What is corruption?
What is corruption? (See below a discussion of characteristics of corruption).
The simplest definition is:
Corruption is the misuse of public power (by elected politician or appointed civil servant) for private gain.
In order to ensure that not only public corruption but also private corruption between individuals and businesses could be covered by the same simple definition:
Corruption is the misuse of entrusted power (by heritage, education, marriage, election, appointment or whatever else) for private gain.
This broader definition covers not only the politician and the public servant but also the CEO and CFO of a company, the notary public, the team leader at a workplace, the administrator or admissions-officer to a private school or hospital, the coach of a soccer team, etcetera.
A much more difficult, scientific definition for the concept ‘corruption’ was developed by the professor (emeritus) dr. Petrus van Duyne:
Corruption is an improbity or decay in the decision-making process in which a decision-maker consents to deviate or demands deviation from the criterion which should rule his or her decision-making, in exchange for a reward or for the promise or expectation of a reward, while these motives influencing his or her decision-making cannot be part of the justification of the decision.
Major corruption comes close whenever major events involving large sums of money, multiple ‘players’, or huge quantities of products (think of food and pharmaceuticals) often in disaster situations, are at stake. Preferably, corruption flourishes in situations involving high technology (no one understands the real quality and value of products), or in situations that are chaotic. Think of civil war: who is responsible and who is the rebel? Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, droughts. The global community reacts quickly but the local government might be disorganized and disoriented. Who maintains law and order? Or maybe the purchase of a technologically far advanced aircraft, while only a few can understand the technologies implied in the development and production of such a plane. Mostly, the sums of money involved are huge, a relatively small amount of corrupt payment is difficult to attract attention. Or the number of actions is very large, for instance in betting stations for results of Olympic Games or international soccer-tournaments which can easily be manipulated. Geo-politics might play a role like e.g. the East-West conflict did in the second half of the 20th century, in which the major country-alliances sought support from non-aligned countries.
Fighting corruption takes place in many ‘theaters’:
political reforms, including the financing of political parties and elections;
economic reforms, regulating markets and the financial sector;
financial controls: budget, bookkeeping, reporting;
Public supervision: media, parliament, local administrators and councils, registration;
free access to information and data;
maintaining law and order;
improving and strengthening of the judicial system;
institutional reforms: Tax systems, customs, public administration in general;
whistleblowers and civil society organizations (NGO’s).
We know that corruption will not disappear from society. Our efforts are meant to restrict corruption and to protect as much as possible the poor and weak in our societies. In the end, all corruption costs are paid by the consumer and the tax-payer. They need protection.
The small corruption (peanuts, facilitation payments – allowed by the OECD!) do not cost much but are awesome to the public. It is less damaging in total amounts but it makes it difficult to understand why we fight the grand corruption if we fail to fight the small ‘bakshis’. Major corruption thrives on a broad base of small corruption-payments or bribes.
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