The arrests of several government officials for corruption have made the headlines in the past few weeks. The large number of arrests makes you wonder if one can fight the temptations of corruption once in power. It personally made me wonder if one can stay clean once they grab the hands of power. I believe a number of factors come into play when it comes to the spread of corrupt behavior in government offices. We might all blame it all on government officials but it should not be forgotten that there is also a demand side to corruption. I see corruption as a vicious cycle that consists of low civil servant salaries, dissatisfaction of government employees, inefficient provision of public services, the creation of loopholes for the demand of (shortcut) services by the public in return for bribes, the absence of the rule of law and the abuse of the civil servant of public resources.
The other day, I watched a brief TV drama that shows an example of corrupt behavior that I normally did not consider at all as being unethical. In the drama, an employee of the electric corporation is called by residents of condominium houses to come and fix some electrical malfunction that resulted in a power outage. Once the fixing is done and power is back, the residents decided to reward the employee by paying him some money. The employee refuses the reward by arguing that it is unethical and corrupt to pay money to an employee who already receives a salary to do his job. For me, the money offered to this employee was just like a tip you would give to a waiter in a restaurant. I believe that this story is a good illustration that there is a demand side to corruption – offers made like those by the condominium residents encourages government employees to depend on such extra payments for them to do the jobs for which they already receive a salary.
The above story is also a good illustration that corrupt behavior is not only typical of those in power but is also observed in the society at large. I believe it is the little dishonest acts that we do that grow into a big corruption scandal. Nowadays, it has become custom to offer bribes or acts of favors to get a service. Be it to speed up the receipt of a driver’s license, to get a position in a certain organization, to get a proper education and treatment for your child at school, to get a pass for your goods at the airport, to get a price reduction on the price of your car or get a passing grade at a course in college, people offer bribes. It has become a sort of culture to prefer a shortcut to get a service and avoid the smallest inconveniences.
So how can corruption be fought? Can the mass arrest of corrupt government officials win the fight against corruption? In my opinion, doing so is only part of the solution. Yes, it can create fear on those who wish to engage in corruptive acts. Yes, it can send the message that the rule of law prevails. But I do not believe it tackles the problem at its core. The way I see it, corruption can only and truly be fought with the active and concerned participation of each and every member of the society. If there is no one who pays bribes, there will not by anyone to receive them. The reverse is also true.