Political corruption is so called because it is a kind of corruption that infects (some) individuals holding political or public office, while the victims are public fortunes, resources, or interests. But it should more realistically be seen within the context of such concepts as moral weakness, moral responsibility, and virtue (or, good character). The political system or process may be improved, its weakness removed; economic situations may improve and the salaries of public officials may be increased; legal institutions may be improved, the powers and activities of law enforcement officers augmented and punishments for convicts of politically corrupt acts increased; yet none of these attempts at dealing with the problem of political corruption will eradicate it or considerably minimize it. ~Kwame Gyekye (1)
In a previous article I wrote on corruption as an African virtue, pointing out that looting public coffers for the benefits of one’s people (ethnic group, family etc) is a viewed as a positive thing even though it has adverse effects on long-term and national development. Perhaps it’s time we stop labeling people as thieves and start to understand the circumstances that make them behave how they behave. We have protested and called for improved service delivery but it does not seem to work. But not everyone is corrupt, we have seen leaders of integrity improve the fortunes of their people and with a cadre of leaders of integrity much progress is possible. But calling corrupt officials thieves (even if they are) and painting ourselves as moral individuals out to improve governance does not help either. It reminds me of the judge who does not understand the circumstances and context that make an individual commit crime e.g. a fellow might steal because he has not eaten for a week and steals a loaf of bread as a last resort in order to save his life. You could have a child whose been abuse and mistreatment leads him to commit heinous acts for the very simple reason that he has not found justice and no one understands his suffering. His behaviour is a response to maltreatment that he has continued to receive. Our environment shapes us in how we have and interact with others. This is not in defense of corruption but a pointer to the importance of understanding human behaviour in dealing with societal problems .
In dealing with political corruption Gyekye (1997) calls for a moral revolution whereby both public officials and the beneficiaries of their political corruption change their attitudes and accepts the rules and regulations in public office. He calls for the steeling of “moral wills” in order to avoid being victims of political corruption (pp. 192-216). While this might work, it is more practical to find leaders of integrity than to try to change individuals who are steeped in a certain way of thinking and behaving. I propose a structural approach to eradicating corruption. One that involves changing attitudes as a byproduct of changed structures. The problem here seems to be the mentality that public coffers are an open lottery for those who have the opportunity to eat. There does not seem to be a sense of ownership and respect for public property. Is it possible to instill a sense of ownership that leads individuals to respect public property? Perhaps so. Can the privatization (50/50) of government services lead to less corruption? If individuals cannot respect public property, perhaps they can respect private property. Individuals need to feel a pinch (a disconnect present in public service) directly in order to respect public property. If the idea of public property means looting for the strongest, luck and powerful then instilling a sense of ownership in public officials as well as the pubic could effect fruitful change. PPPs perhaps? Or maybe direct investment in public services.
(1) p. 203
Gyekye, K. (1997). Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Refelections on the African Experience. New York: Oxford University Press.