Corruption - and How It Affects the Political Legitimacy of the State

By Cheema, G. Shabbir | UN Chronicle, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Corruption - and How It Affects the Political Legitimacy of the State


Cheema, G. Shabbir, UN Chronicle


There is quite clearly no one universally accepted definition of corruption. What is universally acknowledged is that man has been and continues to be the perpetrator of corruption and its victim throughout history, says G. Shabbir Cheema, Director of Management Development and Governance Division, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in his article, opposite.

Corruption is a form of social relationship. It is an act or series of acts that take place within a given culture under a specific set of circumstances. The cultural and environmental circumstances may differ from country to country. These differences make it almost impossible to come up with a generalized definition of what constitutes corrupt behaviour. Notwithstanding the differences in the perception of corruption, there is a central core element of corruption which is decried by most cultures, viz, most instances of bribery, fraud, extortion, embezzlement, venality, perversity, misuse or appropriation of public organization funds for private or personal use, and orally unsound or debased behaviour.

Corruption has enormous and varied adverse implications for society, and in particular for the central bureaucracy, which is the key link between the Government, as allocator of crucial and scarce resources and services, and the public and the ruling elite. Here, our particular concern is to look at the political legitimacy of the State and the implications of corruption for the central bureaucracy.

A corrupt administration is a direct abuse of the natural foundation of Government. Institutions designed to govern the relationships between the citizens and the State are used instead for personal enrichment of public officials and politicians and the provision of benefits to the corrupt. The adverse implications of this phenomenon include loss of revenue from the State to the individual, increased cost of doing government business, misallocation of public funds, social strife and political instability, and stifles economic growth. Corruption also stifles initiative and enterprise, and creates the problem of securing the loyalty of non-corrupt bureaucrats of contaminating the fresh and non-initiated corrupt bureacrats.

The United Nations General Assembly, concerned about the dysfunctional consequences of corruption, adopted a resolution on 28 January 1997 requesting that the Secretary-General assist Member States in designing strategies to prevent and control corruption. A cooperative effort is envisaged in which the United Nations works with other intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations to develop an implementation plan. One of the immediate responses to the request is the publication in July 1997 by UNDP of a discussion paper on "Corruption and Good Governance".

The paper begins by isolating the underlying causes and consequences of corruption, and then assesses the options for combating corruption. It concludes by evaluating other international efforts to combat corruption and considers the role of the international lending and donor communities in supporting systematic reform and in ensuring the integrity of the projects they finance. …

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