No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about corruption. In his country, he told me, the military and police are corrupt. Crooked officials and bureaucrats make up the law. And prosecutors and judges are on the take.
He’s from Africa and leads an important institution there. He has a plan to help transform a region of his country — to bring jobs, more agriculture, better schools and health care, and a cleaner environment.
He’s talking to people around the world about his plan. But he hardly mentions corruption. Bring it up and he tells you it’s a terrible problem and a “dangerous” topic.
Plans to help people are good. But corruption ruins them. It’s the “gateway crime,” as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder once said. It’s the crime that allows other crimes to happen — terrorism, gang violence, human trafficking, gun running, poaching, illegal logging, and so on.
So for anyone hoping to transform society, ignoring corruption never works. It’s the first thing that has to be fixed, before anything good can happen.
At the UN, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has urged colleagues to stop pretending corruption doesn’t exist. During a debate in September about regional conflicts, she said: “[W]e fail to recognize the issue that is staring us in the face — corruption.”
“Nine out of the ten countries that Transparency International considers the most corrupt in the world are on the Security Council agenda. Nine out of ten,” Haley said.
In the most troubled countries in the world, corruption isn’t simply a part of the system. Corruption is the system. The governments in places like Venezuela and Iran don’t exist to serve their people and happen to do a little corruption on the side. They exist to serve their own interests and corruption is the means by which they do so.
Because corruption ruins everything it touches, the “head-in-the-sand approach is backwards,” Haley said.
She was right. But people living under corrupt regimes know something else: If you’ve buried your head in the sand, at least you’ve still got your head.
What can the rest of us do? Are there ways we can encourage people in corrupt countries to speak up? Criticizing the silent ones won’t help anyone. But can we find ways to support and protect them?
Your ideas about how to do that are welcome.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.