Corruption, the term used for giving or asking for money, or bribes to win contracts or favors, for abusing political powers and diverting public funds, is a common problem, indeed in all countries, developed or developing. One could truly stay that corruption is a cancer of society. Indeed, even Pope Francis has called it a “gangrene of the people.”
How does one fight corruption? How does one deal with bribes and commissions, or “facilitation fees” or the so-called “SOP” (standard operating procedure)?
First of all, let us look at it more closely. With money and gifts, one can buy deals, contracts and favors. Such payments for example, can “encourage” a purchasing officer to buy one product instead of another. It can also convince a politician or a bureaucrat to award a contract, or to approve an administrative rule (such as building permits), or to release public funds to fictitious companies.
The principal forms of corruption are extortion and bribery. Extortion happens when, say a public officer explicitly demands or broadly hints for a payment in exchange for something he can grant. Bribery is the other side of the coin, and it is the one who seeks the favor who offers money. Often this practice is called “SOP” or “facilitation.” This is achieved through the so-called “envelope.”
I can cite a real life occurrence. A friend of my brother got appointed to the Bureau of Customs. He was surprised to find money in his desk drawer. Asking his subordinate about it, he was told that it was his “share.” When he refused it, he was told it was “SOP” and if he refused, he would upset the whole system. To make a long story short, he resigned.
Another story is that of a young doctor, just barely starting her career, whose income tax return would be questioned unless, to be blunt about it, she paid a certain amount, half of which would be entered in her tax due. Her accountant advised her to give in, lest she be harassed every succeeding year. Needless to say, she was forced to pay a substantial amount which she could not even recoup in professional fees since most of her patients were poor. Of course these internal revenue examiners only pick on the smaller doctors, and not the “big” doctors who most likely pay them a “retainer” to reduce their income tax due.
This bribe-taking incident is also common among lesser public servants such as traffic enforcers. I was victimized once by one such fellow for “swerving” (incidentally there is no such offence in the law) because I transferred to another lane when I realized I was on the bus lane. I pleaded that I was not aware of it, that I was a senior citizen. He relented, saying he would not issue a ticket, but it was an awfully warm day that made one thirsty. Naturally, I gave the “usual amount” so he could buy soft drinks.
Often it is said that corruption is unavoidable, that it is common practice, that those who refuse are ridiculed as “religious” or “scrupulous” or “holier than thou.” As many give in to it, a state of permissiveness arises. Integrity becomes harder to fulfill, especially when one is confronted with issues like career advancement, breaks in life, and earning of income, unless one is firmly rooted on solid principles and has been nurtured in an upright manner.
I cite a writer, Antonio Argandona, who offers the solution that would have to be focused at a higher level: the people have to demand from their politicians the necessary steps to reform the laws governing the funding of political parties and to eradicate lack of transparency in political finance. The problem of corruption, he says, does not affect only a few or many people, and I might add, it affects everyone.
Argandona also cites Pope John Paul II in whose exhortation, Reconcitatio et Paenitentia, he urges personal conversion. Finally, there is reference to Zaccheus for his pledge, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold.” (Lk:19.8) The obligation to make restitution is proportionate to their responsibility and their share of what was stolen.