The Misconceptions about Corruption
By E. R. A. Paulus
The word “corruption” is perhaps one of the most used words in the world by governments, organizations, individuals and in every sector of our society. What is really “corruption” that everyone preys on the word? If you google the word, there are many definitions but I would like to simply summarize/paraphrase the definition like this after reading all the definitions: Any wrong doing or dishonesty by a person, government, organization for gain or advantage that negatively affect others. It could be through actions, thoughts, influence, etc. Each one of us has done some wrong or behaved in ways that has given us some personal gain or advantage over others that affected them negatively. This therefore qualifies all of us to be corrupt; not one of us is blameless with that definition. The Bible puts it this way: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Corruption is therefore sin. In other words, all of us have been corrupt and have not met God’s expectation. The Bible further says: If we say we have no sin or are not corrupt, we lie and the truth is not in us (I John 1:8). So man by nature is corrupt; our thoughts or actions are tinted every day with corrupt behaviors. We were born in sin and shape in our iniquity from our mother’s womb (Psalm 51:5).
Corruption is therefore the way of life for all of us, sometimes unknowingly so there is no exception. Corruption many times, takes on the form of everything we do except that some of us are more corrupt than others, but that makes no difference because sin is sin or corruption is corruption. There is no large and there is no little corruption. Of course, one would argue that someone stealing a million dollar and another person taking just one dollar is not the same; you are absolutely right but both are corrupt. Perhaps the one who stole the one dollar did not have the chance to steal a million dollar, but if given the chance, he might steal a million dollar also. We are all born with an egotistic nature, selfish and wanting everything for ourselves. You can see that in the characters of babies or children. They could have a room full of toys but still want more. That egotistic nature remains with us throughout life. That’s why someone who has lots of money or wealth continues to seek more money or wealth in whatever way or fashion because of that nature. As we grow that nature may decrease depending on our orientation in life but it is there. I am sure we don’t want to be corrupt but sometimes we just can’t help it because it is an inborn tendency. Paul, in Romans 7:19, 24 puts it this way: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but I do the evil I don’t want to do. ……..what a wretched man I am!” We are born with it so there is no way around it. Some of us just try to be less corrupt than others in our actions and thoughts by the help of the Holy Spirit if we surrender to Him as a Christian.
Many times leaders especially those coming to power newly want to give their country, organization or people they have come to lead some hope and inspiration or be very impressive so they say that their ultimate goal is to “eradicate” or “get rid” of corruption. Some say “drain the swamp” or “declare war and wipe out rampant corruption”. Such statements tend to simply make mockery of themselves and their leadership because corruption can never be eradicated until death do us part because man by nature is corrupt as stated. These leaders later discovered after few months that getting rid of corruption is not a reality but a making one feel good statement that everybody wants to hear to take them serious. They should be saying “I will strive to decrease the practice of corruption” because it can never be eradicated due to our nature as human beings. This is one of the misconceptions about corruption that we want to inject. This is the sad news that we hate to break. Come what may, there will always be corruption because of our nature.
Additionally, these misconceptions of what corruption is make it very difficult sometimes to decrease the practice. Many times only people in authority or in government are accused to be corrupt. The true is Corruption flows from the common man to highest man and flows from the highest man to the common man in any society. Corruption is therefore not limited to only high ups nor limited to any country or people but everyone in the world. The common man usually thinks that government officials or people that have political power are the only corrupt people. The practice of corruption can be seen in every corner or in the simplest things we do, so corruption is not limited to government officials stealing huge sum of money or misusing their powers but also the common man doing the simplest corrupt act that eventually turns to “big corruption” as we may describe it, when they have the chance to be in high places or given the power. The misconception that Corruption is only done by the high-ups perhaps could be one of the reasons why it is difficult to decrease the practice because we take it just to be one thing, but it is many other things.
Let’s look at examples of some forms of corruption according to our definition other than selling huge sum of money, taking bribes, or forcing one to give you a cut before or after performing your duty, etc. considering our above definition:
• Example: Violating sample traffic rule is corruption: I was in Liberia 2 years ago while undertaking an Ebola project for public schools on behalf of the Liberian Community of Rhode Island. I was driving from Jacob’s town junction to Barnersville junction, which is about a 3 mile distance. It took me about 4hrs in the traffic because several taxi and private car drivers created a jammed traffic. Taxi and private car drivers started to cut the traffic line from behind me when there was a bumper to bumper traffic jam therefore blocking the other lane and some started driving on the side walk where pedestrians supposed to walk, therefore bringing the entire traffic to complete stand stay. That is not stealing huge sum of money so this may not be significant and no one will ever think much of it, but this is a simple example of corruption; these drivers ruthlessly took advantage of driver like me that was trying to follow the traffic rules, staying in the line to gain advantage over me and other drivers. These same taxi and private car drivers are on the national radio daily accusing government officials of corruption but not recognizing their actions daily as corruption because they did not steal money. Of course one would argue that someone driving on the other lane or side walk to get an advantage and government officials stealing thousands or millions of dollars cannot be compared. You are right, but they are all corruption. It is the little corrupt acts that turn to “big ones” as we may describe it. It was only the traffic at the time, but given the chance and put in a position of power, these same taxi or private drivers will be corrupt because if they were brave to behave wrongly in the traffic with no power or authority, what will happen when given the power?
• Favoritism, prejudice, segregation, classism, racism, tribalism are all forms of corruption; all these forms of corruption are developed in one’s mind and acted upon, and give us advantage over others. If we favor one person over another because it will benefit us personally that could be a corrupt act; perhaps that person we favor is our friend or family and he/she will return the favor to benefit us personally. For example, appointing or employing a person based on family ties, friendship, or any other ulterior motives that will benefit us other than on the basis of qualification of the person is a corrupt act. Thinking wrongly about a person on the basis of prejudice is also a corrupt act. That way of thinking will make us to act wrongly to that person.
• Insensitivity is one of the biggest corrupt acts that we may not think about; being indifferent to the plight of others (please read the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19-31; the rich man died and went to hell because of lack of love, compassion or sympathy to the condition of the poor man, Lazarus; The rich man allowed his riches to blind his eyes, and never thought it was any wrong doing on his part).
• As a leader or authority, refusing to give proper justice to those that deserve it is insensitivity and a corrupt act
• As a leader, deliberate refusal or inability to provide quality education or proper
healthcare for your people is insensitive and a corrupt act
• Inability to meet the basic needs of your people when you have all the resources to do so is insensitivity and a corrupt act.
• Selling or buying votes during elections to disadvantage others is corruption
• Lying in general or misleading your voters is a corrupt act
• Using government property for one’s personal use is corruption: For example, using government vehicles after work hours for your personal use is a corrupt act. After work, you should be using your personal vehicle for your personal matters.
• Cheating on your wife (infidelity) or misusing your power and preying on vulnerable girls/women in the society who have no source of income is a corrupt act.
• Getting to work late deliberately and leaving early because you can, use government or organization time for your own personal matter are all corrupt acts.
• The list goes on. You can add as many examples that have nothing to do with stealing huge sum of money or bribery but wrong doing that affects others or a country, organization negatively.
Corruption cannot be eradicated because of our nature as human beings but taking some measures that could reduce its practice is possible:
• Creating opportunities for the people to be lifted out of poverty. Make no mistake, there will always be poor people but a government that is sincere can reduce the number to a significant degree by providing basic needs of the people, jobs and educational opportunities, reducing the big gap in salary disparity; paying the civil servants well and not only giving government officials high salaries. Corruption is very high when the gap between the poor and the rich is very wide; when there is not even a middle class makes it difficult to reduce corruption.
• Structuring the leadership of the country by putting the “best qualified people” in the right positions without favor but what they can deliver for the good of the country. ”Best qualified people” refer to those who do not only have the experience and educational qualifications but those who have the country at heart(love for country) and have solid moral or ethical competence to make a difference. There are lots of people who have the experience and educational qualifications but are so corrupt and do not have the country at heart or the interest of the people they serve but themselves. This is seen daily in Liberia; there are lots of Liberians who are well educated and perhaps have lots of experience but sadly, no love for country but themselves; they are only concern about enriching themselves when put in positions of trust. This continues to happen in all government that came to power.
• Allow the rule of law to take its course without favor of the person’s position, financial ability or status in the society when they are engaged in corrupt act punishable by the law. Persecute those who are found guilty in the court of law. Don’t transfer them to other positions; let their career or profession suffer and that will deter others from engaging in corruption. This measure is what makes the difference in developed countries as compared to Third World countries; there is a lot of corruption in developed countries but it is done at a very high risk, and when caught, there goes the person’s political or professional career because the law knows no position, power or money; no one is above the law, no matter how long it takes; one is persecuted to the letter of the law, which is a deterrence that reduces the practice of corruption in these countries. This has been the opposite in Third World counties; people use their money, power and influence to engage in corruption with no consequences; there is no rule of law so there is no fear to be corrupt. In fact, corruption is celebrated sometimes. When a government official does not do everything to be rich while in a position, he is considered stupid in a Third World country. May I note that people should be held to high ethical standards for corrupt acts that are not punishable by the law but government or organizations should take immediate actions by reprimanding those individuals through firing from their jobs, fining or any measures that will dissuade others.
• Allow a free and fair press to be whistle blower on corruption without any repercussion. This too is what makes corruption minimized in developed countries as compared to Third World countries. The press reports without fear, favor or intimidation. In Third World countries, a journalist is intimidated, jailed or killed for reporting corruption or any evil of the society.
• Demanding transparency and holding the government accountable in all aspects through peaceful means, like protest, national discussion, etc. are means by which the people can play a vital role in decreasing corruption. Remember it’s your tax dollar that the government uses, and they also get loans and grants on your behalf from foreign governments to be used to better your wellbeing; holding them accountable is very important.
• Education, education, education on corruption cannot be over emphasized, and very essential in the schools; ethical values need to be taught at early age and all levels of education to shape the minds of our students. Organizations and governments need to regularly hold workshops or seminars on ethics and corruption. What is happing is our young ones see every day how people who are put in positions of trust are enriching themselves through corrupt acts and they too strive to engage in similar acts when they get out of school and have the opportunity; it will continue to be a circle in our society if the minds of our young ones are not re-orientated.
• We can also add many other ways of decreasing corruption.
There are many resources on how government can fight corruption and decrease it; the following are additional ways from reputable organizations:
The World Bank recommends some of these strategies: (http://blogs.worldbank.org/futuredevelopment/six-strategies-fight-corruption):
1. Paying civil servants well
2. Creating transparency and openness in government spending
3. Cutting red tape-decreasing bureaucracy: eliminate laws and programs that bleed corruption
4. Deploying smart technology to pay taxes can be effective in decreasing corruption; reduce direct contact between government and the governed
Transparency International also recommends the following:
1. End Impunity: Effective law enforcement is very essential to ensure the corrupt are punished
2. Reform public administration and financial management
3. Promote transparency and access to information
4. Empower citizens in all aspects; through the anti-corruption agencies, community initiatives, etc.
5. Close international loopholes: put in place measures that will deter government officials from hiding country resources aboard for their personal gain.
In closing, let us recap
• Corruption is a sin problem; we are all born with corruption; it has no limitations; it extends from person to person and country to country; it is because of our egotistic nature as human beings; it will never go way until death do us part; let us be careful how we point fingers at others because we are all corrupt although others are more, but if given the chance we might do worse. The examples are all over the place. Those who accused others of corruption, when given the chance many times became more corrupt.
• The misconception of corruption is what makes it very difficult to decrease its practice. Corruption is not only stealing huge sum of money from government or bribery but many other acts, thoughts that could be seen simple, but they are still corruption. There is no small corruption.
• No government, people or individual can eradicate or get rid of corruption but can work very hard to decrease the practice by putting appropriate measures in place.
• We can become corrupt unknowingly. That’s why it important to align ourselves with God so you can have a discerning spirit that will prick your heart daily when we are engaged in any form of corruption. That corrupt nature is always there but can be squeezed from time to time by the Spirit of God for us to be better. That is the difference between a sinner and a Christian. The Holy Spirit will bring a Christian awareness when there is corruption or sin. A sinner will not know this. That’s why some people continue to be corrupt, does not matter where you put them or what measure is taken against them.
It is my fervent hope that this reading will strengthen and help us decrease the practice of corruption in our society and individual lives.
The author of this brief article, Emmanuel R. A Paulus, BA, BS, MS lives in Providence, RI and can be reached at email@example.com if you have any questions. Thanks for reading.