Corruption is often observed as a huge problem preventing developing countries from sustainably addressing poverty. Do you agree? If so, what ought to be done about this issue?
Corruption “is an ancient problem (fourth century B.C. in India)”. “Corruption represents a common issue globally. Due to the common perception that corruption hinders economic development and prevents particularly developing countries from sustainably addressing poverty, both emerging market economies and democratically developed countries have begun to seriously consider the economic harm of corruption and have thus begun to invest in resources to prevent and control corruption”. Corruption is like a white ant in the wood. It eats away at the pillars (institutions) of the democratic governance judiciary, executive, legislative, media, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Civilization crumbles unnoticed.
In this essay, I shall briefly define corruption and the types, practices, motives, and costs of corruption as per literature. I shall then explain methods to combat corruption in developing countries of well-ordered peoples theorized by Rawls and suggested by Brock. I reason corruption can be fought efficiently and effectively by adopting and strengthening institutions of a democratic system with accountability. Combating corruption from top to the bottom or bottom to the top are two sides of the same coin. Vigilant, non-corrupt media is important to protect basic liberties. “Without a free press, citizens might not even be aware of injustices and violations of basic liberties perpetrated by the ruling powers… in holding their governments to account”. I advocate free press and media, political will, an independent judiciary, transparency, and well-defined powers of administrative powers of executives to combat corruption.
In a democracy, People ‘deliberate and legitimate’ political will to implement rule of law. Institutions so empowered will reinstate political and civil liberties ‘on the ground’. Corruption is an economic criminal offense. Brock rightly wrote “No one should be above the law; everyone must feel that they could be held to account for their behavior. A culture of impunity must not be allowed to prevail”.
What is corruption:
As per D’Agostino “the world bank settled on - “the abuse of public office for private gain as the usable definition of corruption”. Transparency International defines it as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Hellman argues that “corruption is a derivative concept A. in theory and B. in practice ”. The same is explained by Miller.
Types of Corruption:
If we look at the MONIAC Machine and Arthakranti YouTube video, there shall be three different types of leakage. These can be large, small, and wilful leakage by an operator. The same is defined by academic authors as grand, petit, and political corruption. In Bill Phillip’s Machine as explained by Anil Bokil Arthakranti, leakage is corruption. Combating corruption means stopping leakages of the system.
Practices of Corruption:
Brock summarises “Many practices are described as corrupt, including bribery, misappropriation of public resources for private ends, inappropriate use of influence, state capture, nepotism, and some conflicts of interest”.
Motives of Corruption:
There are many motives for corrupt actions. It includes desires for wealth accumulation, status and power. Corruption involves corruptor, corrupted and corrupt action.
Cost of Corruption Literature Review
“Corruption distorts priorities, exacerbates inequalities, hampers economic growth, and often results in considerable harm”, is a huge cause of exit and migration, and security challenges”, . Bayley explains the harmful and beneficial effects of corrupt acts. I am of the opinion that the beneficial effects mentioned by him are temporary and for the gain of a few individuals. I believe corrupt acts are evil in a society and it should always be combated; though “effects of corruption depend on the extent to which bureaucrats coordinate their rent-seeking behaviour”. But according to Mauro “Corruption has substantial, adverse effects on economic growth… when corruption is widespread, individuals do not have incentives to fight it even if everybody would be better off without it”.
It confirms that corruption is a huge problem that prevents developing countries from sustainably addressing poverty. Rawls and Brock provide methods to combat corruption. Brock analyzed and explained in detail. I shall quote mainly Brock and add my comments wherever I think it needs.
Methods to combat corruption
As per Rawls
“Liberal peoples have three basic features: a reasonably just constitutional democratic government that serves their fundamental interests; citizens united by what Mill called “common sympathies”; and finally, a moral nature. The first is institutional, the second is cultural, and the third requires a firm attachment to political (moral) conceptions of right and justice… What institutions and practices might be necessary to keep a constitutional democratic government reasonably just, and to prevent it from being corrupted, is a huge topic … that it is necessary to frame institutions in such a way as to motivate people sufficiently, both citizens and government officers, to honor them, and remove the obvious temptations to corruption”.
I agree with Rawls that institutions can implement the agenda of the government. He assumes that ‘political principles for a reasonably just constitutional regime allow us to deal with a great variety of cases [including corruption], if not all.”
Democratic system, political will, rule of law and basic liberties are key requirements to combat corruption. All are important to combat corruption. Institutions (legislative assembly, judiciary, executives like bureaucrats, inspectors) implement laws and rules of well-ordered peoples. “Public reasoning aims for public justifications” Press and media, NGOs help in educating people and developing reasoning for justifications.
“Deliberative democracy also recognizes that without education in the basic aspects of constitutional democratic government for all citizens, and without a public informed about pressing problems, crucial political and social decisions simply cannot be made”.
Press and media play an important part.
As per Brock “Authors agree that there is something akin to a universal understanding of what corruption is, and all dispute the idea that corruption may simply be in the eye of the beholder. However, there are also sharp disagreements – for example over whether corruption is best eliminated from the top down, or whether bottom-up approaches are more effective”. I believe top-down or bottom-up approaches are two sides of the same coin and both must act simultaneously to combat corruption effectively. Top-down means from the president / prime minister/ chief minister downwards to a government worker. The bottom-up approach means “public deliberation about the issues that need to be addressed and the options for resolving them” [ in democracy].
Let me explain it more in detail.
To combat corruption there should be political will, which can be propagated by media and NGOs. Brock mentioned, “In 2003, it was found that 17 percent of the world’s population live in countries with a free press, 40 percent have a partly free press, and 43 percent have a press that is not free ... These figures do show a considerable decline over recent years”. Transparency International noted that democratic countries are the least corrupt. People deliberate powers to politicians. Due to this, political will (top to bottom) is the first step. This political will shall set the agenda for the media and activities of NGOs.
In many countries, media and NGOs create rhetoric to combat corruption. This rhetoric may support corrupt politicians who may support their evil masters or elites. I add that some corrupt media, NGOs, legislators, and bureaucrats are cunning (extra/over intelligent) to hide their motives and support corruption till exposed by competing media, NGOs, and non-corrupt institutions.
I agree with Brock that media does not play a constructive part in all societies. She mentions “Having a free press is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the adequate protection of basic liberties.” She further writes that “press freedom must be balanced with press responsibility” and explains several common reasons why a free press is not enjoyed in corrupt societies: Reasons are usually given that “Media is a mouthpiece for the ruling regime”, “violence against journalists”, “legislation and financial pressures”, “threatening tax audits” etc. In addition, media is controlled by elites in some countries.
Brock quote Vogl.
“It is not governments that are leading the anti-corruption charge, instead it is a grand adhoc coalition of civil society activists, journalists, philanthropists, and scholars. And in the years to come, it will continue to be the case that these forces will set the agenda, press governments with mounting vigor and impact reforms and monitor the measures announced to see that they are effectively implemented.”
Broc adds Vogl viewpoint that a “powerful combination of forces is steadily amassing, helping national anti-corruption movements grow in strength every day”. I agree it is true but not in all cases. Indian example (from 2014 till today) indicates that most media and NGOs are setting an agenda in favor of corrupt politics which may create unrest in a developing country like India. This happens more vigorously during an election year (Indian elections are due in 2019). This instability shall be exploited by international capital elites.
Brock clarifies “Freedom of speech does not entail that we may say whatever we like, wherever we like. Clearly, such ‘freedoms must be constrained by others’ freedoms”.
According to her “some cultures embrace ways of life that seem not to value liberty” I am of the opinion all cultures value liberty. Only some rulers of those cultures do not value liberty. Those who are financially or circumstantially dependent on such a ruler value obedience. Personal freedom is wanted but under compulsion, obedience is accepted. She clarifies my reasons as “to be able to engage in such activities one must typically enjoy a number of basic liberties, such as freedom from coercion, attack, and torture”. This may be why slaves were not allowed to vote in some countries. If slaves would have been allowed, then either these slaves would have voted in favour or against the owner. In both cases democratic representation would not have been correct. This doubt was cleared by Vogl which is quoted by Brock by stating that ‘no known culture “values dishonesty and unfairness”. No culture likes corruption.
Theory without practice is sterile and practice without theory is blind. I shall now explain methods adopted in India to combat corruption. BJP government won 2014 parliament elections. It is to be noted before 2014, there was a congress party in India that was not only corrupt but was supporting corrupt political parties and used to purchase media journalists. India meets all my assumptions. It is a democratic country. Instrument of politics were mostly corrupt. Corrupt media, NGOs, bureaucrats, police, sales tax, income tax, and even judiciary as chief ministers, including the ruling congress party president, were also corrupt. Corrupt media favored corruption and corrupt in India.
But some in all instruments were not corrupt. Narendra Modi was not corrupt. People believed and trusted him and voted him to power in the 2014 parliament elections. He got the majority and started combating corruption by implementing steps like demonetizing currency, smart cards, transparency, tax reform, auditing of bank and government departments by independent auditors, checking illicit financial flows by routing all finances through banks, procurement reform, utilizing new technology, creating transparent systems, making judiciary independent (judiciary was independent but due to all around corrupt practices many judges of the supreme court also became corrupt), selecting non-corrupt chief ministers and parliament ministers.
Corrupt media often created rhetoric against political decisions in favor of the corrupt. But the majority of reasonable people did not follow the media blindly. This proves that corruption can be combated from top to bottom, but the fact remains people delegated power to Modi which he could exercise. If there would not have been a proper non-corrupt alternative, people would have delegated powers to the wrong person and corruption would not have been combated.
Slowly Modi tightened corrupt media, NGOs, judiciary, executives etc. But again, it was not possible without non-corrupt media, executives etc. Corruption can be combated by the top (leadership) with the help of the bottom (people- who delegate the power to top leadership) and both are important. In addition, it is only possible in a democracy.
This example confirms methods to combat corruption stipulated by Rawls for well-ordered peoples, and methods advocated by Vogl, Rotberg, and Varraich summarised by Brock are worth implementing.
Brock quotes Varraich “without a reasonably competent, impartial, uncorrupted, honest, and effective public administration, representative democracy is unlikely to deliver or increase human well-being” Brock also quotes Vogl: “Much of the corruption on this planet stems from the willingness of the governments of rich nations to provide exceptional support to corrupt overseas leaders in exchange for arms deals; rights to oil, gas, and mining resources; and strategic relationships”
I agree as media and NGOs owned by multinational companies (MNC) supported the corrupt congress party. MNCs controlled media through cumbersome shareholding structures and obliged some NGOs by paying huge amounts. Brock also quoted Rothstein and Varraich stating that corruption “usually occurs at the intersection of public and private spheres”.
Examples are many in India. Nationalized banks gave a loan to big industrialists, who did not pay the amount and migrated outside India. World Bank emphasizes enhancing transparency, implementing anti-money laundering, and tax reforms. As an example, it explains how corruption could be combated in Nigeria, India, and the Dominican Republic.
Combating corruption is a systematic, comprehensive, and persistent effort. I reasoned corruption is least in democratic countries and can be removed from the top to bottom by strengthening democratic institutions like the judiciary, executives, and legislatures. Media and NGOs convince/educate people that corruption causes poverty and conflicts, then people may / will elect non-corrupt legislators/members of parliament. The political will / legislative power will create institutions that will implement rule of law in executive functioning with modern gadgets which may promote transparency. This may minimize corruption if not eliminated. As corruption corrodes society slowly, in the same way corrupt practices of the community can be controlled/minimized by the continuous persistent will of people including non-corrupt NGOs, media, and elected representatives. It is a slow process as the habits of the people/thinking of people cannot be switched on and off like an electric bulb.
“Combating Corruption.” The World Bank. September 26, 2017. http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/governance/brief/anti-corruption.
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Arthakranti AD. “Arthakranti – what is it?” Filmed Month Year not known. Youtube Video, 4:59. 21 March 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ile1zmBD2rQ
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Brock, Gillian. Global Justice A Cosmopolitan Account. New York: Oxford University (2009).
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Notes / References
 Bardhan, “Corruption and Development: A Review of Issues,” 1.
 Huang, “Is Corruption bad for economic growth? Evidence from Asia-Pacific countries,” 1-2.
 Brock, Global Justice A Cosmopolitan Account, 161.
 Brock, 157.
 Brock, 166.
 D’Agostino, Dunne and Pieroni, “Government Spending, Corruption and Economic Growth,” 190.
 Transparency International Home, “What is Corruption”
 Hellman, “Defining Corruption and Constitutionalizing Democracy,” 1391 and 1396.
 Miller, “Corruption”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
 Reservebankofnz, “Making Money Flow: The Moniac” Youtube Video.
 ArthakrantiAD, “Arthkranti - what is it?” Youtube Video.
 Brock, “How Should We Combat Corruption? Lessons from Theory and Practice,”103
 Brock, 105
 D’Agostino, Dunne and Pieroni, “Government Spending, corruption and Economic Growth,” 190-205. They prove empirically that corruption effects growth negatively.
 Bayley, “The Effects of Corruption in a Developing Nation”,724 and 726. It may be good in a developing nation but once allowed politicians and civil servants constitute an elite and slowly gangsters and mafia takes over good intentions of elites.
 Blackburn and Forgues-Puccio, “Why is corruption less harmful in some countries than in others?” 797.
 Mauro, “The Persistence of Corruption and Slow Economic Growth” 1 and 17.
 Gillian Brock, “How Should We Combat Corruption? Lessons from Theory and Practice,” Ethics & International Affairs 32, Special Issue no. 1(2017): 103-117.
 Rawls, The Law of Peoples, 23.
 Rawls,, 24.
 Rawls, 25.
 Rawls, 155
 Rawls, 139.
 Brock, “How should We Combat Corruption? Lessons from Theory and Practice,” 117.
 Brock, Global Justice A Cosmopolitan Account, 100.
 Brock, Global Justice A Cosmopolitan Account, 162.
 Brock, 161.
 Brock, 161.
 Brock, 163.
 Brock, 109
 Brock, Global Justice A Cosmopolitan Account, 153.
 Brock, 154.
 Brock, 155.
 Brock, “How should We Combat Corruption? Lessons from Theory and Practice,” 113.
 World Bank, “Combating Corruption”.