Corruption has developed in almost every dimension of the economic, social, political, media, judicial and event religious functioning. It has become a systemic phenomenon and, as such, it needs to be addressed and its consequences solved. Particular actions on specific facts are not capable of holding the expansion and reproduction of corruption. Even more, voluntary or involuntarily, partial answers can help deviate the attention away from main fields of corruption, such as the corruption made by certain large economic groups, the corruption related to organized crime, and the corruption linked with the management of public resources.
Corruption is an evil that exists since ancient ages but has expanded in such a way that today it is part of the systemic functioning of almost every country. There are those who restrict the scope of corruption to the one done by politicians and public servants (they profit from bribes and traffic of influences) and another that results from the venality of judges, regulators, or security forces corrupted by criminal organizations (mainly drug trafficking, human trafficking, and weapons sales). To these types of corruption it is necessary to add others that tend to be concealed or even condoned.
A first issue to address is unveiling why certain types of corruption stand out and others are disguised. Answers can be diverse and include ignorance, negligence, and, most seriously, economic, political, and media power held by certain corrupt sectors that allows them to deviate attention away from their illegal or illegitimate conducts and achieve impunity.
The corruption that most concerns us is not the occasional (though regrettable at any rate) corruption but rather the one that gets installed, consolidated, and is reproduced indefinitely, eventually controlling critical springs of democratic life. What we should never lose sight of is that corruption becomes a power struggle between those who profit from it and those who are punished by it; there are always victimizers and victims. When corruption impregnates the entire society and turns systemic, only a large concert of political and social forces non-infiltrated by corruption will be able to confront it eliminating the diverse mechanisms it uses.
A systemic phenomenon must be faced in accordance with its nature and scope, concentrating resources and energies in main fields of corruption, as are the corruption perpetrated by certain large economic groups, the corruption related to organized crime, and the corruption linked with management of public resources. A critical aspect in this approach is to put up a cultural battle to transform values and ideologies that offer social coverage to corrupts and remove the basis of support that they are now usurping. While unveiling corruption systems, it is necessary to clarify the consequences that corruption generates, acknowledging who gets victimized as, by operating in the shadows and having diverse coverage available, victimizers manage to whisk away or limit the comprehension of how destructive their actions are.
A large field of corruption is that of large economic groups and financial institutions that impose their power to appropriate values (assets or incomes) they have not generated; to accomplish that they use a diversity of extracting value mechanisms. Their actions generate the increase in concentration of wealth that characterizes contemporary economy with its counter face of more inequality and poverty.
However, the impact produced by the corruption of large economic groups and financial entities does not end here. In addition to appropriating value not generated by them, they do every type of fiscal evasive and elusive maneuvers thus affecting public revenues and greatly reducing the ability of the State to finance social and productive infrastructure (education, health, social security, sanitation, communications, public works, and promotional measures, among other critical items).
Furthermore, as if the preceding were not enough punishment for our countries, these large economic groups and financial institutions flight capitals to other jurisdictions more lax in tax controls and regimes. By transferring ill-gotten capitals abroad what results is a sterilization of good part of national savings, preventing those resources from being channeled by those that created them towards new investments within the country and thus blocking the generation of more and better jobs.
Corruption done by large economic groups and financial entities is the largest type of those that scourge and weaken our countries. Despite being concealed, it is of such magnitude that in front of it the corruption induced by organized crime and by dishonest politicians and public servants pales. An indicator of the proportion every type of corruption represents comes up when examining the resources that flow to fiscal havens: “only 3% of the total is attributable to political corruption —which is no minor problem, particularly from a qualitative point of view— and one third comes from organized crime, while 60% to 65% of that wealth is derived from illegal schemes orchestrated by individuals and large corporations.”
This neither excludes nor disguises the pressing need to firmly confront organized crime and any illegal management of public resources. What we want to stress is that if we ignore economic and financial corruption, we would be ignoring the current largest source of corruption.
Anyway, the action to tackle a corruption that has turned systemic needs to be deployed simultaneously in the main fields of corruption as they all interact, reinforcing each other. Therefore, for example, those who accumulated economic power from corruption strongly influence public policies, the regulations, those who have the mandate to identify their illegal doing and repress them. In the same way, criminal organizations establish impunity agreements with sectors of the judiciary, media, politics, and even the security forces.
Corruption focal points are quite diverse, something that produces confusion, insecurity, and frustration that beats up citizens’ mood. Among others, it should be pointed out large financial groups dedicated to speculation and appropriation of third-party’s assets; trading companies that impose extortive prices on both ends (when they buy and when they sell); leading corporations of productive chains that use their market power to abuse the rest of participants; powerful actors that influence public policies to profit from them; entrepreneurs and corporations that pay bribes for getting multimillion contracts; sectors from the judiciary (judges, prosecutors, syndics) who profit collecting bribes to favor one party in proceedings they intervene; organized crime dedicated to drug trafficking, human trafficking, extortive mafias and their accomplices in the police force, public officials, and venal judges; trade unionists turned millionaires; means of communication that profit from their media power; corruption in sports (FIFA, sell of players, fixed matches); illegitimate agreements between physicians and laboratories; attorneys bought to betray their clients.
Measures that can be adopted
There is a great variety of available measures for a State to address systemic corruption; however, a few are adopted. The reason for this might be in the fact that political coalitions that govern us do not want, do not dare, or do not have the ability to adopt decisions that affect important interests. In democracies, the greatest challenge in the fight against systemic corruption is getting incumbent governments to detent the required power to confront it. The fact is that the efforts to eradicate extended corruption are not just judicial or police-related; rather they require being structured and coordinated by a firm political determination with wide social and economic support.
It must be noted that there exists a United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) focused on corruption and criminal management of public resources, traffic of influences, abuse of office, illicit enrichment, cover-ups, obstruction of justice, money laundering and recovery of corruption-obtained assets. Other considered aspects refer to political-parties’ financing, measures to reinforce integrity and avoidance of any opportunity of corruption in the Judiciary and the prosecution authorities, good commercial practices among enterprises as well as contractual relations between them and the State. See full text at: UNCAC.
Important measures against systemic corruption include, among many, the following:
- Taxing assets, incomes, and financial transactions to eliminate or at least significantly reduce the exorbitant rates of return they obtain extracting values generated by others.
- Dismantling of tax-evasion and capital-flight mechanisms; for example, the case of establishing transfer prices for exports (current in international markets) to eliminate triangulations used to under-invoicing and transferring undeclared profits abroad.
- Internationally acting to eliminate jurisdictions that facilitate evasion and capital flight (the infamous tax havens) and to impede the actions of vulture funds on sovereign countries.
- Measures to prevent money laundering (UNCAC)
- Reaching agreements within different value chains to transform the appropriation that more powerful actors practice at the expense of other participant actors.
- Having collective bargaining for salaries and working conditions to ensure appropriate levels of wellbeing for workers and to eliminate informal labor.
- Transparency in public bids; information on bids and adjudications of contracts (UNCAC)
- Measures regarding public officials of national or foreign origin as well as from international organizations, to avoid bribes, embezzlement, peculation, undue appropriation of goods, traffic of influences, abuses of office, and illicit enrichment (UNCAC).
- Measures against organized crime, eliminating connivance established with some sectors of politics, the judiciary, media, financial entities, and police forces. Investigation, denouncing, and sanction of the entire chain of complicities.
- Citizenry awareness of the huge consequences of systemic corruption and the promotion of values that do not trivialize or condone acts of corruption.
- Attention to corruption victims that are left unprotected.
- Measures to reinforce the integrity and avoidance of any corruption opportunity among members of the judiciary and the prosecution authorities (UNCAC).
Heterogeneity and hope
Some critical reflections are in order to close these lines. The first one calls our attention to the correlation that generally exists between corruption and the destruction of nature. Those who show no compassion or solidarity for other inhabitants of this world and act blinded by their selfishness and unlimited greed, most likely are not interested in caring for the planet and the wonderful nature that includes and shelters us.
A second necessary reflection is that every social group and segment is far from being homogeneous. That is, in the judiciary, the media, the police forces, labor unions, enterprises, the politicians, public officers, the different religions, in every field of social and economic functioning where corruption appears enthroned we find majorities that act with dignity, respect, and as honestly as they can, given the context in which they operate.
This heterogeneity of personalities and behaviors is the basis for hope; hope that the current order of things can be transformed; hope that it is possible for corruption to stop being systemic and that there are fertile grounds to call on us to work for fuller democracies in terms of justice, equity, and caring for the others and the planet.