Corruption is the buzzword today. Everyone worldwide is talking about corruption. By definition, corruption is generally known as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. It also refers to bribery or kickback. Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, defines corruption as “the abuse of power for private gains”. Transparency International explains that corruption has a wider scope than bribery, which is frequently believed to be synonymous with corruption associated with government officials.
Quantifying the reach of corruption is difficult. One attempt to do so was released in December 2015 by Transparency International. It ran a survey in 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to attempt to measure the level of corruption in those countries. The main findings of this survey are as follows:
- Corruption seen to be on the rise
- Most governments are failing to meet citizens’ expectations in regard to fighting corruption
- Police and private sector perceived as most corrupt
- Bribery affects more than one-in-five Africans, and disproportionally affects the poor in urban areas
- Police and courts have the highest rate of bribery
- Many people feel unable to contribute to helping fight corruption. Despite this, rolling back on corruption is possible
In this article, I will focus on “administrative corruption” in Africa. It is more related to the use of “private payments to public officials to distort the prescribed implementation of official rules and policies”. Obviously, this type of corruption has a serious impact on the business and investment environment.
Where did corruption originate from in Africa?
Corruption in Africa is characteristic of corruption worldwide. For many years, Africa has been perceived as a continent overwhelmed by corruption. The negative image has also been aggravated by poor participation in anti-corruption initiatives.
In pre-colonial African communities, governance was exercised with the highest degree of resoluteness. They were normally embedded in spiritual terms to inspire fear and be instilled in the subconscious. What held African communities together and brought administrative corruption down to the minimum level were the rules and regulations, agreed principles, and moral values that guided the interaction of individuals in the communities.
No doubt, colonialism contributed to the prevalence of corruption across sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the rulers held power in trust for their colonial authorities. Individuals without integrity who demanded money in exchange for manipulating the colonial masters introduced corruption at its highest level.
Accordingly, the people saw bribery as the only resort to obtain the most basic rights. Another example is taxation. Colonial masters imposed flat-rate taxes without much knowledge of the potential earnings of tax payers. Tax collectors were authorised to arrest any defaulter. The tax was primarily used in paying salaries for colonial officials and in running the colonial office. There were very little benefits the citizens could see in the form of social services in return for the taxes they paid. The result was the evolution of a corrupt system.
It is widely believed that colonialism introduced systemic corruption on a large scale across most of sub-Saharan Africa. The rejection of indigenous values, standards, checks and balances, and the affectation of superimposing Western structures undermined the well-organised bureaucratic system previously present across pre-colonial Africa. The end result is corrupt governmental institutions.
What are the costs of corruption?
Corruption impacts communities and businesses in a large number of ways. It costs people their freedom, health, or money. It costs businessmen to pay bribes to government officers. According to Transparency International, the cost of corruption can be divided into four main categories: political, economic, social, and environmental.
On the political front, corruption is a major problem to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they’re misused for private advantage. This is harmful in established democracies but even more so in newly emerging ones. It is extremely challenging to develop accountable political leadership in a corrupt climate.
Economically, corruption depletes national wealth. Corrupt politicians invest scarce public resources in projects that will line their pockets rather than benefit communities, and prioritise high-profile projects, such as dams, power plants, pipelines, and refineries, over less spectacular but more urgent infrastructure projects, such as schools, hospitals, and roads. Corruption also hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, which in turn deters investment.
Corruption corrodes the social fabric of society. It undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions, and its leadership. A distrustful or apathetic public can then become yet another hurdle to challenging corruption.
Environmental degradation is another consequence of corrupt systems. The lack of, or non-enforcement of, environmental regulations and legislation means that precious natural resources are carelessly exploited and entire ecological systems are ravaged. From mining to logging to carbon offsets, companies across the globe continue to pay bribes in return for unrestricted destruction.
What are the recommendations for the fight against corruption?
It is very crucial that Africa tackle corruption, because the development of Africa is being undermined by corruption. Basically, efforts should be made to ensure more transparency and more information about the revenues coming into governments and the expenses going out of governments.
Likewise, it is important to have a strong investigative agency within the government and independent prosecutors and efficient law enforcement officials who do not favour any specific party or person.
Without a doubt, Africa has a challenging mission to combat corruption and bribes. The following recommendations were summarised from several anti-corruption initiatives:
- Restoration of indigenous values and institutions: Indigenous solutions to corruption must once again be explored followed by the rediscovery of indigenous systems of administration
A comprehensive national strategy engaging all senior government officials: Develop a comprehensive national strategy with a time-bound action plan to fight bribery and corruption. All senior government officials should commit to such a strategy and ensure it is understood and implemented at all levels on the ground
- Re-establish a culture of integrity: African governments should join forces with the private sector in the fight against corruption to re-establish a culture of integrity in society at large
- Government and non-governmental organisations should foster public awareness of corruption; they should educate and inform people about the importance of integrity
- Anti-corruption agencies should be revitalised and empowered: Governments should streamline the role and functions of the different anti-corruption agencies and ensure adequate and well defined lines of communication and co-operation
- Identify the areas of public civil service most prone to corruption: The governments should identify those areas of the public administration most prone to corruption
- Boost and increase dialogue with business, civil society, and media: Governments should intensify and expand dialogue with national business associations, civil society, and the media with the intention of defining a suitable, effective anti-corruption structure
- Re-examine the country’s legal framework against international standards: Governments should carry out a comprehensive review of the legal framework, benchmarked against the international anti-corruption standards. This review should consider the most recent developments in white collar crime
- Determine and implement policies at internationally accepted standards and practices: Each country must endeavour to comply with the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and other agreements. Its participation in meetings on international integrity and anti-corruption should help the government determine and apply policies and measures consistent with international standards and practices
Hany Aboul Fotouh is a banking expert.