Rajendra Dhar


The causes and effects of corruption, and how to combat corruption, are issues that are increasingly on the national agenda of Civil Rights Activists, Politicians and other Policymakers. Moreover, the very recent Global Financial Crisis has revealed financial corruption, and spurred regulators to consider various meaningful & fruitful anti-corruption measures by way of response.

By contrast, the concept of corruption has not received much attention. Existing conceptual work on corruption consists in little more than the presentation of brief definitions of corruption as a preliminary to extended accounts of the causes and effects of corruption and the ways to combat it. Moreover, most of these definitions of corruption are unsatisfactory in fairly obvious ways.

Briefly How Corruption Plagues Society without any exception to the rule : –

Consider one of the most popular of these definitions, namely, “Corruption is the abuse of power by a public official for private gain”. No doubt the abuse of public offices for private gain is paradigmatic of corruption. But when a Bettor bribes a boxer to “throw” a fight this is corruption for private gain, but it need not involve any public office holder, as the roles of boxer and bettor are usually not public offices.

One response to this is to distinguish public corruption from private corruption, and to argue that the above definition is a definition only of public corruption. But if ordinary citizens lie when they give testimony in court, it is corruption, it is corruption of the criminal justice system. However, it does not involve abuse of a public office by a public official. And when police fabricate evidence, this is corruption of a public office.

In the light of the failure of such analytical style definitions it is tempting to try to sidestep the problem of providing a theoretical account of the concept of corruption by simply identifying corruption with specific legal and/or moral offences.

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However, attempts to identify corruption with specific legal/moral offences are unlikely to succeed. Perhaps the most plausible candidate is bribery. Bribery is regarded by some as the quintessential form of corruption. But what of nepotism?. Surely it is also a paradigmatic form of corruption, and one that is conceptually distinct from bribery. The person who accepts a bribe is understood as being required to provide a benefit to the briber, otherwise it is not a bribe, but the person who is the beneficiary of an act of nepotism is not necessarily understood as being required to return the favour.

In fact, corruption is exemplified by a very wide and diverse array of phenomena of which bribery is only one kind, and nepotism another. Paradigm cases of corruption include the following. The commissioner of taxation channels public monies into his personal bank account, thereby corrupting the public financial system. A political party secures a majority vote by arranging for ballot boxes to be stuffed with false voting papers, thereby corrupting the electoral process. A police officer fabricates evidence in order to secure convictions/acquittals, thereby corrupting the judicial process. A number of doctors close ranks and refuse to testify against a colleague who they know has been negligent in relation to an unsuccessful surgical operation leading to loss of life, institutional accountability procedures are thereby undermined. A sports trainer provides the athletes he trains with banned substances in order to enhance their performance, thereby subverting the institutional rules laid down to ensure fair competition. It is self-evident that none of these corrupt actions are instances of bribery.

Further, it is far from obvious that the way forward at this point is simply to add a few additional offences to the initial ‘list’ consisting of the single offence of bribery. Candidates for being added to the list of offences would include nepotism, police fabricating evidence, cheating in sport by using drugs, by bookiesetc, fraudulent use of travel funds by politicians, and so on. However, there is bound to be disagreement in relation to any such list. For example, law enforcement practitioners often distinguish between fraud on the one hand, and corruption on the other. Most important, any such list needs to be justified by recourse to some principle or principles. Ultimately, naming a set of offences that might be regarded as instances of corruption does not obviate the need for a theoretical, or quasi-theoretical, account of the concept of corruption.

As it happens, there is at least one further salient strategy for demarcating the boundaries of corrupt acts. Implicit in much of the literature on corruption is the view that corruption is essentially a legal offence, and essentially a legal offence in the economic sphere. Accordingly, one could seek to identify corruption with economic crimes, such as bribery, fraud, and insider trading. To some extent this kind of view reflects the dominance of economically focused material in the corpus of academic literature on corruption. It also reflects the preponderance of proposed economic solutions to the problem of corruption. After all, if corruption is essentially an economic phenomenon, is it not plausible that the remedies for corruption will be economic ones?

Corruption is not necessarily economic in character. An academic who plagiarises the work of others is not committing an economic crime or misdemeanour and she might be committing plagiarism simply in order to increase her academic status. There might not be any financial benefit sought or gained. Academics are more strongly motivated by status, rather than by wealth. A police officer who fabricates evidence against a person he believes to be guilty of paedophilia is not committing an economic crime and he might do so because he believes the accused to be guilty, and does not want him to go unpunished. A Police Officer and Public Prosecuter hand in glove in trial courts to favour the accused is always associated with bribery. Economics is not necessarily involved as an element of the officer’s crime or as a motivation. When police do wrong they are motivated by financial reward, rather than by a misplaced sense of justice. Again, a person in authority motivated by sadistic pleasure who abuses his/her power by meting out cruel and unjust treatment to those subject to his/her authority, is not engaging in an economic crime and he/she is not motivated by economic considerations. Many of those who occupy positions of authority are motivated by a desire to exercise power for its own sake, rather than by a desire for financial reward.

No doubt Economic Corruption is an important form of corruption, however, it is not the only form of corruption.

There are other types of corruption, including many types of police corruption, judicial corruption like keeping matters pending, proceeding on leave on specified dates of hearing and/or avoid passing orders etc .

Political corruption, academic corruption, and so on. Indeed, there are at least as many forms of corruption as there are human institutions that might become corrupted. Further, economic gain is not the only motivationfor corruption. There are a variety of different kinds of attractions that motivate corruption. These include status, power, ego mania, addiction to drugs or gambling, sexual gratification, as well as economic gain. We know of a Bureaucrat who is a gambling addict but he gambles with only those people who in one way or the other have work in the department he serves and for obvious reasons he wins a lot of money every time he gambles with them.

We can conclude that the various currently influential definitions of corruption, and the recent attempts to circumscribe corruption by listing paradigmatic offences, have failed. They failed in large part because the class of corrupt actions comprises an extremely diverse array of types of moral and legal offences.

Some progress has been made. At the very least, we have identified corruption as fundamentally a moral, as opposed to legal, phenomenon. Acts can be corrupt even though they are, and even ought to be legal. Moreover, it is evident that not all acts of immorality are acts of corruption; corruption is only one species of immorality.

An important distinction in this regard, is the distinction between human rights violations and corruption. Genocide is a profound moral wrong, but it is not termed as corruption. This is not to say that there is not an important relationship between human rights violations and corruption on the contrary, there is often a close and mutually reinforcing nexus between them.

There is increasing empirical evidence of an admittedly complex causal connection between corruption and the infringement of subsistence rights; there is evidence, that is, of a causal relation between corruption and poverty. Indeed, some human rights violations are also acts of corruption. For example, wrongfully and unlawfully incarcerating one’s political opponent is a human rights violation; but it is also corrupting the political and judicial processes.