Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Too Many Countries, a Sinister Scourge of Corruption

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Too Many Countries, a Sinister Scourge of Corruption

Article excerpt

The collapse of Zairean leader Mobutu Sese Seko's regime focuses the spotlight again on the devastating effects of corruption on a country and its people. Zaire is not an isolated case. Newspapers are filled with examples of rulers and officials using their positions for personal gain; no country, including the United States, is exempt.

Corruption is not hard to detect. Villas in Europe that contrast sharply with the deficits and poverty of a poor country are one indication. Conspicuous consumption far above the salary of a mid-level official is another.

The scourge is not new, but conditions today appear to have expanded the temptations. Leaders in newly independent countries faced for the first time the opportunities and pressures to enrich themselves and their families. Weak governmental structures did little to curb their excesses. The cold war offered possibilities of gain from both East and West. People who were under communist rule are emerging, already skilled in the art of underground illegal transactions. Drug and crime syndicates around the globe use their enormous profits to buy protection and to launder money. Even in the US, practices relating to political campaign financing raise issues of corruption. Some suggest that practices considered inappropriate in the US are established parts of other cultures. The ill-paid policeman in a poor country explains that his extra payment is essential to his livelihood. The person who achieves power as a president or cabinet minister insists that the expectations of gain from relatives and friends create pressures to divert official assets. Placing a percentage of a contract price in an official's private bank account or providing the official's brother with a share in an enterprise are seen as appropriate rewards for providing access to authority. Yet, the scourge is sinister. Ostentatious extravagance undermines public confidence. Diverting a country's resources for the personal profit of those in power destroys the economy and retards development. Nigeria is a case in point. An authoritarian ruler's determination to protect the fortunes of family and supporters impedes genuine political change. …

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