Bribery steals from family livelihoods

BriberyAs we look at our own country, and around the world, we see that bribery and corruption causes untold misery in the lives of ordinary people, the poor and the powerless. Do we stop giving because in some cases “aid” is diverted to Swiss bank accounts? What can we do to help stamp out this evil, which causes so much hardship, and paralyses a country’s development?

Bribery corrupts the giver of the bribe, the receiver of the bribe and the culture which allows it. But before we “cast the first stone”, we need to be sure that our own government, our international businesses and our international charities are faultless, in not only refusing to offer bribes, but in not accepting anything except transparent accountability. Read on to explore this further.

Petty bribery

The first time that I went to Nigeria, I arrived at Kano airport with my friend Bob Butterworth. When we got to the immigration desk and handed our passports over with valid visas, they were passed straight back to us, and we were told to go to the back of the queue. They wouldn’t stamp our passports or let us through until everyone else been dealt with. The problem was, that they expected to find at least a one dollar note inside the passport, which they would have taken for themselves.

Petty bribery is a way of life in Nigeria. It is easy to blame the immigration guards but they are paid such a pitifully low wage that they have little choice other than to supplement their wages with bribes. The one dollar would not be entirely theirs to keep: their supervisors and other officials would demand their cut. The whole system is corrupt and dependent on bribes.

Such corruption is found throughout the world and is not limited to airports. Any person in uniform or with an official job might demand a bribe to do what is essentially is their job. One might find that a speeding fine could be avoided by paying a simple bribe to the police. In practice it is difficult to distinguish between a fee, a gift, a fine or a bribe.

Such petty corruption could be seen as insignificant and we might feel that we can live with it. But bribery at an everyday level is usually symptomatic of corruption at a national and international level. Until this form of corruption is dealt with there is very little hope of dealing with bribery at a petty level.

Bribery in business

Bribery and corruption in business may take many forms. A company may find that it needs to pay, “a special fee” to expedite release of an import shipment. It might be necessary to pay an individual official “something extra” to connect a business quickly to the telephone system. The company could give a “gift” to the buying officer of another company or government department to acquire a contract.

A few years ago, I was talking to a man from a certain country who wanted to set up a business. He had the know-how and the skills necessary, but found it quite impossible to set up the business in a morally correct way. He would have ended up paying over 100% of his profits in licences, fees and taxes. In that situation it would have been “normal” to have resorted to bribes to make the company profitable. Honest men would therefore have been unable to create commercial enterprises, leaving the field wide open to dishonest people and criminal gangs.

Bribery by politicians and governments

Bribery and corruption reaches its peak when practised by politicians and governments. We have all heard of national leaders becoming extremely rich by pocketing large portions of money given as “aid” or international development loans. They are quite literally stealing from the livelihoods of the poor in their own country. The harm done is immense. Not only the poor and less well off suffer but their actions result in less aid, grants and loans being offered to the country in the future.

So often I have heard people saying that they are reluctant to give money to aid and development charities because of corruption in the recipient countries. In most cases, money given for poverty relief, education, health etc does reach the people in need but so much more will be given if people can be sure their hard earned donations would not go into the pockets of corrupt officials.

Causes of Corruption

  • Poverty, giving people limited choice in finding honest ways to feed their families.
  • Bribery being endemic to a community causing people to underestimate the harm done.
  • People being willing to pay bribes in order to make their lives more comfortable.
  • Just plain greed!

How can we deal with bribery?

Where bribery is a part of the culture, there is no easy answer to this question. It takes time. But it must start at the top. Unless the country has politicians who are above reproach, there is no chance of stamping out bribery at lower levels.

For a bribe to be profitable we can apply the formula:

B > P x C  Where:

  • B is the cash value of the benefit received from the bribe – which must be greater than
  • P is the penalty for being caught out and
  • C is the chance of the bribe being discovered.

If we are serious about reducing bribery, we need to increase P and C in the above formula. Here are some steps and actions along the way:

  • In a democracy we must elect honest people to govern us. The responsibility is ours.
  • Donor countries, non-government organisations, foundations and wealthy benefactors need to make sure that money is not given, or lent, unless there is transparent accountability to ensure that ordinary people benefit.
  • Commercial organisations engaging in international trade need to rigorously desist from giving gifts, inducement or bribes to secure contracts.
  • The law needs to be strengthened so that the penalties for offering or receiving a bribe are enough to act as a deterrent.
  • Junior officials should be paid enough so that they do not need to resort to asking for bribes.

Bribery map

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

2 thoughts on “Bribery steals from family livelihoods”

  1. It’s a depressing picture you paint, George. It is probably possible to stop the bribery by lower level officials, but stopping the massive corruption at high level seems much more difficult.


  2. George, this is as holistic analysis of this problem that I have seen and done in a very understandable way. Our bribery in the US is masked around campaign financing which leads to favors which leads to insider trading tips which leads to jobs after political office. We have so many former senators and congress people who are wealthier as they exit the stage than when they started. Why is that? Many start in altruistic fashion, but are often jaded toward the end. Great post, BTG


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