The Omnipresent Craft: Graft

The “opening up of a country to trade and investment has created opportunities for bribery and corruption on a scale greater than at any other time in the past,” writes Nayan Chanda, YaleGlobal’s editor, in his column for Businessworld. But the internet rallies citizens to protest corruption, too. Corruption in politics or business – including bribes and kickbacks, abuse of power, nepotism, private gain from public resources, the lack of transparency or accountability – spurs inequality and weakens nations. Around the globe, citizens are frustrated with government handling of corruption: The Aam Admi (Common Man) Party in India started a hotline for corruption reports, and phones were jammed; China’s leaders launched an anti-corruption drive, but have jailed activists who ask leaders to disclose assets; investigations into Thai legislators contribute to ongoing street protests; Brazilian legislators are under arrest for a vote-buying scheme; and Turkish investigators look into bribery by legislators’ children in positions of power. Chanda concludes, “Rulers everywhere have to be concerned about the anti-corruption movement spreading on the Internet.” – YaleGlobal

The Omnipresent Craft: Graft

Globalization, despite some ill effects, has helped spawn anti-corruption movements across the world – and the internet gives rulers reason to worry
Nayan Chanda
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

As globalization faces strong headwinds, generated by anti-immigrant and anti-trade backlash, a third issue challenging the benefits of global connectedness is taking center stage in many countries: corruption. It is not that corruption is directly related to globalization, but the opening up of a country to trade and investment has created opportunities for bribery and corruption on a scale greater than at any other time in the past. Fortunately, though, the Internet and the global diffusion of media have enabled citizens and organisations to shine a light on everyday bribery and the darker nexuses of politics and business.

From Brazil and India to China, Thailand and Turkey, the fight against corruption has risen to become uppermost in the minds of ordinary people. Politicians are under pressure from their networked citizens to end rampant corruption, which is hampering growth and widening the income gap. 

Exhibit A for the rising tide of anti-corruption sentiment is the stunning success of the Aam Admi Party (AAP). While Parliament has recently instituted the Lokpal, a high-level anti-corruption agency, India’s notoriety on corruption remains unchanged. The latest survey by Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, places India at 94th place out of 177 countries. As many as 54 per cent of those surveyed admitted to having paid a bribe to officials. When the AAP government opened its corruption reporting hotline, their telephone networks got jammed. The amounts involved in the petty corruption that harasses average citizens pales into insignificance, however, when compared to the graft by India’s ministers and civil servants. 

The government controls the disposition of telecoms, natural resources and construction contracts, all of which have been turned into lucrative bribery opportunities running into the billions of dollars.

In China, too, corruption gets top billing. Concerned that it could erode the regime’s legitimacy, China’s new president Xi Jinping has launched an anti-corruption drive, punishing mostly mid-level officials and banning lavish wining and dining on official tabs. But, to make the point that the party will not tolerate citizen activism, the leaders of a fledgling anti-corruption group, New Citizens Movement, are being tried and will likely be condemned to a prison sentence. Among their crimes was to take a photo of their banner saying “Strongly urge officials to disclose their assets.” 

In Thailand, a state of emergency has been declared to cope with massive anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok. The Thai anti-corruption authorities recently announced that they were opening investigations into 308 legislators, most of them from the ruling party, for malfeasance. Similarly, the Brazilian government, stung by unprecedented street protests against corruption, has arrested 25 senior ruling party politicians and businessmen accused of involvement in a vote-buying scheme. 

In Turkey, mass anti-government protests have led to bribery investigations into the role played by ministers’ children in construction projects. Several ministers were forced to resign and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he would disown his children if they were found to be involved in corruption. The anti-corruption movement led by the Turkish branch of Transparency International, has called on the government to audit the assets of all public officials, and disclose this information on the Internet. 

Rulers everywhere have to be concerned about the anti-corruption movement spreading on the Internet. Last week, the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists began publishing a devastating series of  reports on how China’s senior political and business leaders have stashed away a trillion dollars in offshore havens.  

For all its negative effects, globalization may yet take credit for spawning a global movement against corruption.  

The Transparency Index measures perceptions of corruption in the public sector.
The author is editor-in-chief of YaleGlobal Online, published by the MacMillan Center, Yale University.
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