Friday, June 29, 2012

Corruption and clear consciences

By a strange coincidence, the most corrupt countries in Europe are the same as those in deepest financial trouble.
It gets more sleazy the more southeast you go. On a global scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the worst possible), the perceived level of public sector corruption in Greece is 3.4. In Italy it’s a bit better at 3.9. Portugal scores 6.1, a point ahead of Spain.
Oddly enough, the corruption level in cash-strapped Ireland is a relatively respectable 7.5, ahead of France and not far behind the UK. Germany is on 8. Norway, Sweden and Denmark are the least corrupt with a score of 9 or more.
Somalia and North Korea, by the way, are rated the most corrupt countries in the world. Afghanistan is not far behind them. But let’s get back to the supposedly civilised world….
Lest you have doubted it even for a moment, Portugal along with Spain, Italy and Greece have - to put it politely - “serious deficits in public sector accountability and deep-rooted problems of inefficiency, malpractice and corruption.”
These words are contained in a new report published in Brussels by the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International. The organisation is active in more than 100 countries, but this latest report focuses on what it calls “a pan-European problem.”
Transparency International’s managing director, Cobus de Swardt, said the report “raises troubling questions at a time when transparent leadership is needed as Europe tries to resolve its economic crisis.”
The report emphasises that corruption has been allowed to run rampant and undermine economic stability because of close ties between governments and businesses.
After assessing more than 300 national institutions in 25 European countries, Transparency International concluded that many governments were not sufficiently accountable for public contracts believed to be worth a total of €1.8 trillion a year.
Talking with one of the organisation’s volunteers in Lisbon, I learned that crooked ministers and mayors don’t necessarily award contracts to firms in the hope of being slipped a plain brown envelope stuffed with cash. Sometimes it is because of subtle inducements, such as the promise of a lucrative job or other personal perks after retirement from public service.
In other words, corruption, like everything else in life, is not as simple as it used to be. Solving it is not going to be easy. Transparency International’s vision of “ a world in which government, politics, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption” may be a pipe dream.
Only two of the countries assessed for their latest report — Norway and the UK. — adequately protect whistleblowers who have the courage and determination to speak out against corruption.
Unfortunately, Transparency International cannot itself investigate reported cases of wrongdoing. That’s up to national authorities. And, of course, many of them, including police forces and judiciaries, are themselves, eh, riddled with corruption.
All of this helps clear the consciences of us lesser mortals who increasingly these days might be tempted to provide or accept cash for goods or services without official receipts, thus avoiding the inconvenience of VAT.  Anyway, that’s not really corruption. It’s just the normal way of doing things in order to survive, isn’t it? 

First published in Portuguese, German and English in 
Jornal Algarve 123, Edition 733 14 June 2012

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