Magazine article The Futurist

Progress against Corruption: Efforts Accelerate to Make Governments More Transparent and Accountable. (Government)

Magazine article The Futurist

Progress against Corruption: Efforts Accelerate to Make Governments More Transparent and Accountable. (Government)

Article excerpt

Corruption in governments throughout the world used to be considered a fact of life: undesirable, but not especially harmful. Now that attitude has changed, according to Peter Richardson, a board member of Transparency International, a corruption-fighting organization.

"High levels of corruption are no longer regarded as inevitable. Consensus now exists that corrupt behavior reduces economic growth and can destabilize governments," writes Richardson in his contribution to Managing Global Issues, a collection of essays about global governance.

Corruption erodes respect for the law and deters honest people from entering public service. It results in over-invoicing and substandard work by contractors and reduces tax revenues. Corruption also undercuts environmental regulations and building code regulations, discourages foreign direct investment in developing countries, and facilitates other crimes, such as drug trafficking, according to Richardson.

Corruption scandals in the 1990s (in France, Brazil, Japan, Pakistan, and elsewhere) demonstrated that corruption is widespread, even in democracies. In recent years, government leaders and nongovernmental organizations have developed a variety of strategies to expose corruption and counter its effects.

Transparency International, a global organization with 80 chapters, builds anticorruption coalitions with governments, business people, and representatives of civil society. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund focus on introducing reforms in developing countries to address the demand side of bribery. In cases where a country has high levels of corruption and a government that is not instituting reforms, international financial institutions may reduce or eliminate aid. In 1996 the UN General Assembly approved a code of conduct for public officials and called on member states to make bribing public officials a crime.

Corruption reform programs have had success in exposing government bribery by conducting national surveys and publishing "report cards" that detail specific instances of corruption. "Big Mac Indexes," which reveal suspicious cost differences in a country for similar commodities, such as a school lunch or a bottle of aspirin, can be especially effective, according to Richardson.

"Transparency International/Argentina conducted a Big Mac survey, which revealed that a school lunch in Buenos Aires cost the equivalent of $5. A comparable lunch in Mendoza, which had been implementing anticorruption measures, cost the equivalent of 80 Cents Within days of publication of the survey's results, the cost of a school lunch in Buenos Aires was more than halved," Richardson writes.

Transparency international also publishes two annual reports that put pressure on governments tolerating high levels of corruption.

* The Corruption Perception Index ranks countries according to levels of corruption revealed by a composite of 14 surveys of business people, academics, and country analysts.

* The Bribe Payers Index focuses on the supply side of corruption by ranking countries according to how many bribes are offered by their international businesses.

Putting a media spotlight on corruption helps to raise public awareness of the issue and can be an effective tool in combating corruption in developed countries. But attacking government corruption in the developing world will require reforms that curb the opportunities and incentives for bribery and extortion, increase the risks that corrupt behavior will be detected, and hand down severe penalties for bribery. …

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