Secondary Corruption: The Concept of Political Illness

By Werlin, Herbert H. | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Secondary Corruption: The Concept of Political Illness


Werlin, Herbert H., The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


Various problems are presented with the standard definition of corruption: "the misuse of public power for private benefits." Consequently, an alternative definition is suggested: "the subversion of statesmanship by partisanship" or "of governance by greed," using political elasticity theory. From this, a distinction is made between primary and secondary corruption, based upon the ability or inability to control manifestations of greed. Case studies are then presented to illustrate this distinction. Finally, suggestions are made for treating political illness, which is caused by (or another name for) secondary corruption.

Key Words: Secondary corruption, democracy, international aid, capitalism, LDCs, Japan, Germany, Mexico, Singapore, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Russia, South Korea, United States of America, Tanzania, Spain, Nigeria.

Introduction: Definitional Problems

Heidenheimer, Johnston, and LeVine (1989: 8) classify definitions of political corruption into three often overlapping categories: (1) misuse of money or favors for private gain; (2) inappropriate exchanges of money or favors for undue influence or power; and (3) violations of public interest or norms of behavior for special advantages or selfserving purposes. Transparency International (the most important international organization fighting corruption) has combined these definitions into one that we might refer to as "the standard definition of political corruption": "the misuse of public power for private benefits." Heywood (1997), along with other scholars, have indicated the following problems with this standard definition:

1. Cultural Compatibility.

In January, 2000, Helmut Kohl was forced to resign as the Christian Democratic party's honorary chairman for receiving into party slush funds large illegal (i.e., undeclared) donations. Yet, in Japan and other East Asian countries, "it was natural for those with resources to honor the nation's leaders with gifts that in turn made democratic politics possible" (Pye, 1997: 216).

Many countries operate semi-feudalistic systems in which positions of power and economic productivity are given to loyal subordinates, relatives, ethnic cohorts, and friends in return for the feedback of a percentage of whatever is gained as a result. In Mexico, Cornelius and Wayne (1991) describe these interwoven chains of patron-client relationships as "camarillas."

Consequently, how clients gain access to wealth is less important than the loyalty, deference and services that they provide to their patrons.

2 Acceptabity.

Leak (1999: 64) mentions a Singaporean minister who committed suicide in 1986 upon being accused of accepting bribes from two property developers. In Sierra Leone, on the other hand, according to Kpundeh (1999), government is so weak that bribery and extortion are not considered really "scandalous" but, rather, "standard operating procedure." While this is partly the result of miserably paid and undisciplined civil servants, "those earning high salaries, primarily government ministers and senior civil servants, have indulged in more fraud than junior workers or private citizens" (Kpundeh, 1999: 214).

In Bangladesh, Dey (1989: 508) points out, people "offer bribes to get jobs with high bribe potential." Thus, "the bribe here is similar to an entry fee that one has to pay to join a club and become entitled to its benefits and facilities." The same is true in the Dominican Republic, where government jobs are seen even by the public as a legitimate way of enriching oneself (Ruffing-Hilliard, 1991: 309).

3. Functionality.

Caiden (1990: 150-151) summarizes the arguments of analysts, indicating that corruption may at times be functional: (a) to speed up the administrative and legislative process; (b) to make the bureaucracy more humane and approachable for those who have not yet adjusted to the modern way of life; (c) to overcome excessive bureaucratic inflexibility, sluggishness, and bungling; (d) to integrate otherwise alienated groups (particularly, politically weak ethnic, religious, and racial groups) and, thereby, be an alternative to violence; and (e) to enable entrepreneurs to function within a difficult business environment. …

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