As young boy I remember my father mentioning the word korrotti (corrupt). I used to laugh at him thinking he was saying karrotti (carrots) in slang. I was too innocent to realise he was talking about a heinous crime that has become so much socially accepted we’ve learn to live with. A crime which has different implications according to the merits for each situation. Nearly always they are dead serious. A crime that makes trafficking of drugs as well as humans across borders possible, that is the main cause for famine in third world countries as well as being usually implicated in projects ruining the environment. An act so powerful than was not only one of the main factors of bringing down the USSR, but together with fanatic Nationalism is the reason why neither Russia nor most of its former satellite states ever really recovered. (A saying in Russia goes: After Lenin we had de-intellectualisation; after Stalin de-stalinisation; but after Brezhnev we never had any de-corruptisation).
Corruption has such a devastating effect because it infiltrates every sector of society, and hinders law enforcement as well as any real reform, be it economic, legal or environmental. How can one, for example stop human trafficking when the traffickers move innocent people across borders for purposes of slavery if the former haven’t got protection from some of those who are meant to be there to protect the victims? Why would dictators leave thousands of overworked humans live with less than 2$ a day if multinationals were not pumping them millions to turn a blind eye?
Despite all this, compared to other crimes, on both a local and international level we rarely see people convicted of corruption, and when we do they rarely get serious penalties. I attribute this to mainly two reasons. First of all, corruption is invisible. Unlike a small time thief or even a bank robber, those most responsible do not break into houses themselves, or hold a gun towards a person’s head. Though they might be responsible for thousands of deaths, they are rarely if ever seen with blood on their hands. Due to this, their crime seems a minor one. It rarely creates public outrage. It has become socially acceptable. Lately we’ve seen the violent attack on Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi. The perpetrator, Massimo Tartaglia, a person with mental health problems, is seen as one of the most dangerous people in Italy. We’ve all seen the blood on Berlusconi’s face. Yet, in reality, Tartaglia’s crime is a minor one compared to the six charges against the same leader. The latter’s charges of bribery are easily forgivable. They left no blood or broken noses. At least not directly.
The second reason while corruption rarely sees the light of day is that the corrupt are usually wiser than the common thief. We believe that a person bribes another for only one reason – getting from him the particular thing he wants. Yet there is another, less obvious albeit more sinister reason. The big time corrupter not only gives a bribe to the small time corrupt, but knows it. Now that you’ve taken your bribe you are an accomplice. Maybe you accepted a small cheque to close your eyes for a seemingly innocent deviation from the law. However if the person who bribed you is making big dirty money, from say drug trafficking, you are afraid to report him. If you do so, that little cheque you accepted will come to light. And the higher he is, the more he can harm you for your little escapade. You are now under his thumb. You might be disgusted with what he is doing, your guilt feelings might be killing you, yet you have to remain silent. Otherwise he’ll ruin you.
If we, as a society make a genuine effort against corruption we might not stop it, but we could give it a very significant blow. I suggest three simple steps:
1) Realise and convince ourselves this is a serious crime hurting ourselves and our society from every angle possible. The aim of this article is towards this step.
2) Refuse it. Many of us will have one or more opportunities to accept bribes, no matter how small they are. If we categorically decide to refuse any bribe we will not only doing what is legally and morally right but we are free. We are under no ones thumb.
3) Enforce the law and increase punishment. This is only possible if the first two steps are accomplished. If we as a society realise how serious this is, even to the extent of letting its crackdown affect our voting in elections, rather than run after the Party leader that makes the most charismatic speeches, the law makers will start putting it on their agenda. We can only do this if we are free from it ourselves.
(While following these steps will definitely harm this malady, other measures have to be taken. A case in point is a clear and enforceable Whistleblower Act.)