PORT MORESBY - Corruption, being a very destructive societal disease, is like a cancer that eats at every fabric of society.
It comes in various types and stages ranging from low-level petty corruption to high-level grand corruption.
There is no single treatment for this pernicious disease, and literature shows that the best way to combat it is the application of a combination of approaches towards the same goal.
To treat this societal illness, a careful diagnosis must first be undertaken. The process will determine the type of the disease and the stage to which it has spread within society.
Corruption is like a multifaceted octopus that rears its ugly image in all the facets of society.
It is organised crime. Corrupt transactions can transcend territorial jurisdictions and span many different countries. They may involve multiple players, private and government.
Some forms of corruption, especially at the higher levels, are orchestrated by very skilful people with the institutional knowledge to bypass detection.
High-level corrupt transactions are usually secretive and organised by people who have the requisite knowledge of the victim industry or agency. They therefore require skilful corruption investigators to detect.
Detection may also require whistle blowers to come forward and provide relevant inside information. This may require the protection of these informants. In some cases, it might require a party to the illicit transaction to come forward in return for some form of leniency. Corruption investigators have to be vigilant and adept at investigating it.
A single corrupt transaction may pollute an entire government agency. Top-level corruption may involve a patronage arrangement. For instance, if a minister intends to defraud his department, he directs the departmental head, who in turn directs his deputy and the pressure is exerted downwards through the subordinates until the cheque is paid out.
Those lower ranking officials who execute the payment may not directly benefit from the improper payment but succumb to top-down pressure in fear of reprisals.
Proceeds of corruption may be laundered through a number of countries in a single day. In today’s technological world, conducting illicit financial transactions spanning a number of countries is possible.
This is posing a formidable technical and organisational challenge when it comes to detecting and monitoring these transactions. It requires the cooperation of the victim country as well as those countries tainted by the illicit transfers.
Corruption may be viewed as a moral issue or a breach of law. It is not necessarily a legal offence but one of ethical misconduct. Different fields see corruption differently as well.
The prevalence of corruption may reflect the moral health of the society. Its causes may be deep and culturally embedded. Corruption is not just lack of law enforcement. It is also a cultural issue. An understanding of corruption entails an understanding of the social contexts that produce and sustain it, such that a change of these contexts would also cause changes in patterns of corruption.
If the general population have a propensity to break rules for private gain, they will always be on the lookout to exploit opportunities. Such an opportunistic culture drives people to proceed on the basis that whatever is not fully protected is up for grabs.
Some forms of corruption may flourish because the society as a whole tolerates it. For instance, the line between bribery and customary appreciations in Melanesian culture is often difficult to ascertain in terms of what is a bribe and what is customary reciprocal expectation.
Widespread corruption is a symptom that the state is functioning poorly. It may reflect the health of the nation’s politics. Corruption may also reflect the inefficiency of government services. For instance, a lot of bureaucratic rules can frustrate business hence bribes are paid to expedite the process.
This may offer some explanation for countries like New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden that do not have centralised Anti-Corruption Agencies but are considered as clean countries by Transparency International.
New Zealand’s success is often attributed to it having an accountable and robust national public sector and integrity system. Denmark’s clean record is attributed to its small population and the quality of government with an effective civil service, free press and independent judiciary.
In these ‘clean’ countries where the systems work, the mere exposing of a corruption scandal is sufficient to attract immediate consequences such. However, in countries where there is an ingrained resistance to accountability, such exposure by the media or watchdog agencies are not effective.
Experts warn us that corruption becomes a major challenge if most of the key institutions of government are weak. Anti-corruption efforts will not be effective in circumstances where essentially every important institution is compromised. Although short-term success is sometimes possible in a dysfunctional environment, achievements are unlikely to outlive the incumbent regime.
Some political leaders may ascend to power with noble intentions to curb corruption but it may become politically convenient to turn a blind eye to it. In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo, who was considered by many as an upright man, is increasingly becoming a supine leader in the face of insurmountable challenges confronting his anti-corruption agency.
Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau was established in 2015 on the back of a regime change. The bureau now faces challenges and resistance from powerful individuals within the government.
In PNG, we have our own lessons from successive governments on how this pernicious disease was not addressed.
At the end of the day, once a corruption scandal is exposed, we rely on respective anti-corruption institutions to investigate and take appropriate action. If those institutions are weak and compromised, nothing will be done. It requires the government to take appropriate action to improve those institutions and recruit skilled and honest personnel.
The burden of combating corruption does not depend on one agency or one person. To be successful, it requires a holistic approach. Corruption should become the biggest concern for a country as its effects are widespread. It distorts development, diverts resources to the undeserving, and stifles the economy. If corruption denies the public of what is due to them, it really matters.
When corruption is not addressed, impunity grows and a culture of corruption is engendered. Curtailment requires emphasis on law enforcement which can send a strong deterrence message. However, criminalisation is not the only cure. There must be education and widespread awareness on how bad this issue is.
The citizens must internalise moral values. They must have the inclination to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Moral restraint is an effective preventative measure for corruption. Once moral values are internalised, they generate a natural inclination to avoid conduct perceived to be wrong.
From a Christian perspective, the bible encourages each parent to train children in the way they should go, so even when they are old they will not depart from it.
A corrupt culture is not immutable but is a malleable behavioural pattern that can change if the environment is fundamentally changed. Countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have come out of a corrupt culture to be where they are.
Just like there may be many causes to corruption, the cure to corruption can require a myriad of responses.
Combating corruption requires the government to demonstrate strong political will to reform and resource anti-corruption institutions. It requires regulatory institutions to effectively regulate and provide oversight to public activities. It requires public officials to be honest and do their jobs without fear or favour. It requires media to continue to expose corruption. It requires the public to stand up against corruption.
It requires all our efforts.