Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Today Transparency International issued their annual corruption ratings.

Big surprise: Some of the poorest nations in the world were the most corrupt. Bangladesh, Haiti, Nigeria, Chad, and Myanmar were at the top (or bottom) of that list.

I have lived in some relatively corrupt countries and visited some others. (I should point out that Thailand, my current residence, got an above average grade.) I have witnessed the thing (corruption) and thought about causes and cures.

When a country is corrupt, it occurs from top to bottom. What the visitor is most likely to witness is corruption in the police force because they are the most visible.

There is almost always a good reason for the police to be corrupt. They are not paid enough to support their families. They must steal to feed their children. This is known and expected up and down their organization. It is expected and condoned.

But that is just the most visible organization. The same problem occurs throughout the entire civil service. Low pay makes bribery necessary to exist.

Then it becomes habitual. Even rich civil servants have to be paid on the side because that is how the system works. They don’t know another way.

The obvious answer is to increase salaries of civil servants. These countries are so poor that is impossible. They don’t have the money to increase the salaries.

Why don’t they have the money? Because virtually no one pays their taxes. Why not? Because the tax rates are so high as to be confiscatory (meaning they take everything) so everyone has to cheat.

It all seems to add up to a giant Catch22.

There is only one way out and it has to begin with tax laws and the enforcement of same. They need to pass a reasonable tax rate and make severe penalties for non-compliance.

They need to increase the salaries of tax collectors so that bribery is not necessary to exist. There must be severe penalties for bribery among tax collectors.

You can see that would be a beginning. Start with the tax laws and the tax collectors.

Nothing would work overnight.

But the worst thing we can do and have done is to throw free money at them because they are poor.

Nothing corrupts more than free money.


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