In the 1970s, international development professionals settled on the following definition of corruption: the abuse of public power for private gain. For economic modellers and political sciences, this focus provided clear parameters to describe the institutional conditions that motivate government officials to make money on the side while providing public services. Bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, too, found the definition helpful to create programmes to reduce incentives for private gain by streamlining the bureaucracy, creating appropriate checks and balances involving courts and the legislature, and proposing independent bodies to monitor and address graft.
The anticorruption strategies that came out of this understanding were, at least in some cases, quite successful in making government procedures cleaner and more efficient. They also helped to lower both internal and external perceptions of corruption in those countries. Over the decades, corruption studies has become an interdisciplinary domain involving criminologists, economists, ethicists, political scientists and sociologists. Scholars now know a lot about the conditions that cause government workers to engage in illegal transactions and why they disregard what they were consigned to do as public officials – the classic ‘principal-agent’ problem. They have gleaned essential lessons about the strategies that cartels of public employees and special moneyed interests use to deform government programmes and divert money to themselves. More significantly, they have discovered how these strategies get amplified when political parties, campaign financing laws, advertisers and the media, and other players, including the legal and illegal arms industry and big oil, join hands secretly and betray the public interest. [Continue reading…]