Tackling Corruption to Preserve Social Ties

Opinion, by Montse Rafel – "Corruption has no scruples and no sentiments. It has no culture, no gender, no country and no borders. It affects all of us!"

The issue of corruption is nothing new. Yet, in times of economic crisis and democratic deficit, corruption contributes to increase a little more people's mistrust of the political class. According to NGO Transparency International (TI), corruption remains a "global threat" which continues to ravage the world's societies. TI publishes the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) annually ranking countries by their perceived levels of corruption as determined by expert assessments from 12 different institutions, and scoring 177 countries on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The 2013 edition of the Index shows that no country had a perfect score, and two-thirds of countries scored below 50. As per the distribution of corruption, the Index shows that countries perceived as most corrupt are concentrated in Africa, Asia and Latin America, although the economically most advanced countries are far from being exemplary models.

There is one thing however that the Index doesn't address: for the corrupted to thrive, they need corrupters. In this regard, Nobel laureate and economist Jospeh Stiglitz pointed out that Western based corporations, mainly from Europe and the US, are the largest exporters of corruption. Paying tens of thousand of dollars in bribes in exchange for business and contracts is a commonplace practice. To the extent that over 80% of corporate managers are unaware that such practices are offenses under international and national laws, according to a 2008 survey.

Corruption is a clandestine exchange which violates public, legal and ethical standards and practices, in order to fulfill personal or corporate interests to the detriment of the general interest. The greatest danger associated with such widespread corruption level, or perceived level, is that it contributes to deteriorate the social fabric and to a growing lack of trust towards politicians – accordingly reinforcing populism.

“Politics”… In the mouth of some people, it sounds like a dirty word. Yet it must be remembered that human beings have not invented anything better than politics to avoid beating each other. Politics is the art of compromise and decision-making; and the vast majority of politicians are honest and honorable people, devoted primarily to the public good. The fact remains that for those who have to struggle to cope with everyday life, the growing number of corruption scandals is intolerable.

Any sincere and committed political action, whichever side of the political spectrum they come from, should consider tackling corruption a top priority. The time has come to put an end to legal loopholes which enable the corrupt to act with impunity. It is time to demonstrate a genuine political will to eliminate all questionable practices at the national level and abroad.

In turn, it's up to us to innovate and promote new standards of transparency and ethics, through the teaching of citizenship: for example civic education should be reintroduced in school programs, the corruption explained, how it is impacting on society as a whole. Another example, why not follow the idea of those countries which return money and other properties seized from traffickers to provide funding for addiction prevention efforts, social and vocational reintegration initiatives for those addicted to drugs, or to reinforce international cooperation in this field? Part of the monies collected in the fight against corruption could be given to not-for-profit organizations, or for research or health purposes…

In its etymology, the word corruption means to destroy, to break, to spoil. It is exactly this: because it undermines trust, corruption contributes to destroy social ties at all levels. At a time when many third sector and nonprofit organizations are seeing their very existence under threat because of budget cuts, we call upon leaders to help maintain strong and dynamic networks of associations. If corruption is only capable of destroying the social fabric, NGOs and the third sector in general, contribute to strengthen and invigorate the same social fabric, which is all the more necessary when times are uncertain. 

Social ties are necessary to maintain the cohesion of our societies. They must be preserved.