Corruption is a Serious Problem Worldwide

Corruption affects us all. Resources are used for the wrong purposes and are unfairly divided. It weakens our democracy and trust in our leaders. It eats away at our ethics and corrodes our moral fibre. It discourages public and private investment. It slows down economic growth and development.

The annual cost of corruption is estimated as $1 trillion.
Official global aid flows in 2016 were $146 billion.

The cost of corruption in Africa alone is estimated at US$ 148 billion a year, 25% of the continent’s GDP and about 300% of foreign aid it receives. Two thirds of all countries surveyed score below 50 (out of 100) on TI’s Annual Corruption Perception Index.

Most importantly, corruption is especially damaging to the poor and is referred to, by the World Bank, as “the greatest obstacle to reducing poverty”. Studies show that poor people pay larger shares of their income in bribes than richer people and are discriminated against in their access to public services. Resources intended for the poor, including international aid, are diverted to enrich corrupt elites. According to Transparency International, “[T]he poor, whether in developing or highly industrialized countries, are the most penalized by corruption. They are also more pessimistic about the prospects for less corruption in the future.”

A leader of Tearfund shares, “We know from our work in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who suffer the most as a result of bribery.”

Corruption undermines church efforts for relief and development. In the last decades, the global church has expanded its mission programs to assist poor communities through education, health, agricultural, micro-finance, and other poverty alleviation programs. These efforts, however, are adversely impacted by corrupt practices that are endemic and pervasive in the respective communities. This may take the form of financial corruption, such as bribery and embezzlement of funds, or other non-financial forms such as unfair use and allocation of resources and opportunities through in-group favoritism and nepotism.

What is Corruption?

There are many definitions of corruption, but the most common definition is:

The abuse of entrusted authority for private gain.

Corruption crosses all sectors – public, private, and social. Corruption comes in many forms such as bribery and embezzlement, but also includes other practices that do not involve money, like unfair favoritism and nepotism. Each form of corruption gives undue and illicit advantages and benefits.

Also, corruption can be found at all levels; both at a high political and business level (“grand corruption”) and as a part of the daily lives of the common people like small bribes, skimmed paychecks, absentee employees and nepotism in bureaucratic appointments (“petty corruption”). Common to all corruption practices is a violation of trust, an undermining of the common good or interest of the community or society.

Corruption is not an isolated phenomenon found within one specific institution, sector or group – it is pervasive and entrenched in all levels of society. Formal laws try to control corrupt activity, but their enforcement is absent or weak. Institutions of accountability also exist but they are ineffective. Public officials abuse power, and are not deterred nor controlled by state-based accountability institutions or other accountability organizations.

For even more definitions and concepts about corruption, see Transparency International’s Interactive Glossary.

The Culture of Corruption

I don’t like corruption. I am disappointed that I can’t trust the police to protect my rights. I dislike my government using my taxes to build private empires rather than public infrastructure. But on the other hand, I actually don’t mind paying a little something to get out of legal trouble. It’s nice when someone in my network uses their influence to get me a job I am not exactly qualified for. Truthfully, it’s not that I dislike corruption itself – I simply don’t like corruption when others use it to get ahead of me, and I suffer its negative consequences.

Corruption has maintained its deep influence because we actually value what it can do for us.

If we are on top, corruption becomes our tool to maintain that position. We use money, power, and favors to convince others to be on our team. “Getting things done” means a little bit of twisting arms and promising fortune to people who cooperate. When we are on the bottom, corruption becomes a source of advantage over our peers. In today’s competitive landscape, we feel forced to do anything we can to get ahead. And because society at large has not condemned petty bribery, influence peddling, and nepotism (only publicly condemned when rich political officials do it), such practices have become the norm for conducting day to day life.

Corruption has become an unspoken source of social capital used to springboard into a good situation or leverage out of a sticky one.

Its prevalence is difficult to estimate and its influence is even more difficult to undermine because it has become intricately tied to the daily operation of our educational, political, and business ecosystems.

But its prevalence has not sounded society’s alarm. We have not yet come to terms with how extensively destructive corruption can be. Today, we roll our eyes and knowingly sigh when we hear our neighbor talk about paying off the police. We shrug it away: “Well, that’s just how it is here.” But that shrug means that we believe there is no chance for change. We have come to expect corruption, and simply dream to one day be in control of those purse-strings ourselves. But if we truly want our public services to be fair, our police to be responsive, and our taxes to flow through proper channels, we need to stop shrugging away corruption and begin talking about corruption as the oppressive power brokering that it is.