What is Corruption?

Defining corruption can be a challenge, it comes in many forms and evolves as systems and technology change. However, at its heart, Corruption is “the abuse of power entrusted to you for your own private gain.” This can be anywhere from using your influence to award a government contract to someone under-qualified, to accepting or giving bribes, or skirting the system to favor friends or family over others.

Corruption is classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost, how big of an impact it has on the function of the organization or system, and the sector where it occurs.

Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good. Examples of this would be embezzling large amounts of money from a department, awarding a large contract out of nepotism, or bribing a politician.

Petty corruption refers to everyday abuse of entrusted power by low- and mid-level officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies. This type of corruption is prevalent, with 1 in 5 Bahamians admitting to having paid a bribe in the past year. When someone ask for “lunch money” or that “little ting” in exchange for a service, or when someone commits fraud on their customs form when coming home from Christmas shopping, these are examples of Petty Corruption.

Political corruption is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth.
See definitions of many corruption terms in Transparency International’s Anti-corruption Glossary.

What Causes Corruption?

Corruption differs from country to country and is a complicated phenomenon with many contributing factors, however we can identify some key driving factors that seem to universally affect levels of corruption in a country. Here are ten causes of corruption that impact The Bahamas:

Lack of Transparency

Transparency is shedding light on what is happening in our government and other institutions. It is being open and honest. It is much harder to make shady deals if you know they won’t happen behind closed doors. Transparency measures such as Freedom of Information give the people the power to hold their government officials accountable. Without transparency, corrupt officials are able to operate without consequence.

Lack of Enforcement/Punitive Measures

Unfortunately The Bahamas does not have a good track record on enforcing laws combatting corruption and 61% of Bahamians believe that if they report an act of corruption no action will be taken. Without sufficient penalties.

Dysfunctional or Inefficient systems

Inefficient systems not only means that people seek to get around the system to avoid the dysfunction, it also means that in the absence of protocol or order it is very easy for public servants or officials break the rules. Having clear systems like a well outlined and respected code of conduct, like the one that is found in the Integrity Commission Bill is important to protecting the integrity of an organization. However, it goes deeper, if a government service is inefficient, inconvenient or poor quality, people will seek to get around the system with bribes or nepotism so it is also important to corruption that organizations maintain a high standard of service to discourage corruption.

Power Inequalities

Abuse of power is easiest when power is held by the few. Whether it is wealth inequality or the consolidation of decision-making power in a few hands, inequality facilitates corruption. Making government systems more participatory and building in seperations of power and checks and balances helps to prevent corruption from occurring.

What is the Impact of Corruption?

Corruption impacts societies negatively in a multitude of ways. It costs every one of us in freedom, health, education and… in DOLLARS. Each year $2.6 trillion is lost globally to corruption! The cost of corruption can be divided into three main categories: political, economic, and social.

Corruption is a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. It can cause government services and regulations to be applied unevenly and unfairly resulting in inequalities and instability. It erodes public trust in government offices and institutions making it difficult to cultivate accountable leadership. Furthermore, when bribery, nepotism, and other types of corruption creep in, it makes it very difficult for government departments to do their jobs well. Offices run less efficiently and the services delivered to the people, like healthcare, education, or utilities like water, are lower quality than they should be.

Corruption depletes the government’s consolidated fund AND your pockets. When corrupt officials accept bribes to make certain decisions, embezzle public resources, or award bad contracts it costs the public money, whether that be money to make up for inefficient work, revenue lost from fraud, overpaying a contracted worker, or money directly lining corrupt officials pockets. All of this is money that could be used on projects that could

Corruption also hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, which in turn deters investment. If industries become “pay-to-play” and commercial policy decisions are for sale to special interests, it gives some businesses an advantage over others and makes it very difficult for new businesses and smaller businesses to thrive and grow, stunting innovation. These difficulties in doing business and lack of investment mean the economy cannot grow as it should and result in higher unemployment, greater income and wealth inequality, and lower wages for the rest of us.

Corruption corrodes the social fabric of society, undermining people’s trust in institutions and leadership, and leading to apathy toward rule of law and moral standards. The erosion of rule of law caused by high corruption has been linked to high amounts of organized crime, violent crime, and in worst case scenarios social upheaval such as rioting.

In a country like The Bahamas, where the majority of people rely in whole or in part on public health and education services, corruption can have a huge impact on our quality of life. Lack of resources or inefficient use of resources is a large and ever-present issue in the health and education systems of any nation and corruption not only limits these resources but reduces the quality of these crucial services. According to Transparency International, 12% of people who interact with government schools have to pay a bribe. For public hospitals the number is 11%. High corruption will keep our people, especially the poorest among us, sick and uneducated.

For more in depth reading on the causes of corruption check out our resource library.