Question of Degree or
has become a major buzzword in recent years, particularly
in the development discourse. Rightly so, given that corruption
so profoundly hampers development and good governance. Yet
despite the multi-faceted definition to be found in the dictionary,
general corruption is viewed (and defined), largely in financial
terms. Furthermore, such concerns are invariably raised in
the context of developing countries.
that donor governments (and their taxpayers) provide development
aid in the expectation that this will improve the situation
of developing world populations, it is not altogether unreasonable
to expect accountability, and a degree of transparency, in
the management of such aid. It is also undeniably true that
an unacceptably large proportion of development aid is misused
by governments and powerful individuals in some recipient
of the effects of bad governance is provided by King Mswati
of Swaziland. While over 40 percent of adults in the country
are HIV-positive, and the majority of people live below the
poverty line, the King - who has been described as the last
absolute monarch in Africa - is known for his opulent lifestyle,
his priceless collection of motorcars and an ever-expanding
collection of wives (acquired by methods that include abduction).
I find it somewhat disturbing that the justified focus on
corruption in the developing world is not matched by an equally
rigorous focus on corruption within many of the countries
that are so quick to point the finger at "corrupt Third
World elites". After all, the financial fiascos of corporations
such as Enron and WorldCom were not engineered by developing
country elites, but by a combination of "first world
elites" - the result of unholy alliances between greedy
corporate barons and their political pals, as well as ineptitude
and/or corruption amongst regulatory authorities. And the
scale of such corruption dwarfs anything taking place in the
and less sensationally, the arms and equipment deals taking
place between developing country governments and their western
suppliers can often involve corruption and kickbacks which
benefit both sides. But while we occasionally hear about the
purchase of sub-standard equipment or out-of-date medicines,
and the finger is justly pointed to the relevant authorities/
individuals in developing countries, we hear little about
those at the other end, who have richly benefited from providing
the faulty merchandise. After all, it takes two to tango!
corruption just a matter of degree? Is the main question really
one of who commits the largest, or the most sensational, fraud?
Perhaps it is more useful to consider the idea of corruption
in a broader sense, in order to appreciate the limits of such
finance-based definitions. There is a far more profound corruption
of ethics - and for want of a better term, morality - going
on in the world today. It can be seen in many aspects of our
lives, not least in the way that the powerful treat the powerless.
It is evident in the dealings between states at the global
level, as well as the interactions taking place between individuals,
at a far more mundane level.
of this is the ongoing explosion of activity in arms trading.
With millions being made through legal arms sales, it is worth
questioning how such a grossly immoral business has gained
such widespread acceptance (or is viewed, at least, with resignation).
The developing world currently spends £22 billion a
year on arms. Half of that amount would be sufficient to eradicate
illiteracy in those countries! How can that be anything but
morally corrupt, in terms of the choices that these governments
are making for their people? Globally, one person is killed
every minute by a gun. Furthermore, many of the biggest buyers
in the arms market are also regimes widely accused of human
rights abuses. And yet, this trade has permeated the very
culture of many developing countries. In countries like Somalia,
children are often named after guns, e.g., AK or Uzi!
are these countries buying their weapons from? The five largest
arms sellers in the world are the five members of the Security
Council, with the US and the UK heading the list! Many activists
in the Western world question how their own governments can
justify these arms sales to questionable regimes. While the
British government's recent moves to tighten international
controls over arms dealings are welcome, ultimately how much
of this is simply damage limitation, given the level of human
misery created by this business?
on to wider issues of corruption in governance, most have
heard of Lord Acton's maxim that "Power corrupts, and
absolute power corrupts absolutely". He is less known
for his equally accurate observation that, "There is
no greater heresy than this, that the holding of office sanctifies
the holder". From east to west, those in power would
do well to bear in mind this warning. Power corrupts not only
in terms of financial mismanagement or misuse of authority.
Unless guarded against, it can distort fundamental principles,
and lead to the abandonment of cherished beliefs. And perhaps
most dangerously, it can create delusions of grandeur.
global scenario demonstrates the validity of Lord Acton's
maxims. In a uni-polar world, there is only one voice that
matters, and we all know whose voice this is. Given how desperately
individuals and governments struggled to prevent the Iraq
War, it is instructive that in the final analysis the issue
literally came down to "might is right". If that
were not to be the case, it would be hard to reconcile how
Israel (which continuously violates any number of United Nations
resolutions) largely operates with impunity, when Iraq could
be attacked on a pre-emptive basis, in violation of all principles
of international law, for having mythical weapons of mass
remains that the US aside, the majority of "partners"
in the so-called coalition of the willing (UK, Spain, Italy)
have faced considerable resistance to the war from their own,
unwilling populations. Despite this, democratically elected
governments have chosen to ignore majority opinion in their
own countries. Those leaders might do well to re-visit Lord
Acton's warning about the holding of office failing to sanctify
the holder (or to validate their flawed decisions!). The last
Spanish government paid for its mistakes (not least in underestimating
the intelligence of its people) by being removed from office,
and millions of people all over Europe (and the rest of the
world) have repeatedly demonstrated on the streets over their
opposition to the Iraq war.
definition of "corrupt" includes the following phrase:
"to change something so that it is no longer in its original
state". Does this contempt for the will of the people
not in fact challenge, and ultimately corrupt, the original
meaning of democracy? Concerns over voter disillusionment,
apathy and alienation in Europe are surely understandable
in the context of these events.
In a wider
sense, maybe corruption should be seen as the gradual deterioration
of hard-won freedoms, when values and beliefs are sacrificed
in the name of political expediency. Perhaps democracy and
freedom really die with a whimper, rather than a bang, and
recognising corruption in its multiple (and sometimes insidious)
manifestations, is something that should concern us all.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005