Corruption takes many forms but each form – whether it is bribery, favouritism, nepotism, turning a blind eye to corrupt practices, or a complete lack of integrity – is a dagger at the heart of civil society. I’ve encountered and attempted to expose corruption in many countries and in each case I was told that this was a victimless crime by the perpetrators. Nothing could be further from the truth and this easy perception that just because you can’t see the victims as easily as you can see the people who profit from corruption is probably one of the first areas that I would address. It is important to illustrate how corruption is a real issue and how it affects individuals and societies.
It would be wrong to focus solely on individual countries because corruption nowadays is multi-national – and illicit money crosses borders so easily. There have to be international controls.
As detailed in the Netflix series Dirty Money, HSBC, possibly the biggest bank in the world and certainly the most geographically spread, allowed terrorists, people smugglers and drugs cartels to launder their ill-gotten gains through the banking system. For years the bank was told to tighten up its procedures and each time the bank was found out and exposed again, it promised to make everything transparent and to ensure that it knew its customers and it would prevent money laundering. In the end it paid huge fines – naturally none of the decision makers in the bank were charged, let alone appeared in court, as they are too powerful – but it had benefited from corruption and facilitated corruption. The victims of terrorism, people smuggling and drugs are usually not important people – but the carnage that was facilitated by HSBC, across borders, was huge and looking at some of the countries where corruption was facilitated, the destruction of civil society is palpable. To me the answer to this sort of corporate corruption has to be boycotting the perpetrators. It is unlikely that we as decent citizens can take on HSBC – but exposing the corruption, encouraging people to bank elsewhere and keeping on reminding the world that the perpetrators in the bank were allowed to go scot free will eventually have some impact.
That is the clue to dealing with corruption in individual countries – publicity, exposure, and constant reminders – followed by a boycott where that is possible. Having encountered corruption so widely in government – and the UK is adept at covering that up – across the world, I am sanguine about our ability to expose corruption and even when we have exposed it, stop it – but that relentless pressure has to be applied. At times I feel like giving up – especially when perpetrators are not brought to justice – but we have to understand how to demonstrate that these are not victimless crimes, and try to shame the criminals. I’ve not found any other way effective. In the UK I’ve not been at all successful in bringing the corrupt to justice – lying and obfuscation and ignoring are all successful UK ways of covering up corruption – but I do keep on.
It’s no use relying on main stream media – for many advertising revenues are more important than exposing corruption – but there are good solid examples of investigative journalism making a difference. I don’t rely on this, but I don’t discount it either. (You might find our booka good insight into how investigative journalism can make a real difference – and googling that phrase does give many examples.)
At the very least I do believe that some of the corrupt are less easy in their beds than otherwise because of this. So it is people pressure that will be an antidote to corruption – and we must educate people to understand the difference they can make by not accepting corruption.