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- This article is about political corruption. For other uses, see Corruption (disambiguation)
In broad terms, political corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. All forms of government are susceptible in practice to political corruption. Degrees of corruption vary greatly, from minor uses of influence and patronage to do and return favours, to institutionalised bribery and beyond. The end-point of political corruption is kleptocracy, literally rule by thieves, where even the external pretence of honesty is abandoned.
Corruption arises in both political and bureaucratic offices. It varies in scale and degree of organisation. Though corruption often facilitates criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and criminal prostitution, it is not restricted to these activities. For purposes of understanding the problem and devising remedies, it is important to keep corruption and other crimes analytically distinct.
Depending on the country or jurisdiction, what constitutes or does not constitute corruption may differ. For instance, certain political funding practices that are legal in one place may be illegal in another.
Conditions favorable for corruption
- Concentration of power in decision makers who are not directly accountable to the people, when democracy is absent or dysfunctional.
- Lack of government transparency in decision making.
- Costly political campaigns, with expenses exceeding normal sources of political funding.
- Large amounts of public capital involved in a project.
- Self-interested closed cliques and "old-boy" networks.
- Weak rule of law.
- Weak legal profession.
- Contempt for freedom of speech or freedom of the press.
- Poorly-paid government officials.
- Apathetic, uninterested, or gullible populace that fails to give adequate attention to political processes.
- Absence of adequate controls to prevent bribery or so-called "campaign donations".
Corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and distorts representation in policymaking, corruption in the judiciary compromises rule of law, and corruption in public administration results in the unfair provision of services. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and public offices are bought and sold. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance.
Corruption also undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency. In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments themselves, the management cost of negotiating with officials, and the risk of breached agreements or detection. Although some claim corruption reduces costs by cutting red tape, an emerging consensus holds that the availability of bribes induces officials to contrive new rules and delays. Where corruption inflates the cost of business, it also distorts the playing field, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.
Corruption also generates economic distortions in the public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Officials may increase the technical complexity of public sector projects to conceal or pave way for such dealings, thus further distorting investment. Corruption also lowers compliance with construction, environmental, or other regulations; reduces the quality of government services and infrastructure; and increases budgetary pressures on government.
Economists argue that one of the factors behind the differing economic development in Africa and Asia is that in the former, corruption has primarily taken the form of rent extraction with the resulting financial capital moved overseas rather invested at home (hence the stereotypical, but sadly often accurate, image of African dictators having Swiss bank accounts). Corrupt administrations in Asia like Suharto's have often taken a cut on everything (requiring bribes), but otherwise provided more of the conditions for development, through infrastructure investment, law and order, etc. University of Massachusetts researchers estimated that from 1970 to 1996, capital flight from 30 sub-Saharan countries totalled $187bn, exceeding those nations' external debts. (The results, expressed in retarded or suppressed development, have been modelled in theory by economist Mancur Olson.) In the case of Africa, one of the factors for this behaviour was political instability, and the fact that new governments often confiscated previous government's corruptly-obtained assets. This encouraged officials to stash their wealth abroad, out of reach of any future expropriation.
General national welfare
Political corruption is widespread in many countries, and represents a major detriment to the well-being of their citizens. Political corruption means that government policies tend to benefit the givers of the bribes, not the general public. An example is how politicians would draft laws that protect large corporations while hurting small businesses. These "pro-business" politicians are simply returning favours to those large corporations that contributed heavily to their election campaigns. In a similar manner, many special interests have been shielded from legislative restrictions in the United States as this bribery in disguise is de facto legalised.
Types of abuse
Political corruption encompasses abuses by government officials such as embezzlement and nepotism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud.
Bribery: Bribe-takers and bribe-givers
It takes two to create corruption: giving and taking bribes. In some countries the culture of corruption extends to every aspect of public life, making it extremely difficult to stay in business without resorting to bribes.
The most common bribe-giving countries are not in general the same as the most common bribe-taking countries.
The 12 least corrupt countries, according to the Transparency International perception survey, 2001, are (in alphabetical order):
- Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland
According to the same survey, the 13 most corrupt countries are (in alphabetical order):
- Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine
However, the value of that survey is disputed, since it is based on the subjective perceptions of the polled individuals.
Campaign contributions and soft money
In the political arena, it is difficult to prove corruption, but impossible to prove its absence. For this reason, there are often rumours about many politicians.
Politicians are placed in apparently compromising positions because of their need to solicit financial contributions for their campaigns. Often, they then appear to be acting in the interests of those parties that fund them, giving rise to talk of political corruption.
Supporters of politicians assert that it is entirely coincidental that many politicians appear to be acting in the interests of those who fund them. Cynics wonder why these organizations fund politicians at all, if they get nothing for their money? It should be noted that in the United States firms, especially large ones, often fund all major parties, though most of them favour one party over the other.
Because of the implications of corporations funding politicians, such as the perceived threat that these corporations are simply buying the votes of elected officials, certain countries, such as France, ban altogether the corporate funding of political parties. Because of the possible circumvention of this ban with respect to the funding of political campaigns, France also imposes maximum spending caps on campaigning; candidates that have exceeded those limits, or that have handed misleading accounting reports, risk being declared to have lost the election, or even be prevented from running in future elections. In addition, the government funds political parties according to their successes in elections. In some countries, political parties are run solely off subscription (membership fees).
Even legal measures such as these have been argued to be legalised corruption, in that they often favour the political status quo. Minor parties and independents often argue that efforts to rein in the influence of contributions do little more than protect the major parties with guaranteed public funding while constraining the possibility of private funding by outsiders. In these instances, officials are legally taking money from the public coffers for their election campaigns to guarantee that they will continue to hold their well-paid and influenctial positions.
Measuring corruption - in the statistical sense, to compare countries - is naturally not a straight-forward matter, since the participants are generally unforthcoming in regards to it. Transparency International, the leading anti-corruption NGO, provides three measures, updated annually: a Corruption Perceptions Index (based on experts' opinions of how corrupt different countries are); a Global Corruption Barometer (based on a survey of general public attitudes toward and experience of corruption); and a Bribe Payers Survey, looking at the willingness of foreign firms to pay bribes. Transparency International also publishes the Global Corruption Report; the 2004 edition focussed on political corruption. The World Bank collects a range of data on corruption, including a set of Governance Indicators.
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Forms or aspects of corruption
- Good governance
- Rule of law
- United Nations Convention against Corruption
Examples of Corruption and Organisations built up to combat it
- Corruption in the EU
- Political scandals of the United States
- Corruption scandals in the Paris region
- Independent Commission Against Corruption
- Illegal Logging
- Bettino Craxi
Corruption in fiction
- Henry Adams's novel Democracy (1880)
- Carl Hiaasen's novel Sick Puppy (1999)
- Christopher Largen's novel JUNK (2005)
- Axel Dreher, Christos Kotsogiannis, Steve McCorriston (2004), Corruption Around the World: Evidence from a Structural Model.
- United Nations Convention against Corruption at Law-Ref.org - fully indexed and crosslinked with other documents
- OECD: Corruption
- World Bank anti-corruption page
- UN Office on Drugs and Crime - Has sub-section dealing with corruption worldwide.
- The Development Gateway's virtual library and online community on anti-corruption and good governance
- Corruption surveys by Transparency International
- UNICORN: A Global Trade Union Anti-corruption Network, based at Cardiff University
- Internet Center For Corruption Research
- A collection of links to reports of alleged political corruption
- Global Integrity Report - Extensive analysis of openness and accountability of governments by the Center for Public Integrity.
- Rainforest Destruction in Indonesia, 2002
- A typology of corrupt practices
- Corner House: UK and anti-corruption
- Tool to analyze anti-corruption and institutional reform