Transparency International recently came up with its latest edition of the least and most corrupt nations. There were no surprises. Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden top the list as the least corrupt, most open, nations; Canada ranked ninth, the United Kingdom 17th and United States 19th—all admirable positions. At the bottom of the list were Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan.
The title is an apt metaphor to describe the destructive powers of corruption and how it eats away at the institutions of democracy; corruption in all its forms—both small and large—does precisely what cancer does to the human body, and its effects are both wide-sweeping and all-encompassing. An individual, a society, a state that either ignores or abides corruption is a sick one, indeed. Corruption works best best when it is hidden; a free press is an enemy of corruption, and rightly so.
Corruption is theft by deceit and privilege; corruption is linked to poverty and unemployment; corruption aids no one save the few and some might argue not even them, since they earned it by dishonest means. In short, corruption is an offense to democracy and to all of its noble and outstanding principles. In short, corruption is an enemy of liberal democracy.
Nations that abide by corruption turn a blind eye to bribery and to public officials who accept and often encourage the giving of bribes in a "business as usual approach" This practice is not only against the intentions of public bidding on government projects, but it often leads to shoddy work for public-works projects. Why bother doing a good job if you don't have to? The evidence is there. The "winner" has not won on merit but on bribery, corruption and "greasing the palms" of the right officials, hardly a recipe for a well-working democracy. (Even highly transparent democracies are not immune to corruption; consider the case of the Canadian province of Quebec and its construction scandal, resulting in the mayor of Montreal resigning; see here, here and here.)
That the nations on the bottom of the list suffer from all of the above ills and more are some of the reasons why they have not yet prospered as a nation; and prosperity here is given the widest latitude and meaning in that the vast majority of its citizens are fairly employed and have a faith in their government institutions. When the citizens of such nations don't have confidence in their government institutions—and can you expect otherwise?—then they will often see no need to follow laws that do not protect them. It's hardly a winning recipe for advancement; and like the victim of the metaphorical cancer, it dies a slow and agonizing death.
This article appeared in Perry J. Greenbaum (December 19, 2012).