Magazine article New Internationalist

Poverty and Corruption: All Too Often Corruption Is Blatant, Open, Shameless. and the Practice Continues Because We Don't Protest or Fight It When It's Possible to Do So

Magazine article New Internationalist

Poverty and Corruption: All Too Often Corruption Is Blatant, Open, Shameless. and the Practice Continues Because We Don't Protest or Fight It When It's Possible to Do So

Article excerpt

FOR weeks now I've been haunted by the story of Satyaendra Dubey, a young engineer, working in Bihar in eastern India. Dubey was involved in a big project to build roads that are meant to connect all of India - known as the Golden Quadrilateral. The project is also called the Indian Prime Minister's 'dream project'.

Dubey was an unusual man - disturbed by the extent of corruption in the project, he did not remain silent. He chose to speak out. But, being realistic, he did not make his anxiety public. Instead he wrote a confidential letter to the Prime Minister, giving chapter and verse about what he had seen and asked that his confidence be respected. Bureaucracy, however, does not care for the individual. Dubey's letter did not remain confidential. Soon he lay on the streets of Bihar, a dead man, shot through the head on his way home one night.

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There was some outrage at Dubey's tragic death. The Indian Express, a national newspaper, campaigned to expose what had happened and to stimulate public protest. The paper collected some 50,000 signatures - an impressive number, though not much in a country of a billion plus. But, then, I didn't sign either. So who am I to question the indifference of others?

In an odd way we've become so used to corruption, fraud and graft that we don't even notice. It seems part of the order of things. There's an index of corruption, compiled by an organization called Transparency International, by which different countries are judged. Our countries - in the South or what used to be known as the Third World - usually occupy the bottom spots. It's often said that there's a link between corruption and poverty - and that's why the poorer countries are so corrupt. But I'm not so sure.

Last week I decided to test this out. I picked up a local newspaper and scoured it for stories of corruption. There was no shortage. Then I looked at a paper from Nepal and one from Pakistan and the result was the same. The next step was to pick up an international paper - international, but mainly with news from the West. The result was pretty much the same. If it wasn't the Parmalat scandal or Silvio Berlusconi's adventures with the law, it was contracts in Iraq for US companies. The only difference was one of scale. In some instances (largely in the South) we're talking small money; in others (largely in the North) we're talking mega money. But this is small comfort - the problem doesn't disappear because the scale is small.

So what does poverty have to do with corruption? …

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