Saturday, 2 February 2008

Corruption Western-Style

CORRUPTION has got to be one of the major challenges of our time.

Along with the issues of sustainable economic development, global warming, the elusive peace in the Middle East and the new pandemics affecting large swathes of our population, solving the problem could prove to be a critical turning point in our modern age.

What makes it so crucial is that it affects the solution to almost any other issue of significance that we are trying to solve. Take for example the Aids problem in the developing world.

Already as it is, there is a major funding shortage to finance new research, and the production of cheaper drug formulations that would benefit the majority of sufferers. As it happens, most of the affected areas are also in places where corruption is at its most rampant. As a result, millions of dollars that would otherwise have gone to combating the disease goes to the pockets of crooked bureaucrats, who care not if their countrymen continue to die by the thousands so long as they get their share of the largesse.

The same thing could be said with the care of refugees displaced by frequent conflicts in the world’s troubled hot spots. They too are frequent victims of corrupt practices in the places where they are, with funds supposed to be for their welfare continuing to be siphoned to the bank accounts of the very people who are supposed to be looking after them.

There has always been the belief, and perhaps this is mainly accurate, that corruption affects less developed economies more than they do countries in the West. After all, research and evidence shows that large parts of Africa, many countries in Asia, and a good number of states in Latin America – all less developed regions – lead the world in terms of corruption-related problems.

It is not too difficult to see why.

These countries are also stricken with extreme poverty, in most cases, making the temptation to profit from illicit means very strong indeed. Many of the institutions in these countries tend to be weak and unstable, making corruption cases very difficult to uncover and prosecute. And, of course, a strong and independent media is almost always non-existent, and therefore scandals are that much harder to investigate.

But the events of last week show that even in the advanced economies of the West, corruption is still very much alive and well.

Take the case of Derek Conway, a Conservative member of the British Parliament. Not unlike the practice of some Filipino politicians, Conway stands accused of improperly including his son in his staff payroll, without the latter having any clear official duties to back up his designation of researcher.

And the story only gets more interesting.

It seems another son may have also been paid in the same way, and even a Canadian friend of their sons could also have been on the receiving end of some payments.

What does this prove?

Nothing perhaps that we Filipinos, so used to seeing corruption within our midst, do not already know.

Integrity, and thus the ability to resist the temptation to engage in corruption, is not only enforced by systems of good governance, such as Britain has, but rather starts much earlier than that – during a person’s formative years when he learns the good old fashioned values of honesty, truthfulness and fair play.

Leave it any later than this, and it all remains just a matter of time, and the right opportunity to come along.

Published in The Sun Star Daily, Saturday, February 02, 2008

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