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The High Cost of Corruption

8/2/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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A Scourge That Afflicts Rich and Poor

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 2, 2004 (Zenit) - Corruption continues to be part of everyday life in many countries. The issue recently surfaced in Kenya, where the British high commissioner, Edward Clay, came under fire for his outspoken comments on how corruption is holding back the country.

According to the Financial Times of July 16, Clay attacked the government led by President Mwai Kibaki, saying that its members "have the arrogance, greed and perhaps a desperate sense of panic to lead them to eat like gluttons."

Clay estimated that the government had entered into corrupt deals worth $192 million since the president led an opposition alliance to an election victory in December 2002. Days earlier, eight embassies, including those of Britain, Canada, Japan and the United States, released statements expressing alarm at the extent of high-level graft, the Financial Times reported.

In Indonesia, meanwhile, the attorney general announced that the nation had lost $2.35 billion in the past two years due to corruption, BBC reported June 18. The figure comes from the 108 cases investigated by authorities in the first four months of this year alone.

Siphoning off billions

A look at the state of corruption came on March 25 with the publication by Transparency International of its "Global Corruption Report 2004." The report focused on the problem of political corruption. In a press release, the group's chairman, Peter Eigen, said: "Political corruption undermines the hopes for prosperity and stability of developing countries, and damages the global economy."

The report observed that laws governing political finance are generally inadequate. One in four countries even lack basic disclosure requirements on funding sources for candidates and parties. And one in three countries still has no overall system in place to regulate political party finance.

The report also contained a list of the most corrupt politicians in recent times. Top place goes to former Indonesian President Mohammed Suharto, who reigned 1967-'98. Transparency International reckoned that he embezzled between $15 billion and $35 billion. Next in line was Ferdinand Marcos, Philippines president from 1972-'86, who allegedly made off with $5 billion to $10 billion.

Zaire's leader from 1965-'97, Mobutu Sese Seko, is reputed to have accounted for around $5 billion, while Sani Abacha, Nigeria's president from 1993-'98, was responsible for a sum ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion. Lower down on the list was former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, for around $1 billion, and onetime Haitian head of state, Jean-Claude Duvalier, $300 million to $800 million.

And it's not only developing countries that have a problem with corruption. Efforts by the European Union to clean up its own budget processes have not had much success, the Financial Times reported April 6.

On taking office four years ago, Romano Prodi, who this November will finish his term as president of the European Commission, promised a campaign against fraud and financial mismanagement. But the European Parliament's annual "Report on the Protection of the Financial Interests of the Communities and the Fight Against Fraud" has little good news, the Financial Times said.

The number of cases of irregularity and fraud related to the EU budget rose by 13% in 2001-'02. And the number of cases in the agricultural sector rose by 36% during the same period. Overall, more than 2.12 billion euros ($2.5 billion) in EU money was spent irregularly.

An attempt to calculate the overall sum of money spent on bribes worldwide was made by the World Bank Institute. According to an April 8 press release, the amount was put at more than $1 trillion a year. Daniel Kaufmann, the institute's director for Governance, says this figure is an estimate of actual bribes paid in rich and developing countries alike.

Kaufmann noted that a calculation of the total amounts of corrupt transactions is only part of the overall costs of corruption, which constitutes a major obstacle to reducing poverty, inequality and infant mortality in emerging economies.

Theological dimension

There is more to corruption than statistics, as Osvaldo Schenone and Samuel Gregg note in their essay, "A Theory of Corruption," published late last year by the Acton Institute.

Christian theology, they point out, considers the root of sin to be in the individual's heart and in the exercise of free will. Nevertheless, sin affects others, distorting the moral and social ecology within which all people live.

Schenone and Gregg observe that the Gospel calls on people to live and act justly toward their neighbors and to rectify any acts of injustice. Justice is not limited to merely following the ...

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