On Corruption and Corrupters

Article excerpt

Read any article about Africa, particularly in the Western press, and the one word that will keep popping up every two or three sentences, sometimes several times in a single sentence is: Corruption.

Africa and corruption, it would seem, are like Siamese twins joined at the head, the belly, the hip and the ankle. According to many in the West, African leaders, African businessmen, African states, African citizens, even African animals, if the story in a "quality" British broadsheet is to be believed, are corrupt to the core. Africans: I have been told and I am sure so have you, cannot help but be corrupt, they are naturally corrupt, corruption is part and parcel of their cultures.

Is this really true? Are we really that bad compared to others?

One person who set out to discover some answers to this question is that redoubtable lady, Dr Frene Ginwalla, the Speaker of the South African Parliament. She was invited through the auspices of Transparency International, the anti-corruption NGO, to address a European Business Ethics Conference on international corruption in Frankfurt not so long ago.

What she had to say burst like a bombshell among her stunned audience.

Yes, Africa and most of the Third World is corrupt, she said. But the head and fountain of that corruption is the very entity that is pointing admonishing fingers at us - in short, the North.

Corruption always involves two parties - the giver and the taker. But, Dr Ginawalla asserted, "popular perceptions of corruption are culturally value-laden, focussing on those who receive the pay-offs and away from those who make the payments". The other side of the transaction - bribery- is ignored. "The dictionary makes no such distinction," she said, "both are corrupt."

"The truth," she told her audience of high-level business people, "is that international corruption is often tacitly supported and actively encouraged by Western countries. While most countries have laws against domestic corruption, only one - the USA -has made it illegal to bribe foreign officials. Many countries consider bribes to be legitimate business expenses that are deductible for tax purposes."

This was the case, she said, in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Switzerland: "Thus governments actively encourage their companies to indulge in bribery instead of taking steps to stop them."

Lord Young, she told her rapt audience, the former British Cabinet Minister and now Chairman of Cable and Wireless, reportedly claimed that bribery abroad is job creation at home, while a German priest warned a German businessman that it was positively immoral not to bribe abroad if that meant a loss of jobs in Germany!

Mickey Kantor, the US Secretary of Commerce said earlier this year that his Government was aware of almost 100 cases in which foreign bribes had undercut the ability of US firms to win contracts valued at $45bn in the 12 months before May 1995. …