Corruption is the use of an official position for the purposes of personal enrichment and unlawful gain. Corruption exists on a spectrum, from dishonest behaviour and giving or accepting bribes and inappropriate gifts to under-the-table transactions.
The latest corruption scandal to rock the world is the one fuelled by the FBI’s investigation of Fifa’s awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. People usually view behaviour as corrupt when they believe there is unfairness or feel constraint in conducting business or improving their quality of life because of public officials acting in their own best interests or for the benefit of a few interest groups.
One can only wonder how the scourge of corruption might be eliminated, as its cost affects both developed and developing countries in varying degrees.
Poorer countries may be perceived as more corrupt or feel the brunt of decisions to allocate public resources distorted by money, power, access or connections more severely because funds are diverted from achieving developmental goals, thus prolonging the suffering of citizens. But let us not be mistaken. Corruption exists everywhere.
Until some of the following conditions change, we will not win the war against it.
Our ability to influence can be boosted by the position we hold and the power conferred by that position. Leadership theories speak about the skills people can acquire to influence without a formal title. The reality is the power of a position confers authority that can result in biased actions and behaviour. Power remains one of the most valuable currencies to attract corruptive intentions because of the inherent opportunity to dish out favours at a price. Why else would individuals hang on to positions like a dog with a bone?
Resignations – when they do happen – are accompanied by incredible golden handshakes but remain an option few officials voluntarily take. Your name alone may not get you into the golden circle, but holding a certain position does come with a seat at particular tables, access to networks that one would otherwise not have been privy to and exposure to critical information to benefit from opportunities. With more than 7 billion people in the world, there is competition to stand out. Power affords one the ability to break through the clutter.
Just as crime is not only committed by those who are financially in need, so too are corruptive practices not confined to the poor or government officials alone.
Greed is a powerful force and the cause of many downfalls. It is driven by a sense of deprivation and feelings of internal inadequacy that ignite a selfish desire to have more than what one needs or deserves. When one chooses the path of accumulating as much wealth as possible with the least effort, the corrupt route becomes alluring.
We have become a society in which doing good for its own sake is perceived cynically. Helping fellow human beings is conditional – a financial or in-kind benefit must be assured.
There is a price to relationships, with management fees being charged for facilitating interactions among those who have power because of positions or have proximity to those with positions that can influence decisions in their favour.
Low risk of punishment
Billionaire Warren Buffett said: “We must continue to measure every act against not only what is legal, but also what we would be happy to have written about on the front page of a national newspaper in an article written by an unfriendly but intelligent reporter.”
I have a sneaking suspicion Buffett assumed individuals had a conscience and bad press would serve as a deterrent. But our world is one where no news is bad news, as long as you get your 15 minutes of fame. Our external trappings of wealth are now a barometer for success and achievement. There is no merit in interrogating how wealth is accumulated, as long as it is.
The rule of law does not serve as a deterrent and the lack of harsh punishment is guaranteed because personal and historical connections outweigh corruptive behaviour. This results in inconsistencies of treatment and creates a culture of impunity. No one wants to bite the hand that feeds them.
So in a world with these prevailing conditions, what is the incentive for living a corruption-free life?
Msomi is CEO of Busara Leadership Partners