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Corruption as a Status-Quo

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Corruption as a Status-Quo

Corruption is a harmful practice for both a society’s economy and its people. It causes economic stagnation, the inhibition of development and increased social inequality within a country. In this essay, I will be using the definition of corruption by the Transparency International, which De Graaf references in chapter 8 of his book: ‘Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for the sake of acquiring private benefits.’ For corruption to occur and for the consequential macro-outcomes to arise, certain initial conditions need to exist which allow the individuals involved in corrupt practices to continue doing so. In this essay, I will evaluate the impact of this corruption and suggest macro-conditions which allow this dishonest behaviour to arise and prosper in societies.

              Although it is present everywhere, corruption is most prominent in developing countries, as shown by the Corruption Perceptions Index of 2017 by the Transparency International.[1]  The accuracy of the index has been questioned due to the fact that corruption mostly happens under the radar, which makes it a difficult phenomenon to study, as De Graaf states in chapter 8 of his book. Despite this, there are many significant reasons to why developing countries suffer from corruption more than most developed nations; developing countries often lack strong enough institutions and legal enforcement which fight against corruption. John R. Searle advocates the importance of institutions in his paper ‘What is an Institution?’[2]; he argues that the role of institutions is to create desire-independent motivations for action. In the case of corruption, an institution like the legal system of a country evokes a feeling of obligement to obey the law in people, which would not necessarily naturally occur without the presence of the institution. That is if the legal system has enough power. If such institutions do not have the resources or power to enforce binding sanctions for the corrupt, these individuals will not have strong enough incentives to defect from corrupt behaviour. Moreover, if the institutions themselves are corrupt, it encourages disorder within a society even further, when corruption is at the highest hierarchical level of a society, it prevents the sanctioning of any behaviour which is normally considered unlawful, creating unequal environments.

 An example of this is South Africa, where the law enforcement is notorious for corrupt practices and is inefficient in preventing crime. There have been countless scandals where police officers have been involved in corrupt behaviour. One of these scandals was in 2010, when the national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, was convicted of corruption and received a sentence of 15 years in prison.[3] However, he served less than a year before being released. According to Gareth Newham, the head of the governance, crime and justice division at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, there are many more police officers involved in criminal practices who are not being held accountable and are therefore not represented in the high number of those already convicted. Due to this high corruption, it is incredibly difficult to catch and hold the corrupt accountable for their actions, further encouraging this behaviour. Under a regime such as president Jacob Zuma’s, there are no incentives for non-corrupt behaviour, and the corrupted can swerve penal sanction, making the situation a cycle of perpetuity.

De Graaf observed this self-perpetuating pattern of systemic corruption, which he discusses in chapter 8 of his book. According to him, the manifestation of corruption gives rise to new norms, which will, in turn, make corruption generally more attractive. He elaborates on how this pattern is strengthened by perverse mechanisms. An example he gives is how rule-abiding politicians are denied the possibility to attain governmental roles, and honest businessmen are excluded from governmental contracts. This means people engaging in honest practices are rewarded less and, therefore, these lawful practices become less attractive to the people. As a result, corruption remains a widespread phenomenon in the society. This cyclic pattern can be seen in countries like Brazil, where numerous corruption scandals, including both corporate and governmental actors, have been revealed one after another.[4] One of the biggest scandals involved the state oil company Petrobras, which was accused of accepting bribes from construction companies. Furthermore, many politicians, one of whom was Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the country’s popular former president, were also involved in the bribery scandal. When corruption is as widespread as this and on multiple levels of society, it becomes difficult for honest practices to remain common, since there is a lot more to be gained from engaging in corruption.

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