From independence, freedom and truth


Systemic corruption

Fernando del Pino Calvo Sotelo

January 31, 2013

By its very nature, power tends to destroy the morals and judgment of human beings. When man thinks he is God, he soon turns into a tyrant and creates his own Tree of Good and Evil, changing it as he sees fit. Of course, power’s destructive potential affects men in different degrees depending on character, beliefs and virtue, but that Dark Side of the Force must be acknowledged. The stronger the power held and the longer it is held, the more corrosive its effect will be. Think about Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. What we call corruption is just a symptom of this pathology of power.

The bad news is that corruption cannot be eradicated, just the same as we cannot eradicate evil, even within ourselves. Therefore, corruption in both private and public life exists since man is man, fallible and concupiscent. The good news however, as we shall see, is that there are objective tools that allow us to reduce corruption substantially.

Political corruption, in its narrow sense, is about a public official who steals public money or grants arbitrary favors in exchange for money or other benefits. Thus, it rears its ugly head where money meets politics. There are cultural factors that explain the level of corruption of any given country, including a tradition of diminished respect towards the Law or cultural fear of established political power. The details of the political system have to be taken into consideration as well. Finally, social and historical factors also leave their imprint, such as the moral decay of the West, where good is no longer distinguished from evil – its very existence being denied.

These days a serious case of political corruption in Spain has been brought to light. If we resist the usual manipulations of both friendly and hostile media and we do not let politicians’ grand gestures distract us (like Capt. Renault in Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”), we will immediately forget about individuals and focus, instead, on the sick system that breeds such corruption.

Political corruption, as defined above, requires three environmental conditions to fructify: arbitrary power, opacity and monopoly. This makes it quite simple to fight it: curtail the ruling class’s arbitrary power, implement transparency everywhere and increase free competition. It is essential to understand that the size of the State and corruption go hand in hand. Is there more corruption in the so called Welfare State than in a freer economy? No doubt there is. The more subsidies granted or the more permits needed, the worse the corruption level.

Let’s fantasize for a moment. What would a serious, unafraid-of-truth government do to immediately pare down corruption?

In the first place, it would implement a statistical study to detect in which black spots “accidents” have occurred more often. In these black spots, officials’ power should be carefully diminished, and objectivity should replace arbitrariness in all issues. Secondly, it would end impunity by setting up a reward and punishment system that would ruthlessly castigate inappropriate behavior. Besides, a simple dissuading system should be put in place: the corrupt official’s immediate hierarchical boss, even if innocent, would be dismissed and forever prevented from occupying any other public job for neglect in their supervisory role. Believe me, they would take keeping an eye on each other seriously. Thirdly, it would create an anti-corruption agency independent from political power to monitor the black spots and fully investigate and denounce any suspect activity, with immediate publicity. Fourth, transparency should be obsessively pursued. Transparency means a permanent feeling of being observed, which generally is a great incentive to behave. There are many obvious ways of doing so. Every entity fed by public money should be subject to the same audit, accounting and publicity rules as private businesses. Political parties, for instance, are subject to a very limited audit by a public entity with a dozen workers which publishes their accounting weak points…five years after the event, and not one of them publishes the findings on its website. Also, the same strict personal liabilities’ regime as well as communication of potential conflicts of interest and related parties demanded from corporate executives should apply to public officials. Inexcusably today there is no equality before the law. This change would affect the whole public administration, political parties, trade unions, related foundations, public companies, cajas (Spanish savings banks owned by the regional governments), etc. Another easy way to implement transparency would be to publish the results, motivations and track record of any public tender process: one same business successfully bidding every single year would be suspicious. I am sure you have heard about some such cases; I have, too.

There is a general disheartening feeling that Spain’s main political parties, those who have already been in power, who already bear that virus, have decided to abide by a code of silence, maybe because they know too much about each other. You know, if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, and that sort of thing. The usual chain of events takes place as follows: first, they deny the obvious, then the speech changes to “anyone involved will fall” (but nobody falls); then they say “let the Courts decide”; finally, when the court ruling comes out, say twelve years later, nobody remembers what it was all about, and if the culprits were unlucky there always remains the hope for a government pardon. The thundering silence of Unions, Inc., of course, means they abide by that same code of silence, too, nothing that strange given that they operate in complete opaqueness.

During his inaugural debate, our current President reacted with surprising anger when an opposition MP mentioned the epidemic of corruption. The surprise was double because, during the extravagant and harmful administration of his predecessor, that same anger was absent in hugely serious issues affecting the future of the country. Well, in that debate, the President stated without blinking that he did not accept “at all” that corruption was rampant. The perception of the people is quite the opposite, and Transparency International places Spain just below Botswana in its Corruption Perception Index. To know which of those two different perceptions is closer to the truth is quite simple. If the measures outlined here are implemented with ease and celerity, it will be clear that there is nothing to hide and corruption is the exception. But you suspect, dear reader, as I do myself, that nothing will be done. Prior to an individual belonging to the government’s party being allegedly caught red-handed this week (it remains unclear whether more people are involved), this government has denied the problem and, when given the opportunity to do something, has looked the other way. Although they barely need 24 hours to increase taxes, the much heralded Transparency Law has been asleep on parliamentary formalities for months. The worst of all is that we couldn’t care less: the text is void of anything remarkable, being just another pure marketing tool, a true insult to one’s intelligence. Please take note: in Spain there is no political will “at all” to end with corruption. Quod erat demonstrandum.


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