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Defining corruption Defining corruption
by Christos Mouzeviris
2012-12-19 11:29:44
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I often wonder what makes a country corrupt, what are the reasons that some countries are more corrupt than others and how we are defining which countries are more corrupt than others. In the recent list published last Wednesday by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), we saw this year's worse offenders and the "shining examples" of the least corrupt countries.

But I often wonder who and why decide to place certain countries in such place. And under what criteria? The list showed that Afghanistan for example is right at the bottom of this list, while the USA in the top 20. That is a thing that I find hilarious. Afghanistan, a country is still under foreign military occupation is being placed at the bottom.

Could the country have done any better? Can a country better its system when under an occupation? And what about America being at the top 20? Is this country really "transparent?" Well it depends how you see things, and how you define "corruption!"

Perhaps you think of corruption as only when it happens in a poor country with other traditions than the dominant "Western" and "Anglo-Saxon," but when it happens in a developed country it is just "lobbying." Or is it perhaps only when it happens between bribes and financial transactions of certain parties of the public with certain parties of the national or local government?

Then how can we explain the fact that America is in a state or perpetuate war with the excuse of providing certain "unfortunate" countries that lack "democracy" with "freedom," when the real reason is to make their arms and oil industries richer, thus helping their economy?

What is the difference between me going to a civil servant in the country I am living in, paying him/her with a lump sum in order to gain a favor for my business or me, with when an arms company is lobbying a country's government to engage in a war that is not justified, for profit? And of course this is a profit shared, as this company in return will support that government in its future political campaigns or even worse will share some of the profits with that government.

Please do not be surprised this is not a scenario, this is happening as we speak. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan was all about oil and profit, nothing more. And some companies made huge profit, helping in return some lobbies or political parties in their country of establishment.

Because despite the public outrage or lack of support, Britain, Spain and Portugal for example went on and joined the Americans in their campaign in those countries right away. Isn't this a show of lack of democracy, when despite the public disapproval, the government enters a war that will have no benefit for the nation whatsoever, rather for the global oil companies?

And why the "corruptor" that is corrupting a country with money or other means in order to serve his interests is never listed as being corrupt, like in the case of Afghanistan/USA? The first country is being invaded and has its resources exploited and not only that, is being forced to a regime change that will only serve the invaders, then this country finds itself at the bottom. While the second country is considered less corrupt, simply by judging its GDP or wealth, even though that it uses this wealth to corrupt other countries.

Do you want another example? The case of the Greek government and many German multinationals like Siemens. The German multinational was bribing the Greek government for years in order to be appointed the main constructor of many public works before the Athens Olympics.

When they got it they made a huge profit out of the Greek public wealth, they avoided taxes and overcharged the Greek state. This is the so called "Siemens scandal" that rocked Greece a few years ago. Yet it was the Greeks who were branded as a "corrupt" nation and not the "corruptors" the Germans. I think it should work both ways shouldn't it? They were both part of the equation.

I have also always wondered how a tax haven make it towards the top of the list. Like the "corruptor" states, they are a part of the global corruption plague, simply by having secretive banking policies and lower their taxes for the rich or the multinationals. In this way they offer the ground for corruption to exist elsewhere. Without them, corruption would be difficult to hide as those who tax evade would have no place to hide their money that they stole from the state or other decent tax payers.

So why exactly most tax havens also make it to the top of the list, like Luxembourg, Switzerland, many Caribbean and Pacific islands, Monaco, etc. If they could not act as tax havens, if we imposed sanctions against them if they did not comply with international laws, the corrupt fat cats would have no playground to stash their money. You will think that it would be outrageous to place sanctions against tax havens? Why? We place sanctions against any country that does not play with our rules, like Iran or Cuba for example.

Is it perhaps that "the West" is corrupt as a economic and political block? In my opinion yes. Wherever there is a lot of money and power involved, there you can find the worse corruption of all. In that way, the USA, Britain and yes even the EU can be the most corrupt states or organizations that exist. For example whenever a banker's wife steals money in Switzerland it is not breaking news.

Or when a French President is involved in a scandal (and my God almost all of them have) that is something  natural. When there is a scandal of pedophilia, a scandal of police corruption or tax evasion in Belgium there is not an outrage across Europe, or whenever there are problems in Holland with some failings in the legalization of prostitution and cannabis.

When British MPs are involved in a scandal, stealing money from the tax payers to build a much needed duck house in their pond, or a large establishment of the British press is involved in one of the worse cases of corruption that is not something shameful. If the same happens in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria or Greece of course there are plenty of fingers pointing.

And isn't it more natural, wherever there is poverty and decades of human deprivation to have more severe cases of corruption? Poverty urges people to find a corrupt way to make a better living. It seems though that wealth has the same effect, but only when rich nations or people do it then it becomes more "glamorous."

Eastern European states for example, had to suffer decades of communism and poverty while the Western part of the Continent was progressing fast. Why are some western European countries so critical of Bulgaria or Romania and instead of helping them, they point the finger towards them? As if everything is crystal clear in their affairs.

And very few countries in Europe had more turbulent past in their modern history than Greece. Decades of a war after another, foreign meddling and intervention left whole generations of Greeks in poverty and absolute deprivation. These are the "ways" that they learned to survive and make a living. Why instead of helping to find a solution on a European level, correct the mistakes of the past and reach a reconciliation, the rich western states prefer to throw all the mud against other states instead of cooperating to eradicate corruption from Europe, or at least minimize it?

Is it because it is nice to have a scapegoat, and divert their public opinion towards the misfortunes and faults of others, rather on letting them focus on what is wrong in their own backyards? And since in most cases they are partially responsible on what is going on in the poorer countries is it ethical to criticize them? European states especially have a lot to answer for their colonial and post colonial influences in the poorer regions of the world. Likewise America is practicing unethical policies that force many poorer regions into deprivation and of course corruption.

Or is it because if any action is to be taken to deal with corruption in the poorer European countries, the same will have to apply in the rich ones and that can cause a lot of trouble to the corrupt political elites of Europe and America? They are all interconnected anyway. Think about it.


Christos Mouzeviris is the writer of the blog: The Eblana European Democratic Movement



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Murray Hunter2012-12-20 06:33:13
Thank you for the interesting article. yes I strongly agree with you. Just look at HSBC in the US. It got off very lightly making me ask the question are banks above the law? They get away will money laundering for Mexican drug cartels while a person gets convicted for selling a few grams of cocaine.
Another issue is the blurry area between custom and corruption. Here in Malaysia a person is obligated to help those members of the family, friends and villagers in need. So for example if a person from the same village comes to a Chief Minister of a province asking for help because he is bankrupt and has to feed many people. The chief minister would feel obligated to use the power he has to assist the person in need. This by many is actually considered a very good quality, although through strict standards it is serious corruption. So a lot has to be done through education to define the groundrules all over the world. So it is just as much an issue of education as it is in law enforcement, particularly in the third world.
Just finally Im not absolving those who have purposely abused their poistions to cheat the public purse, Im just trying to highlight that there are ambiguities about the issue of corruption.

Christos Mouzeviris2012-12-20 11:31:26
Thank you for reading and understanding what exactly I am trying to say. And for the positive feedback.

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