Corruption Has A Bold Face

What is corruption?

This is a question I asked myself yesterday after witnessing an exchange between two professionals. One held a significant title; the other was a little lower on the totem pole. What struck me were several things that point to our ‘devolution’ as civilized beings. We write, research and attempt to capture data that contribute to acceptable standards. Beautifully penned and eloquently spoken words backed up by actions, serve to reinforce that there are vanguards of ethics and integrity. Humanity applauds and faith is restored for a time.


Photo Credit – NH/2014


Then, you have the moment of OMG! A moment of epic FAILURE!

Corruption is situated in our cultural experiences. We all have a general idea of what is wrong and right. The wrongness or rightness of something is measured against established norms. I love this explanation offered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

Corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability. Corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existing is the soliciting of bribes. Economic development is stunted because foreign direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the “start-up costs” required because of corruption.

Corruption exists because many of our institutions have failed to preserve the standards that encourage a rejection of corrupt practices. The subtlety of the behaviors that encourage the growth of corruption are usually ignored. Excuses are made and the promise of a one time only deal becomes part of the narrative. As we have seen in many areas of life, it is not a one time deal and will produce cancerous results.

Corruption exists where there is a need for something. Significant to this need is who has the power to get things done and who has no power. The relationship may evolve to an understanding that something tangible/intangible has to be exchanged in order to satisfy the desire. Take for example the issue of offering a bribe to a law enforcement officer. The officer may be in a bind financially. Here come a man of means who offers the officer a sum of money to not get a ticket. The officer processes the information, noting that the money could help to reduce his current dilemma. Does he write the ticket/does he take the bribe?

Or consider this scene, student has missed the deadline to apply for a program. Professor walks in to admissions and frames the conversation around the student wishing to be part of the institution. She is told that the deadline has passed. It is suggested that a relationship exists with the Dean and the possibility exists for the standard to be relaxed based on that relationship. Going through the back door is now being facilitated by someone who holds power.

What about the known Gangster, with political ties, benefiting from contracts facilitated by the ruling class? He circumvents all know standards for contracts, even with knowledge of his criminality. Can we with all conviction say we accept this relationship?

Corruption does not develop overnight. It is like a seed, nurtured by the participation of people within systems that are bureaucratic in nature. I would dare to suggest that the systems are flawed and fail to act on the behalf of people who seek justice. When systems are not re-engineered to meet the needs of its constituents, the door that was once ajar, now stands wide open, a shadow of its former self.

Can our behaviours be corrected?

Of course they can. It takes guts and yes, painful sacrifices. When there is a lot at stake (money, power, and fame), added to the passage of time and the creation of “bad” norms, there will be resistance to charting a course of change. But the narrative must change. People must not only see but feel the rising tide of change against corrupt practices. They must see that standards are real, when tested. And they must be assured that judicial systems work, when perpetrators are caught. Skeptics have taught us that  acceptance of the idea of change rests in experience rather than what they are told.

The fight is continuous; our resolve to do battle against the corrupt will be aided by the methods we employ in the 21st century to re-engage and re-wire citizens.

– Suzette Henry-Campbell



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