Corruption is so widely spread and accepted in the ex Soviet countries that it is useful to refer to a dictionary definition to truly understand what is going on:
Corrupt: verb; to destroy or subvert the honesty or integrity; to taint, contaminate.
Corrupt: adjective; marked by immorality and perversion, depraved
Corruption: name; the act or process of corrupting.
As used here, corruption occurs when someone exercises his position for personal ends rather than for its original purposes.
The two following cases are obvious examples of corruption. A barman who brings his own alcohol to sell on his work premises and pockets the takings denatures his job as barman. He is a corrupt employee and the bar owner suffers a loss because of this corruption. Here there is theft of a precise sum and the identity of the victim is obvious. A policeman who accepts a bribe to let go a drunk reckless driver is corrupt because he betrays his duties. Here the identity of the victim or potential victims is not obvious, but there has been a breach to public safety and the consequences of this action might go from nil to loss of life.
What characterizes a corrupt act is not the transfer of money or the negative consequences that follow. The fact of modifying the usual course of one's function in such a way that it results in a personal advantage or profit, denatures that function. This constitutes corruption in all circumstances. For instance, the human resources manager of a company who decides to hire a candidate because they are related rather than because he is the most qualified for the job is corrupt because he betrays his employers trust. The same with a Member of Parliament who, in voting for or against a motion, will give more weight to financial support that contributed to his election than to the interest of the voters he represents is corrupt because he betrays the trust of his constituents. In both cases, there has been corruption even if nobody noticed it and even if the negative cost of this corruption is difficult to identify.
a) Corrupt decision makers:
China’s history shows that most dynasties if not all were overthrown when the State had been weakened by the corruption of its ministers, advisors and officials. Based on this experience, today’s Chinese Government considers that over a certain degree, corruption becomes treason against the State and is liable to capital punishment just as is the case for betrayal of military secrets in wartime.
In the ex soviet countries, the corruption of leaders is accepted as a norm or as an unavoidable evil. In a Central Asian country, which I will not identify, a young sophisticated student of economics excused corruption of the ruling class in his country as follows: (He had visited America and Europe and obviously came from that class).
" Our country is poor, everything is State property and there are no private fortunes yet. Our leaders take on heavy responsibilities but are poorly paid. It is normal that they grow rich even if the means may sometimes be qualified as corruption. For the time being, it is the only way that a wealthy elite can be created. This corruption is only temporary because we, today’s young generation, will make our money out of business and commerce. We will no longer need corruption when we lead the country. Anyway corruption does not impoverish the country, it is only an internal redistribution and the money stays in the country."
I would like to believe in the sincerity of his future intentions but my young speaker did not understand that the evil did not come from money transfers but from the misuse of State functions. Corruption prevents the State from fulfilling its mission, which is to ensure the safety and well being of all its citizens. I suggest that when personal interest enters into the decisional process, the result is always bad decisions for the country. I offer the classical example an African president who paves the footpaths of his village with the funds provided by international aid to improve the roads leading to local seaport. The money remained in the country and generated the same number of jobs but exports were blocked in the rainy season when the roads to the port became impassable bogs. During the dry season, people could not move around in the president's village without burning their bare feet on the asphalt softened by the hot sun!
The same applies in the ex Soviet countries. Where the press is relatively free, (Russia, Ukraine, and Kyrgystan), it often reveals straightforward embezzlements and more subtle misappropriations that always hinder the country’s development. Corruption is as common if not greater in countries where the press is controlled. It is less visible but it causes the same damage.
The analogy between corruption and cancer is striking: both grow at its host expense and generally end up killing him. Moreover, their elimination faces the same difficulty of destroying the cancerous cells without touching the healthy ones. This is possible only at the very early stages. Considering the extent of corruption in the ex Soviet countries, it his hard to imagine how it could be eradicated without disregard for human rights and without danger to nascent democracies. History is full of well-intentioned reformers that failed precisely because of their respect for democratic values. South-America has had many reformers in the last century but it has not lost its reputation for corruption. The only one that has had some success in his struggle against corruption is Chili’s dictator Pinochet and it cost untold human rights violations.
What will be the future of Russia and its ex colonies after reaching the bottom of regression towards underdevelopment? Stagnation in institutionalized corruption as in Mexico or a fresh start as in Chili?
b) Corrupt bureaucrats:
An other form of corruption, less known but just as harmful is that of the underling bureaucrat who uses his position to flatter his ego rather than to deliver the services he is paid for. By definition, the underling has no decisional power; his job is to implement regulations. It must be depressing to do all day long, what a robot could do as well if not better. The power of such underlings is limited and it is often tempting to use their position to value themselves at the expense of the applicants they should serve. The way to score points are several, hostile and even aggressive attitudes and behavior, excessive delays, superfluous demands, and oh supreme pleasure, curt and unjustified refusals. We are not talking here of a small banknote slipped in documents to avoid delay, but of the psychological payoff that the corrupt bureaucrat demands from the applicants. People come out of it humiliated and so disgusted of bureaucratic controls that they are encouraged to disobey laws and regulations. This kind of corruption of the civil servant's role damages the economy as surely as the worst embezzlements.