CORRUPTION: DEFINING IT TAKES MORE THAN A DICTIONARY

Corruption is like pornography in that people think they know it when they see it. But it can be an evasive term.

Webster's defines corruption as ``decay'', ``impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle,'' and ``inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means'' - such as bribery.

But what is improper, unlawful, or immoral can vary from society to society or even case to case.

When does trying to influence the way a politician votes become corruption? Lobbying and making campaign contributions are generally acceptable means of influence, whereas specific payments for legislative favors are ``bribes'' or ``kickbacks.''

When do Christmas gifts or loans between business associates and friends become improper? The law may not be clear. Each individual may draw the line according to different criteria. Acceptable conduct may be relative to one's position.

Is the Mexican taxi driver, who pays a clerk ``extra'' to expedite the processing of required permits, committing a crime or simply cutting through cumbersome red tape? An economist might say the taxi driver is paying for ``express service.''

Is it moral for a government to require a small businessman to miss a week of income - provisions for his family - in order to comply with outdated regulations or government inefficiency?

But no matter what the societal norms, corruption tends to take place in the dark. Robert Klitgaard, a corruption specialist at the University of Natal at Durban, South Africa, suggests that one way to define corruption is to provide more light. Let society be the judge. A formula he uses: Corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.

``If you reduce the discretionary powers of public officials or provide more competition to a monopoly [business, political party, or government enterprise], you tend to reduce corruption,'' Professor Klitgaard says.

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