Transparency International has released their Global Corruption Barometer 2013. It is the result of a global survey of 114,000 people in 107 countries on their perceptions of corruption within their respective countries. There are some interesting, but not completely unexpected results:
People think that bribery is a widespread problem and in the majority of the countries, they believe it has gotten worse than previous. Less than one quarter of countries perceive that corruption has remained the same or decreased. The most corrupt aspect of society seems to be public institutions in democratic societies, particularly in their interactions with large, powerful groups and in their personal relationships. Further, most of the people surveyed believe that governments are not doing enough to stop it, but that the public wants them to do so.
Bribery comes out as the most prevalent form of corruption in the survey. This is not surprising considering the many forms it can take. I have been particularly intrigued by bribery over the past decade or so since becoming a Christian, as a businessman in a country renown for corruption (but which is ironically not included in this survey).
When I started working in the country in which I lived for some time, I was an expatriate property manager on contract with a state owned enterprise which developed commercial buildings. At the time, I was about 26 years old and I was making ten times as much salary as the 50+ year old CEO of the company. Having said that, he had a chaufeur driven Mercedes Benz, his own house, and what seemed an almost unlimited expense account.
I often asked myself from where the remainder of his wealth came, but I also asked myself, why I was making ten times as much as he was in the first place. This and other anecdotes have led me to see that, what in North America we would call corruption, is often in fact systemic in this country as well as many others. By systemic, I mean that it is an expected part of normal business procedures; it is part of the system. But does that make it right?
In some cases, systemic corruption seems to be nothing more than a way for individuals to get paid their salary when their employer does not explicitly provide it. (i.e. a company underpays its employees because it knows they are going to get money on the side). One local friend of mine estimated that a mid-range government employee in this country received about $120,000 per year in various forms of income (salary, gifts, meals etc.) even while the average salary was more in the range of $10-$15 per day.
Where it goes particularly bad is when the corruption disrupts the normal market process. One in five of the people surveyed report to have paid a bribe for land services. In his very insightful book The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto speaks a lot about the importance of individuals being able to use land as an asset in the financial system for wealth creation. Although not necessarily the most prevalent form, corruption in land services is possibly the most destructive form of economic corruption. “Bribery not only costs the individual paying the bribe–it also undermines the efficient and equitable allocation of resources, people’s respect for the rule of law and the overall integrity of a society.” (9) With land being a foundational form of wealth, this is a particularly devastating problem.
The report makes a series of recommendations (4):
- Make integrity and trust the founding principles of public institutions and services;
- Bring back the rule of law;
- Hold the corrupt to account;
- Clean-up democratic processes; and
- Give people the tools and protection to fight against corruption.
One the one hand, it is discouraging that so many people see corruption increasing, on the other hand it is encouraging to hear that increasingly more people are unwilling to stand for it any longer. The recommendations that TI puts forward should be ones that we are all be able to stand behind. Have you been directly affected by corruption and are you going to do something about it?