Monday, November 30, 2009

Corrupt politicians and functionaries of the state

Corrupt politicians and functionaries of the state

Posted By Stabroek staff On November 27, 2009 @ 5:06 am In Business | No Comments

It is pretty clear from Transparency Internation-al’s 2009 Global Report on Corruption that the taking of bribes and kickbacks by politicians in developing countries is a well-established and institutionalized practice. In fact, even allowing for the kind of inexactitude that understandably derives from estimates, the figure of between US$20 million and US$40 million is staggering. These sums, the TI report says, must be shared by public officials, expeditors of one sort or another, public officers of limited means who are in fact that people that administer those state services for which people are prepared to pay.

So endemic has corruption become in some countries – frequently, the poorer they are the more corrupt their politicians and public officials tend to be – that some aspiring politicians have actually been known to make significant “investments” in finding themselves in positions of influence. Politicians’ substantive pay is not usually anything to shout about. The “bonus,” the kickback worth several times the salaries of politician lies in the fact that their position of influence allows for the selling of state services at bumper prices. The significance of this, of course, is that it raises serious questions about the motives of so many politicians who use the hustings to proffer altruistic motives for seeking election when in fact their only real motive is to plunder the state.

Over time we in Guyana have come to know of several notorious cases of corrupt politicians in other countries who fabulously enriched themselves at the expense of the state – Jean Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire come readily to mind. Both are said to have plundered their countries mostly by simply possessing state assets and the former, having sufficiently enriched, then assumed the title Emperor Bokassa 1.

In our part of the world we hear rather less of the exploits of corrupt politicians though in some cases patterns of conspicuous consumption and ‘good living’ coincide with entry into politics to provide a dead giveaway. Most of the corruption-related scandals are associated with relationships between public servants and businessmen, the former driven by considerations of both greed and poor pay and the latter by a preparedness to pay well mostly for the privilege of acquiring official favours and circumventing their obligations – mostly financial ones to the state.

An interesting feature of the 2009 TI Corruption Report is the extent to which it lays the blame at the door of the international business community for the scale of corruption in poor countries. Some businesses, it seems, place a high value on corrupting officers of the state and while their respective annual reports and accounts are unlikely to show it, there are numerous cases in which corrupt public servants are on the permanent payrolls of people in the various business communities. Here too, suspicions of corruption invariably envelop public servants whose life styles cannot be sustained on their public service salaries.

Much of this, of course, is familiar to Guyana. Corruption – mostly transactions involving state functionaries and businessmen – has become so commonplace that discussions on the issue tend to dwell on issues of scale rather than whether or not the practice actually exists. Those commentators with an interest in defending the status quo would of course contend that the scale of corrupt practices is rather less than is said to be the case though when one thinks of the opportunities for corrupt practices across the spectrum of state resources and services which are in demand, we can do more than speculate as to the real scale of corruption.

Then there is of course the issue of whether or not our state bureaucracies are not themselves tailor-made for corruption. One can find numerous examples of basic services – licenses, permits, certificates etc, the preparation of which is preceded by fairly routine procedures but the acquisition of which is enmeshed in thickets of bureaucracy that have the effect of inflating the value of these services and attaching bribes and kickbacks to their acquisition. Oddly enough, despite the fact that the complexity of these systems is often linked to corrupt practices, little if any effort is made to render them less complex. Who among us is not familiar with those state agencies that attract long queues, large crowds, endless delays and needless paperwork, all of which, deliberately or otherwise, are tailor-made for corrupt practices.

Interestingly, states on the whole have little appetite for the scandal associated with revelations of corruption, particularly when high officials including politicians are implicated. If finger pointing and suspicion often tends to go in the direction of persons in authority the blanket of guilt all to frequently descends on lesser functionaries who cost the political administration little or not political capital. This too is an issue with which we in Guyana are familiar. Considerations of mistrust hopelessly compromise the credibility of official investigations while suspicions about the veracity of corruption investigations are even more deeply entrenched by the frequent exoneration of those who, ironically, are best-positioned to become involved in corrupt practices.

All of this, of course, amounts to the further weakening of both the economic resilience and moral outlook of countries most prone to corruption. Not only are the state coffers plundered and national resources sold off but – particularly for ordinary people – the cost of living is literally and sometimes significantly inflated by a sudden and unplanned necessity to pay bribes for services provided by the state. From the standpoint of what is perhaps best described as national moral fibre there has long occurred a coming to terms with the reality of bribery and corruption, the acceptance of the practice of kickbacks and backhanders as a norm rather than an aberration. That, perhaps, is the most disturbing thing of all.

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