid government with well-known anti-corruption policies. They enforce the zero tolerance level so that people realize that it isn’t worth suffering the potential consequences of even trying to do wrong. Things tend to work progressively and smooth. Whereas, in the most corrupt countries the common denominator is chaos and disorganization. There tends to be no democracy or government (fair) to rule and control the citizens. And there tends to be much violence.
The culture of the country does play a huge role in the country’s ethics. In the most corrupt countries, the people tend to be poor, uneducated, and live in extreme destitute conditions. There typically is no middle class – only a small percentage of very wealthy and powerful and a large percentage of very poor and powerless. In the least corrupt countries, the people tend to be educated and live in comfortable conditions.
Some possible ways to lessen the corrupt and unethical behaviors are to be clear and concise with anti-corruption policies. A good example is New Zealand. They have made sure that their laws are transparent and understandable. If someone does not follow the law they are prosecuted to the fullest extent. Having an enforceable zero tolerance policy is a huge step in lessening corruption. Some additional ways to lessen corruption are by improving public sector service delivery by focusing on public sector accountability and legal reform in order to re-introduce rule of law, building integrity by promoting governmental accountability and transparency; and building watchdog and enforcement agencies. Lack of accountability by national and international politicians and civil servants is probably one of the most important reasons why sustainable development has not occurred in most of the world’s poorest countries. The country needs to have an information surplus, control of the government, and eliminate opportunities and incentives for corrupt behavior. Social conditions such as increased literacy and education among the population can help curb corrupt behavior as well.
My home country, the United States of America, ranked nineteenth on the Transparency International corruption list. US federal law prohibits bribery of both non-US and domestic federal public officials. The US federal anti-foreign bribery statute is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977. The FCPA applies to the people of the United States and companies, stockholders, officers, directors, employees, or agents acting on behalf of a United States company. The FCPA has anti-bribery provisions and prohibits indirect as well as direct improper payments. If someone has a ‘conscious disregard’, ‘willful blindness’, or ‘deliberate ignorance’, of culpable conduct or suspicious circumstances it may be adequate to support a violation of the FCPA. The penalties for violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and corruption provisions are severe. For criminal convictions, companies could be fined the greater of $2 million for each violation or twice the gain earned on any business obtained through conduct that violated the FCPA. In addition to similar criminal fines, individuals can be imprisoned for up to five years. For civil violations, penalties of $10,000 for each violation may be imposed both on companies and individuals. Moreover, in recent years, SEC has insisted that companies forgo all profits earned through conduct that violated the FCPA. In several recent cases, the US Department of Justice and SEC have also required companies to engage for a three-year period an independent compliance monitor that provides periodic reports to the US authorities. The US federal laws also include various domestic bribery statutes, which prohibits bribery of US domestic public officials. This statute prohibits the giving of anything of value to a public official or person who has been selected to be a public official.
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