Time to clear the underbrush of bribery
New efforts around the world signal a moment to make headway against corruption
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“We must create the conditions in which the people can supervise and criticize the government ... so as to prevent corruption from developing,” Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in June. “Corruption will cost the party the support and trust of the people,” chimed in China’s President Hu Jintao July 1, adding “We must not turn our power into an instrument for making personal gain for a handful of individuals. It is more urgent than ever for the party to impose discipline on its members.”Skip to next paragraph
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While crackdowns in China on corruption at the local level have been tolerated – and even encouraged – in the past, what remains to be seen is whether a housecleaning can take place at the higher levels of Chinese government.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has attacked business leaders for their “ethical deficit” that could harm the nation’s drive to become an economic superpower. “Our corporate culture must be attuned to the universally accepted values of good governance,” he said.
No doubt this was a “pot calling the kettle black” moment, since the Indian government itself remains torn by various scandals. Still it represented an effort to recognize the destructive influence of corruption. India’s Chamber of Commerce didn’t disagree, itself saying that “brand India” could be damaged in the world’s eyes if “brazen acts of corruption” were not addressed.
In India last year, a private group set up the website “I Paid a Bribe” in order to shed light on incidences of bribery throughout Indian society. This effort at harnessing social media has been an early success, with more than 12,000 incidents of bribery already reported on the site along with some evidence that officials are responding.
The site confirms what has long been known: At the individual level, generally it’s the poor who are forced to pay bribes to those who are wealthier and more powerful.
Helped by the Internet, citizens are becoming better watchdogs. Combined with the efforts of governments, the picture is slowly brightening.
“It is heartening that so many people are ready to take a stand against corruption,” Huguette Labelle, the chairwoman of Transparency International, said late last year. “This willingness must be mobilized.”
At its heart, the issue is honesty. Honesty is not only the basis of good business, it’s the basis of good politics, including the maintenance of harmonious relations between countries.
The path out of the world’s current economic doldrums will become clearer as governments, businesses, and individuals clear away the underbrush of bribery and corruption.