Corruption and Governance

Jean-Pierre Méan

By Jean-Pierre Méan 
Published on Tuesday July 3, 2018


For those who are involved in combating corruption on a daily basis, it is necessary to go back to the basics once in a while and to raise the question: Why is it that corruption is something worth fighting against?

In the modern State, government derives its legitimacy not from a divine mission (as used to be the case in the European monarchies) but from a delegation of powers from the people, in what has been termed a social contract. Since it is obviously not practical for all citizens, millions of them, to exercise the state power together, they choose representatives who are expected to use their power in the interest of the community. In recognition of the risk of abuse inherent in any human activity, it was felt that not all power should be entrusted to the same individual or group of individuals, but that the power should be divided into three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary, thus creating a system of checks and balances expected to curb abuses. This, in a nutshell, is the essence of governance in modern democracies. These ideas were first expressed some three hundred years ago, have started to spread in the nineteenth century but have only gained universal recognition (or a semblance thereof) recently.

In order to work, good governance requires a good dose of altruism. Those in power are expected to forget their own interests in their decisions and actions. This is the Achilles’ heel of good governance. For many people, even though they are aware that in their position of power this is unacceptable both legally and socially, putting their interest first, egocentrism, is the natural thing to do. This attitude is the essence of corruption. Where it prevails the tenets of governance no longer apply and the governance structure is little more than a fig leaf hiding the real power structure behind the fake decorum of democratic institutions. Laws are enacted to serve private interests rather than the common good, judgments are rendered that favor those who can bribe the judge and the police is concerned more about what it can extort from the ordinary citizens than about protecting them.

In such a world, constitutional rights are hollow pronouncements and the rule of law is nothing more than a hypocritical pretense. Investors stay away, entrepreneurship is discouraged and development stalls if it ever took off. A small group (often one or a few families) gets rich but, as its members are well aware of the situation in their country for having largely caused it themselves, they make sure that their riches are deposited and invested abroad in safer places.

Combating corruption is ultimately about establishing transparent power structures dedicated to the rule of law and getting rid of the behind the scene scaffolding built on greed and nepotism.



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One Comment

  1. Thank you for these thoughts you led me about origins.

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