Fighting corruption worldwide: a long way to go

For many countries, things look grim on International Anti-Corruption Day.

Letter from São Paulo, Brazil

Earlier this year, when João Rodrigues Cunha, a Brazilian interstate bus driver, found a bag with US$ 2,190 in a routine search he does inside his bus, he acted honestly and tried to find the bag’s owner, who happened to be a doctor.

Although he has a modest monthly salary of US$ 320 and debts of US$ 1,600, Cunha’s behaviour is far from an exception in Brazil. There are many examples of humble people who happen to find huge amounts of money in airports, public bathrooms, and other places – and give it back to the owner.

Nonetheless, people are also aware that, apart from these good Samaritans, corruption is rampant here. Even when a person isn’t quite able to make sense of the world around him, he learns from television, radio or the newspapers about those awful corruption cases involving everyone from politicians and high-level public servants to bosses of construction, oil and mining companies.

In this sense, International Anti-Corruption Day is commemorated, rather than celebrated, on December 9 in many parts of the world.

Yet the best reactions to the day are reflection and action.

According to Transparency International, the global non-profit organisation leading the fight against corruption, dealing openly with the problem is a way to strengthen financial, environmental and national resources.

Justice Barry O’Keefe, who chairs the International Anti-Corruption Conference Council, says: “It is imperative that governments, business and civil society consider and integrate the corruption factor into the solutions they are trying to implement to ensure a cleaner, healthier and fairer world”.

Tainting Latin America

Latin American countries are some of the most corrupt in the world, according to Transparency’s annual Corruption Perception Index.

Corruption breeds misery, alienation and instability. The Economist Intelligence Unit listed some factors leading to the poor rating of the countries of the continent in the 2007 index: low income levels, weak institutions, decentralisation, a strong tradition of patronage politics, large informal sectors and historic and cultural factors.

Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the Organisation for Co-Operation and Economic Development (OECD), reckons that where there is corruption, “there is a distortion of decisions”, pointing out that “Corruption unfortunately thrives in the poorest countries, with the weakest institutions”.

BRIC countries’ challenge

Not surprisingly, in this new report, the TI’s 2008 Bribe Payers Index, it is said that firms in Brazil, Russia, India and China – the BRIC countries – are among the most inclined to bribe whilst doing business abroad. And the construction, real estate, oil and gas sectors are the most corruption-prone when doing business with governments abroad. They are also the “most likely to exert undue influence on the policies, decisions and practices of governments”.

The 2008 Bribe Payers Index ranks 22 of the world’s wealthiest and economically dominant countries by the likelihood of their companies bribing abroad. It takes as its starting point that bribery and buying influence distort markets and contribute to social inequality.

The index involves the assessment of three kinds of bribes: of high-ranking politicians or political parties; of low-level public officials to “speed things up”, and the use of personal or family relationships to win public contracts.

While companies from Belgium are seen as the least likely to pay bribes when doing business abroad, with a score of 8.8 out of 10, Russian firms are the most prone to do so, with a score of 5.9 – by far the worst among the 22 countries.

But companies from the other BRIC countries didn’t fare much better.

Brazil’s score was 7.4, or 17th place, whereas India’s was 6.8, or 19th. China got 6.5, coming 21st, just slightly above Russia.

“The BPI provides evidence that a number of companies from major exporting countries still use bribery to win business abroad, despite awareness of its damaging impact on corporate reputations and ordinary communities,” says Transparency International Chair, Huguette Labelle.

Professor Mark Pieth, who chairs the OECD working group on bribery, says that it’s important to combat transnational bribery. “We have to do much more, through member countries, to take companies that still bribe to court”, he says.

Hamilton William dos Santos for RT