Thursday, June 16, 2011

The level of corruption in the world is going down right?

Recently, 140 were arrested in an anti-mafia sweep in Italy. The arrested were apparently part of the most secretive and feared mafia organization in the world. FIFA, not so feared, but perhaps secretive is also under scrutiny for corruption. There’s no doubt that corruption is a serious global phenomenon, but on the surface it looks like the general direction is positive. A Hindu Yogi declares war on corruption and more importantly, corrupt regimes are turned over as millions of people are taking part in the Arab spring. All these news give the impression that the world is more transparent and democratic than before. It looks like corruption is on decline, but is it really?

Unfortunately for this blog post’s level of anticipation, the answer is rather straight forward; No.  Transparency International (TI) conducted a worldwide survey in 2010 of 91,500 people worldwide and found that six out of ten people experience more corruption now than they did three years ago. Only one in seven thought corruption had decreased.

That’s bad yes?  So what does it really mean? 

TI defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain” and it can happen either according to law or against the law. Consequences of corruption can be political, economic, social or environmental. Corruption can seriously injure the accountability of governments. People can lose thrust in the political institutions and the state’s leadership. Financial consequences of corruption are absence of fair competition, free markets and investment. The national wealth is drained and resources are spent on extravagant projects on the expense of basic needs for people and the environment. Honest and accountable people leave the country so the potential for recovery deteriorate. The potential for economic growth and a fair distribution is caught in a downwards spiral as more corruption makes change less likely. So it is bad.  

I do not perceive corruption to be a big problem in Norway and I’m not worried about it personally, therefore I’m somewhat disturbed to be reminded that a lot of my European neighbors in fact are. In fact, Europe+ and North America are the regions where corruption has increased the most. More than 60% thinks that the government is not doing enough to fight corruption in Finland, Germany, France, USA and Ireland (82%) to name a few. In Germany, Spain and Greece (but also New Zealand) more than 70% thinks that corruption have increased the past three years.

The report gives a general impression that there is a qualitative difference in what type of institutions that are perceived to be the most corrupt. Political parties and religious bodies are the institutions that people generally perceived to be the most corrupt. In “developing” countries, corrupt police is a much greater problem than in “western” countries where media, business and religious institutions are more of a problem.

Despite what naïve Norwegians like me might think, corruption is not restricted to developing countries, totalitarian regimes and mafia clans in Italy. It is rather a growing global problem that affects a variety of institutions. However, it is not all bad news, in Georgia, Fiji, Palestine and Sierra Leone people reported experienced significantly less corruption. It will be interesting to see in a few years time how the Arab spring has affected the level of political corruption in those countries. Perhaps will there be a spill-over effect to other institutions and countries as well? 

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