The Hand That Bribes

When two people fight, goes a bit of old Japanese wisdom, they are both at fault.

The same can be said of bribery: He who greases the palm is as guilty as the palm.

Yet businesspeople in rich nations continue to complain they are "forced" to bribe government officials in poorer nations if they want to win a contract, make a trade, or deal with customs.

But lately, official graft has begun to be seen clearly around the world as a two-way street, one worthy of closing in a global economy where corruption can quickly set back a nation, as it has Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, and much of Africa.

This year, the 29-member rich-nations club known as the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development put into effect a convention that requires members to make bribery of foreign officials a criminal offense. Bribes can no longer be tax deductible, as a few nations allow.

And yesterday, an international anticorruption group called Transparency International (TI) added a key indicator alongside its yearly ranking of the worst bribe-taking nations: The Berlin-based watchdog now also ranks nations by their bribe-giving.

Such moves make an important moral linkage, much like efforts in America to arrest people who pay for prostitutes as often as prostitutes. Both sets of actors cheat society.

TI's new ranking finds the greatest bribe-givers are China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Italy. The least likely, in order, are Sweden, Australia, Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Germany, and the US.

The middling showing for the United States is a shock for a nation that has had a law outlawing bribery of foreign officials on the books for 22 years. Obviously, more than laws and shame-making rankings are needed.

Now that a world consensus is developing against palm-greasers, it's time to put more elbow-grease into ending corruption.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.