- This article is about political corruption. For other uses, see Corruption (disambiguation)
In broad terms, political corruption is the misuse of public office for private gain. All forms of government are susceptible in practice to political corruption. Degrees of corruption vary greatly, from minor uses of influence and patronage to do and return favours, to institutionalised bribery and beyond. The end-point of political corruption is kleptocracy, literally rule by thieves, where even the external pretence of honesty is abandoned.
Corruption arises in both political and bureaucratic offices and can be petty or grand, organized or unorganized. Though corruption often facilitates criminal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and prostitution, it is not restricted to these activities. For purposes of understanding the problem and devising remedies, it is important to keep crime and corruption analytically distinct.
Conditions favorable for corruption
- Concentration of decision-making power: non-democratic regimes
- Lack of government transparency in decision-making
- Large amounts of public capital involved in a project
- Self-interested closed cliques and "old-boy" networks
- Weak rule of law
- Poorly-paid government officials
- An apathetic and uninterested, or gullible and easily led demos that does not scrutinise the political process sufficiently
Corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and representation in policymaking; corruption in the judiciary suspends the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the unequal provision of services. More generally, corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and officials are hired or promoted without regard to performance. At the same time, corruption undermines the legitimacy of government and such democratic values as trust and tolerance.
Corruption also undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiency. In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments themselves, the management cost of negotiating with officials, and the risk of breached agreements or detection. Although some claim corruption reduces costs by cutting red tape, an emerging consensus holds that the availability of bribes induces officials to contrive new rules and delays. Where corruption inflates the cost of business, it also distorts the playing field, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.
Corruption also generates economic distortions in the public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Officials may increase the technical complexity of public sector projects to conceal such dealings, thus further distorting investment. Corruption also lowers compliance with construction, environmental, or other regulations; reduces the quality of government services and infrastructure; and increases budgetary pressures on government.
General national welfare
Political corruption is widespread in many countries, and represents a major obstacle to the well-being of the citizens of those countries. Political corruption means that government policies tend to benefit the givers of the bribes, not the country.
Even in countries where national politics is relatively honest, political corruption is often found in regional politics.
Types of abuse
Political corruption encompasses abuses by government officials such as embezzlement and nepotism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud.
Bribery: Bribe-takers and bribe-givers
Corruption needs two parties to be corrupt: the bribe giver and the bribe taker. In some countries the culture of corruption extends to every aspect of public life, making it more or less impossible to stay in business without giving bribes.
The most common bribe-giving countries are not in general the same as the most common bribe-taking countries.
The 12 least corrupt countries, according to the Transparency International perception survey, 2001, are (in alphabetical order):
- Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland
According to the same survey, the 12 most corrupt countries are (in alphabetical order):
- Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine
However, the value of that survey is disputed, since it is based on the subjective perceptions of the polled individuals.
"Campaign contributions" and soft money
It is easy to prove corruption, but difficult to prove its absence. For this reason, there are often rumours about many politicians.
Politicians are placed in apparently compromising positions because of their need to solicit financial contributions for their campaigns. Often, they then appear to be acting in the interests of those parties that fund them, giving rise to talk of political corruption.
Supporters of politicians assert that it is entirely coincidental that many politicians appear to be acting in the interests of those who fund them. Cynics wonder why these organizations fund politicians at all, if they get nothing for their money? It should be noted that firms, especially large ones, often fund all major parties.
An argument exists that politicians should receive public funding, possibly on the basis of the number of votes received, in order to reduce the risk of political corruption through campaign contributions.
Charges of corruption as a political tool
Oftentimes, politicians may seek to taint their opponents with charges of corruption. In the People's Republic of China, this phenomenon was used by Zhu Rongji, and most recently, by Hu Jintao to weaken their political opponents.
Forms or aspects of corruption
Examples of Corruption
- World Bank anti-corruption page (http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/anticorrupt/)
- Corruption surveys (http://www.transparency.org/surveys/index.html) by Transparency International
- Internet Center For Corruption Research (http://www.gwdg.de/~uwvw/icr.htm)
- A collection of links to reports of alleged political corruption (http://www.ex.ac.uk/~RDavies/arian/scandals/political.html)
- Rainforest Destruction (http://www.orangutansonline.com/articles/article79.htm)
- Global Integrity Report (http://www.publicintegrity.org/ga/default.aspx) - Extensive analysis of openness and accountability of governments by the Center for Public Integrity.
- UN Office on Drugs and Crime (http://www.unodc.org) - Has sub-section dealing with corruption worldwide.
- A typology of corrupt practices (http://samvak.tripod.com/nm089.html)