Corrupting the Corrupt

Corrupting the Corrupt

Do you consider yourself corrupt? Think thoroughly about this question before answering it, as not to fool yourself. If I am not mistaken, your first unconscious response will be ‘no’, given the fact that everyone has their own reasons that help them justify their undoubtedly corrupt actions as pure non-corrupt acts. So let us rephrase the question: have you ever been engaged in a corrupt action? Again, take a step back before answering, you need to know that bribery, embezzlement, theft, fraud, favouritism, extortion and blackmailing are all considered different forms of corruption. Now, if you choose to be honest with yourself you will most probably admit your engagement in at least one corrupt incident throughout your lifetime. However, does admitting that many of us are corrupt suggest that acts of corruption have transformed from being an unethical, immoral shameful individualistic act to a widely accepted social norm? If that is the case, can we conclude that the community we are living in is in fact a corrupt community?

Reflecting on these set of questions will result in either one of the following two things; you will perceive them as a path to creating false generalisations, or as means to uncover the naked truth. Regardless of your perception, these questions were able to push you out of your comfort zone and think of something that you would not regularly think of. This is because you are somehow always engaged in a corrupt action, therefore it is easier for your unconscious mind to disregard thoughts of morality, righteousness and how unethical your actions are. Alternatively, you try as much as possible to adhere to your strict moral code, which does not allow you to participate in any corrupt action, or you have actually participated in a corrupt action in the past and promised yourself not to do it again. Now that the harm is done, we need to put aside the motives that encouraged you to be corrupt, and ask a more important question; did you consider the consequences of your corrupt action before committing it?

When discussing corruption, the intent barely matters, yet the resultant of this certain corrupt action does. Yes, the corrupt action can easily generate multiple outputs; varying based on their frequency, type, cost and effect. Definitely, the most hazard effect of the corrupt action is influencing other individuals that they actually start consciously imitating your unethical behaviour, in other words, when individuals start corrupting each other. This process later leads to an alternate yet more sophisticated process of corrupting the corrupt.

We will rely on the example of bribery in a bureaucratic governmental setting to better explain this process. The process begins when an employee sees an opportunity to generate extra money without facing punishment, where the cost of committing the corrupt action is less than the cost of being caught and/or penalised. Therefore, when an employee of a certain department does not get the work s/he was originally hired for done, unless secretly and safely bribed, the corrupt bureaucrat is indirectly encouraging his/her colleagues to imitate him/her. They discovered that the cost of committing the corrupt action is less than the cost of the probability of being caught and penalised. The cycle begins with the key bureaucrat, who asked for a bribe and received it successfully – referred to as patient zero. That person infected the rest of the department becoming the main drive that motivated them to be corrupt. To be honest, these non-corrupt employees would not have turned corrupt if they did not find citizens who are cooperative and willing to pay the bribe just to get their work done.

Looking at this exact same phenomenon but from a different perspective, the same interactive-cycle that the employees play between each other applies to the citizens. Whereas, these employees played a major role in infecting these once non-corrupt citizens. In reference to ‘patient zero’; when s/he finds herself/himself in a corrupt environment – where employees ask for a bribe and citizens pay – the already corrupt employee gets relaxed and confident asking for a bigger bribe (in terms of its monetary value). This means that this corrupt individual was influenced by the corrupt environment around him. Moreover, the cycle never ends, as the citizen who is used to paying a bribe will never stop paying, and eventually transfer the corrupt behaviour to their place of work. Therefore, even though the cycle started somewhere, we are all to blame, as we all participated in corrupting our society some way or another.

At this point, it is impossible to eradicate corruption, therefore working on providing a simple and feasible solution to help in curbing this phenomenon is more important than analysing the issue at hand. In Egypt, we already have lots of anti-corruption agencies and semi anti-corruption laws, yet the problem with anti-corruption agencies is that most, if not all of them, focus on grand corruption incidents rather than focusing on petty corruption incidents that constitute the majority of crooked incidents in terms of frequency and aggregate monetary value. While the problem with the laws is that they are barely implemented, which is reflected in the weak rule of law that is deeply rooted in the Egyptian state. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on a strong civil society and grassroots initiatives in Egypt, none of which can serve as local-municipal watchdogs. It is also very difficult to hold an official accountable, and our mass media definitely practises liberty in selecting what to display and focus on and what to keep buried. They simply decide what to worry the citizens with, be it important or not. Therefore, in my own opinion, the simplest and easiest way to fight corruption is to have political will, once the political will is present, accountability and transparency will follow. Give citizens the power to realise the magnitude of what is happening, because once they know at least they will try to fight it, which is definitely much better than the current status quo.

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