Democracy and corruption co-relation | By Rashid A Mughal


Democracy and corruption co-relation

PLATO, the Athenian philosopher (427-347 BC) rejected democracy on the basis that such democracies were anarchic societies without internal unity, that they followed citizens’ impulses rather than pursuing the common good, that democracies are unable to allow a sufficient number of their citizens to have their voices heard.

Aristotle disagreed with much of Plato’s philosophy though he has been his teacher. Plato was an idealist, who believed that everything had an ideal form. Aristotle believed in looking at the real world and studying it.

Plato’s thoughts on democracy were that it causes the corruption through public opinion and creates rulers, who do not actually know how to rule but only know how to influence the “beast” which is the Demos, the public.

Aristotle’s views about democracy hold that democratic office will cause corruption in the people, if the people choose to redistribute the wealth of the rich they will end up destroying the state and since the people have no knowledge about governance when they elect rulers they will err.

Do these criticisms of democracy hold true for the democracy of today? When talking about something as broad as democracy we must define the term to make it more manageable.

For this discussion we will define democracy as a form of government where eligible people choose their leaders through elections and the social contacts are based on the equality of everyone within the state.

Corruption is conventionally understood,(and referred to) as the private wealth-seeking behavior of someone who represents the state and the public authority, or as the misuse of public goods by public officials for private ends.

The working definition of the World Bank is that “corruption is the abuse of public power for private benefit”.

In Colin Nye’s classical and most widely used definition, corruption is “behaviour which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private regard (personal, close family, private clique) pecuniary or status gains; and violates rules against the exercise of certain types of influence.

Corruption also exists within and between private businesses, within nongovernmental organisations, and between individuals in their personal dealings, without any state agency or state official being involved.

There is corruption also in the form of bribing, swindling, and mafia-methods within and between private businesses, there are treacherous individuals and disloyal employees also in private firms.

This kind of corruption may even have repercussions in the political system as it destroys the public morale, and it may be symptomatic for the general economic and moral development of a society.

It establishes the necessary involvement of the state and state agents in corruption, without any notion as to the level of authority where corruption takes place.

In a more strict definition, political corruption involves political decision makers.

Political or grand corruption takes place at the high levels of the political system.

It is when the politicians and state agents, who are entitled to make and enforce the laws in the name of the people, are themselves corrupt.

Political corruption is when political decision-makers use the political power they are armed with, to sustain their power, status and wealth.

Thus, political corruption can be distinguished from bureaucratic or petty corruption, which is corruption in the public administration, at the implementation end of politics.

Even when the distinction between political and bureaucratic corruption is rather ambiguous as it depends on the separation of politics from administration (which is unclear in most political systems), the distinction is important in analytical and in practical terms.

Political corruption occurs at the top level of the state, and it has political repercussions.

Political corruption not only leads to the misallocation of resources, but it also affects the manner in which decisions are made.

Political corruption is the manipulation of the political institutions and the rules of procedure and, therefore, it influences the institutions of government and the political system, and it frequently leads to institutional decay.

Political corruption is, therefore, something more than a deviation from formal and written legal norms, from professional codes of ethics and court rulings.

Political corruption is when laws and regulations are more or less systematically abused by the rulers, side-stepped, ignored, or even tailored to fit their interests. Political corruption is a deviation from the rational-legal values.

According to Carbonell-Catilo, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines for instance rewrote sections of the Philippine Constitution to legalize his looting of the nation’s wealth.

The basic problem is the weak accountability between the governors and the governed.

In particular in authoritarian countries, the legal bases, against which corrupt practices are usually evaluated and judged, are weak and further more subject to downright encroachment by the rulers.

The formal legal framework of the state is, therefore, insufficient as terms of reference to assess and judge the problem of political corruption are deliberately made so.

Moral, normative, ethical, and indeed political benchmarks will have to be brought in, not at least because it will be necessary to discern legality from legitimacy when it comes to political corruption.

Besides, whereas bureaucratic corruption normally can be dealt with through auditing, legislation, and institutional arrangements, the degenerative effects of political corruption cannot be counteracted by an administrative approach alone. Endemic political corruption calls for radical political reforms.

Political corruption (usually supported by widespread bureaucratic or petty corruption) should furthermore be considered as one of the basic modes of operation of authoritarian regimes.

It is one of the mechanisms through which the authoritarian power-holders enrich themselves.

Here, corruption is rarely a disease that the responsible politicians are eager to avoid, it is a deliberate, wanted and applied practice; it is one of the rulers’ modes of enrichment and economic control.

Political corruption is consequently a “normal” condition in authoritarian countries.

However, as demonstrated by a large number of corruption scandals in liberal democracies over the years, political corruption is not restricted to authoritarian systems.

Nevertheless, by maintaining the link between authoritarianism and political corruption, and a definition of political corruption in terms of state prerogatives manipulated to serve the interests of the rulers, one will see that the essence of the problem of political corruption differs much between authoritarian and liberal democratic regime0073.

Plato’s thought represents an integral dimension of Modern Europe’s classical heritage.

His complex and changing notions of identity and difference, his views of the connection between body and soul, passion and reason, and his own varying assessment of the theory of Forms, as refracted through Aristotle’s critique of all these concepts, have laid the groundwork of Western logic, metaphysics and political theory until modern times.

Yet, in assessing precisely what modern European thought owes to its classical heritage, we need to confront the stubborn fact that Plato and Aristotle stood opposed to both the major philosophical and political tendencies of modern liberalism (empiricism, materialism, pragmatism, utilitarianism and the various forms of individualism) and the more recent theoretical attempts (such as deconstruction, Marxism and Feminism) to undermine those liberal dogmas.

Democracy is a good system to run the affairs of a country but to be successful, the citizens need to be educated and should be aware of the sanctity of vote to elect honest, upright and right candidates with impeccable record otherwise the flood gates of corruption are bound to open.

— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.