Can't rise out of poverty when one must pay bribes
Asians say enough's enough to government corruption
We trim, blend, and append three 2008 articles: (1) “Corruption Is 'Cause, Catalyst' of Water Crisis” from Transparency International (TI), which produces the annual Global Corruption Report, June 25 (circulated by OneWorld); (2) “Asians Uniting Against Corruption” by Marwaan Macan-Markar, Inter Press Service) June 17; and (3), “World now has 10 million millionaires” by the AP, June 24.
by Jeffery J. Smith, July 2008Government officials, whether of great or little power, worsen the lot of poor people, especially in poor countries, by demanding bribes for delivering a social service or by diverting funds meant for building infrastructure. Political favors for a few key insiders are making them into some of the richest people on the planet. So worldwide, ordinary citizens are demanding clean government.
TI: The situation is dire. Approximately 20% of the world's population (1.1 billion people) drink unsafe water, which kills 4,500 children every day. More than 2 billion poor people are without adequate sanitation.
Less than half of the 2 million inhabitants of Conakry, the capital of Guinea, have regular access to running water. The agents of Guinean Water Company, which manages the city's water supply, will divert water to individual customers for cash.
When corruption occurs, the cost of connecting a household to a water network increases by up to 30%.
Corruption drains investment from the sector, decreases water supplies, and increases prices. Poor households in Jakarta, Lima, Nairobi or Manila spend more on water than residents of New York City, London or Rome.
Problems range from petty bribery in water delivery to procurement-related looting of irrigation and hydropower funds; from covering up industrial pollution to manipulation of water management and allocation policies.
Irrigated land helps produce 40% of the world's food, but corruption in irrigation is rampant. In India, a country at the centre of the food crisis, corruption is estimated to add at least 25% to irrigation contracts and the proceeds help maintain a corrupt system of political handouts and compromised oversight.
In China, corruption has weakened the enforcement of environmental regulations, abetting the pollution of aquifers in 90% of cities and making over 75% of urban rivers unsuitable for drinking or fishing.
Industrialized countries are not immune. Corruption has plagued the tendering of water contracts in cities like Grenoble, Milan, New Orleans, and Atlanta. In Chicago, water budgets fell victim to misuse for political campaigning. Even in Sweden, cases of bid-rigging and price-fixing in water infrastructure provision have surfaced.
JJS: Perhaps at last the tide is turning, as millions demand their rights.
Macan-Markar: In Cambodia, out of a population of 14.2 million, 1.1 million citizens signed a petition to bring local anti-corruption laws on par with international standards. Activists presented it to the National Assembly in mid-May.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports a groundswell of anger against corruption at the grassroots level in other corners of Asia, too, where people are forced to pay bribes to get basic services such as water, sanitation, schooling, and health care -- in addition to bribing the police and members of the judiciary.
About one in 10 people around the world had to pay a bribe in the past year; reported bribery has increased in some regions, such as Asia-Pacific and Southeast Europe.
Higher up corrupt officials siphon off funds for teacher salaries and school buildings, which can increase costs between two and eight times.
Greater local community activity has produced some results. In Indonesia -- notorious for being among the most corrupt countries in Asia -- volunteer citizens in Aceh monitor reconstruction after the tsunami [in December 2004].
JJS: It’s with the help of politicians that some people get to become unduly rich. And their fortunes keep growing, whether their country’s economy is or not. For those tied closely to powerful politicians, it’s boom time forever.
AP: The number of people around the globe with at least $1 million in assets swelled last year by 600,000 or 6% to 10.1 million, 0.15% of the world's population of 6.7 billion. The combined wealth of the millionaires' club meanwhile grew 9.4% to $40.7 trillion. Their average wealth, which didn't include primary homes, surpassed $4 million for the first time. One million dollars in 1996, when the report was first issued, would be worth about $1.3 million in 2007.
JJS: While the partnership of elite and state is treated as news, actually it’s ancient history; it’s been going on forever. It’s why some are so determined to hold office -- to spend everybody else’s money in the way they see fit.
One good way to fix it is to shift discretionary spending from politicians to citizens. People should quit demanding schools and clinics and quit tolerating armies. Instead, demand a Citizens Dividend, a fair share of surplus public revenue. Then neighbors could band together to fund their own local schools and clinics.
Even in poor countries, there’s lots of economic value. Many have natural resources and all have high land values in cities. Given sufficient political will, all those natural values could be recovered and shared. No matter how much each person’s share would be, receiving something is better than losing lots to bribes. Yes, demand an end to corruption, plus a beginning to fair partition of the nation’s wealth.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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