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Corruption refers to the act of wrongly using one’s position of power for an individual gain. Although corruption is practically present in all areas of life, it is usually political corruption that is very dominant. Political corruption refers to the illegal utilization of government powers by its officers for their personal benefits (Bardhan, 1997). Political corruption is a global issue that affects various countries in a number of ways, and greatly hinders the development in general. It is estimated that nearly all governments worldwide engage in corrupt dealing. Various forms of political corruption include: graft; which refers to giving money in exchange of a favor; bribery in which money, or gifts are offered to influence the outcome of a deal, and patronage; where a politician offers money or favors to voters to support him or her (Bardhan, 1997). It is important to note that all the above forms of corruption are unlawful, and those who indulge in corrupt activities are supposed to be punished by the law.

For instance, in a majority of election cases, corruption has been attributed mainly to vote buying i.e. voters accepting money from those who vie for political positions in exchange for their votes. Imagine if such a candidate wins an election, he or she has to find a way of recovering the money used to buy the votes during the election time, and the fastest and easiest way is through corruption. Besides, if he or she has plans of retaining his/her political seat in the next election, he/she must find more money to buy votes, and usually it is through corruption. In a number of countries prior to the advertisement of a government job to citizens, usually the jobs are already given to people who are willing to pay for them, or those who have influential people in the government. As a result, those candidates who are qualified are left out, while the non-deserving, sometimes unqualified candidates are given those jobs (Ades & Tella, 1999). This shows just how government officials are greedy for money; they will go to any extent to take bribes from people who are rich enough to part with some cash. This paper discusses the factors that cause political corruption, and the reasons why some democracies are more corrupt than others.

What Factors Lead To Political Corruption?

Desire for an Unfair Advantage                                                                        

The desire to have unfair advantage over others is a factor that motivates numerous officials to engage in corruption due to their selfishness (Barro, 1999). Through extortion, nepotism, bribery, embezzlement etc, corruption has enabled deceitful persons to get ahead of others. For instance, corruption has enabled politicians sway voters’ opinions about them, buy votes, change the results of legal processes, accelerate government grants, steal some part of the money they have collected from the public etc. Corruption has also enables politicians to seek an unfair advantage to bribe judges to rule in their favor, or the police, tax collectors etc. to ignore a penalty. A bribery can also influence the results of a school exam, or permit the acceptance of an otherwise unqualified learner into a school system.

In the private sector people may bribe politicians in order to dismiss the regulations that protect the rights of their employees so that they can continue exploiting them through hard work and little pay. Corruption that is inspired by an unfair advantage is also witnessed in the departments of immigrations and offices that deal with visas and passports. You will find important people in the government or wealthy people being given the first priority when it comes to obtaining vital documents. As a result, the regular citizens’ documents are usually delayed, and they suffer because important people are the first to be attended.     

The desire to obtain an unfair advantage pushes governments and government officers to use numerous methods to abuse power at the expense of the ordinary citizens. For instance, corrupt politicians may apply political, diplomatic, or financial pressure to engage in dirty business transactions. In addition, politicians in countries who are recipients of financial aid from rich nations may channel that money for their own development projects (Emerson, 2006).

Lack of Punitive Measures

The notion that people cannot depend on their conscience all the time as a guide to doing what is morally right is a major motivating factor for corrupt behaviors. The lack of punitive measures, has led to legal agencies failing to impose sanctions on government officers and members of the parliament who violate their public obligations, or those on the wrong side of the law. A good example is the lack of sufficient police officers to implement the law.

In most cases, the lack of punitive measures to ensure accountability and transparency encourages certain people to engage in corrupt dealings since they can get away with it without being caught at or punished. Politicians as well as other people need a legal system that will make sure that corruption will not take place during planning and implementation of the public sector budgets, as well as other processes. Control mechanisms are necessary for civil service institutions to audit what they are doing. Without proper punitive measures in place, there is a high likelihood that those in power are bound to influence voters, embezzle national budget money, as well as to involve themselves in acts that leads to their personal benefits at the expense of the public (Stapenhurst, Johnston & Pelizzo, 2006).

Transparency depicts a situation where nationals can freely access the public information. In cases where government procedures, rules etc, are inaccessible to the public, and there are no administrative supervision to check the powers of government officials, corruption is bound to occur. The lack of transparency of rules results in stealing of state resources, as well as abuse of power by corrupt officers (Rose-Ackerman, 1999). In addition, the lack of proper public sector mechanisms that direct the public’s complaints to the relevant offices charged to deal with complaints is likely to result in people in power failing to perform their responsibilities; instead, they will be free to do what they please.

It is also important to note that the lack of transparency creates openings for public officers to use their offices for individual gains. This is to say that lack of transparency leads to weak accountability systems and institutions, which encourage corrupt behaviors. Corruption is highly likely to flourish where there is no accountability and transparency (Rose-Ackerman, 1999). Corrupt government officials who realize that it is possible for them to take advantage of rules and regulations, will always flout regulations, especially where their personal gains are at stake.

Poor Incentive Structures

Poor incentives like the government paying low wages for its employees may lead to workers resorting to take bribes to supplement their incomes, for instance, the police are known for taking bribes in almost all countries in the world. Their low wages has been cited as the major cause of their corrupt behaviors. Certain people do not have the motivation to carry out their duties, but the fact that they can earn more money via bribes keeps them on those jobs (Rose-Ackerman, 1999). The lack of incentives is also caused by nepotism and favoritism.

Wages which are too small to even cater for their basic needs often result in absenteeism of public servants, and as a result, the government officers demand for bribes increases in order to provide their public services. For instance, an underpaid teacher will resort to absenteeism to find other ways to supplement his or her income. Though the absenteeism may not lead to taking of bribes, the teaching time that is lost affects the progress of students’ learning, and in some cases affects their performance.

Over-Regulated Governments

Monopoly and extreme control of power by governments can also cause corruption. In most instances, there is the lack of a level playing ground for everybody, and the decisions made are in favor of a certain individual, or group who control political power. Consequently, the rights of the ordinary citizens are lost, and public officers plunder public resources for their individual gains. Poverty is also a contributing factor of people engaging in unlawful acts in order to make ends meet.

Refusal to accept government programs and policies by political leaders have also fueled corruption. This greatly hinders the progress and development of a country, prevents the achievement of civic interests, and most importantly, it allows corrupt behaviors to flourish (Rose-Ackerman, 1999). Introducing government policies that permit greater supervision is very instrumental in ensuring the balance of power, as well as the making of sound political decisions.

Unstable governments may also motivate corruption among nations and their leaders. Instability factors such as economic hardships, ethnic conflicts, war, social inequities etc can bring about corruption. Any situation that intimidates a country and its people via institutions or identities, may lead to the weakening of the good governance practices of a country (Kaufmann, 2005). Even in times of less difficulty, the government performance may be undermined by its own policies and institutions. Corrupt individuals tend to take advantage of weak policies and institutions to push for their selfish gains.

Why are Some Democracies More Corrupt Than Others?

Greater democracy, which is associated with freedom of speech and transparency, has significant effects in curbing corruption. Democratic establishments check the power of a government, which in turn limits public officials’ ability to engage in corrupt dealings aimed at accumulating personal wealth. In democratic countries, the public have more effective ways of detecting corrupt activities. This is because, government rules, policies, regulations etc, are transparent, and keeping secrets such as corruption acts from the public is hard. When the public becomes aware of corruption scandals in the government, they pressure government organs to punish the culprits. Consequently, this has greatly discouraged people in democratic countries to engage in corruption. However, this does not mean that there is no corruption in democratic nations; corruption is present but the level varies from one country to another.

In democratic countries the variation in corruption levels has been brought about due to the difference in institutional frameworks (Glaeser, Scheinkman, & Shleifer, 2003). Recently democratized nations that have weak institutional frameworks that cannot properly check corruption, hence opportunities for corruption are bound to flourish. Corrupt individuals tend to take advantage of weak policies and institutions, to push for their selfish gains. This is in contrast to more established democracies whose institutional frameworks are strong, hence can adequately control corrupt behaviors. Also inequality, especially economic inequality of various democracies, has contributed to varied levels of corruption (Glaeser, Scheinkman, & Shleifer, 2003). New democracies lack the institutional resources to prohibit corrupt politicians from advancing their own selfish interests, and as a result, they are more corrupt than more established ones. Besides, poverty is a major factor; leaders from poor democratic countries tend to engage in corrupt dealings in order to enrich themselves.

Political corruption is a global problem that has been responsible for hindering development in several countries (Tronquist, 1999). Political corruption takes various forms such as bribery, patronage and graft. The main causes of political corruption are: the desire for an unfair advantage, instability in governments, poor incentive structures, the lack of transparency, inefficient systems, as well as the lack of punitive measures that encourage people to engage in corruption because they know they will not be caught or punished for their corrupt behaviors. Corruption is not only about ethics, but also about how a government is established and managed (Rose-Ackerman, 1978). It is important that members of the parliament enhance how their government works, so as to limit opportunities of corruption by passing stringent anti-corruption laws, and ensuring that those who engage in corruption are jailed irrespective of their social class, influence, or wealth. This way, corruption will be controlled, or even eradicated all together. We should all realize that corruption is affecting all of us, and we must all join hands to stamp it out of our countries.

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