The 2013 Corruption Index is a wake-up call to renew efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate corruption – and for us, the need for corruption. After all no amount of rules and regulations will stop it on its own any more than tough prison sentences will deter desperate shoplifters or indeed painkillers will cure a brain tumour.
A global problem
No country scores a perfect 100% which highlights this point, as while there are countries which score highly (Denmark and New Zealand are tied in first place at 91 – see map below), clearly circumstances still exist which can induce people to behave unethically for personal gain. And it is also true that in certain regions the problem is more extreme – as an article I wrote last year showed, Africa loses twice as much in illicit financial outflows as it receives in international aid.
But even away from these regions corruption seems to be endemic, albeit perhaps not on the same scale. I live in Spain, where people seem to be resigned to live with corruption and see little prospect of change. While performing better than other southern European countries such as Greece and Italy, who score below 50 out of 100, a score of 59 hardly sells the country as a place you would want to do business and contributes to the nation’s dire economic performance.
As an aside, I recently heard an external reaction to the official unemployment rate of 26% – incredulity (I find the statistics hard to believe too). After all, in other parts of the world where the rate is so high, there is political and social unrest. If so many people were not earning, and if over a million of those families with no bread-winner were really without any state aid either, it seems hard to believe they would not be in the streets protesting more against the obvious injustices in the country.
The message behind the Corruption Index
There are many factors, of course, contributing to the problem and the resulting position in the corruption index – power vacuums and instability, for example. But often it seems to be a Catch 22 situation where despite huge potential and natural resources, poor governance means poor people, desperate to improve their lives, are susceptible to corruption and are able to get away with it more easily.
In contrast, where governance is better, and the standard of living is also better, there is less need for attempts at personal gain at the cost of the general population. It is no co-incidence, for example that the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) shows that nations at the top of the Corruption Index are also near the top of the HDI ranking (New Zealand 6, Denmark 15).
It is this message which is so critical to get across to people: that working together for the good of all creates the stability and economic growth which reduces and can eliminate the need to find illicit ways to change their lives. Endemic corruption, after all, is not simply about greedy people wanting to become rich. While that is clearly a motivation for some, few are ambitious (or clever) enough to become extremely wealthy in this way.
I believe that most (endemic) corruption can be beaten or vastly reduced by helping the huge numbers of ordinary public officials and civil servants who “simply” take a little off the top of the funds on the way through. Clearly more aid is not the answer as it is precisely this aid, as well as questionable or downright unethical commercial transactions, that is the target of this fraud.
No, we need a pincer movement on the problem, which simultaneously educates and supports the stewards of public money and helps ordinary citizens to earn a dignified living which contributes both to their own financial independence and the community. There is a growing number of successful entrepreneurs who recognise that and are building successful business that are indeed contributing to a brighter future. They desperately need the support of good governance, matching their own sound management with the state’s.
This can only contribute to a rise in the ranking in the corruption index and so a brighter future for everyone.