Corruption: Cause or effect?

By Mirette F. Mabrouk

It’s a truism to say that corruption is bad. Nor would it come as a surprise to most that the countries of ERF’s region have seen their fair share of corruption. Indeed, corruption appears to be a regional blight. Transparency International publishes an annual Corruption Perception Index, which measures the perceived level of public sector corruption in 183 countries around the world. Of all those in ERF’s region, only three (Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE) score above 5 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “very clean” and the other end of the scale being “highly corrupt.” The vast majority fall in the bottom third.

It’s likely that corruption, or rather, public reaction against the extent to which it had permeated public life, was one of the catalysts of the revolutions that swept the Middle East early last year. Certainly activists in the streets screamed out for an end to its hold on the lives of citizens.

Corruption breeds terrible ethics in every workplace, be it a ship yard or a capital investment firm and it is likely to lead to adverse income and wealth distribution.

Yes, corruption is bad. The statement, however, is more a more complex one than it first appears. Even in countries which suffer from its negative effects it can be difficult to get to the bottom of any solid facts or causes. For example, is it poverty that brings about corruption or does corruption breed poverty? After all, richer countries are generally less corrupt than ones struggling with poverty. Is it all down to bad governance? And what does it take? Is it simply a matter of instituting anti-corruption legislation?

If only it were that simple. The evidence points to the fact that tackling corruption is highly complex matter, requiring hard work on several fronts, not of all the economic. Without democratic accountability, a free press, clearly delineated property rights, any efforts to battle corruption are likely to founder, no matter how well-intentioned. Nor is reducing corruption an automatic ticket to development; in fact, there is no historical evidence for that.

This dilemma is what makes the theme of this year’s annual conference so relevant. Just as the origins of corruption are debatable, so are its determinants and the ways to remedy it. While economists and other social scientists are often divided on all of the above, almost everyone would like to see progress made on mitigating its negative effects.

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