How do you fight corruption?

corruptionApproaches to a global problem

One of the strengths of this book is its brevity. That may sound a bit cheap, but the author Leslie Holmes introduces his readers to his subject in a pleasantly straightforward manner. "Corruption - What it causes and how we can fight it" is the title of the volume. The English original was published two years ago by Oxford University Press in the "Very short introductions" series. This is intended to allow experts to provide a well-founded insight into the respective topic without great detours. This is necessary in the case of corruption because it is discussed even more today than poverty, unemployment, climate and terrorism, writes Holmes.

"Whether in developing countries, emerging economies or industrialized countries, more and more citizens are becoming aware of the serious negative effects of corruption and are demanding that governments do something about it. Governments that ignore such demands run a considerable risk."

In short, you should know what it is about. Holmes has structured his book in a simple way, from the definition of the problem to the attempt to measure and explain corruption. This is finally followed by the question of how it can be combated.

Corruption in the public sector is more serious

Holmes explains that the definition of corruption is controversial to this day - and how that affects the fight against it: A central question is whether a civil servant has to be involved when power is abused for personal gain. Or whether corruption also takes place in the private sector without the involvement of public bodies. Leslie Holmes advocates a narrower definition.

"There are good reasons to distinguish between the public and private sectors. If I am dissatisfied with one company's goods or services, in most cases I can switch to another company as a customer; when I go to the courts or the police have no confidence, I cannot go anywhere else for the enforcement of the law. "

The author is a professor emeritus of politics at the University of Melbourne and has dealt in particular with the democratization in states of the former Eastern Bloc as well as - among other things - with the different forms of corruption.

The serious consequences of corruption

What he leaves no doubt about are their devastating consequences. These range from destabilized societies and environmental damage to thousands of deaths due to corruption-related construction defects. Holmes also does away with the counter-argument that a little bribe is not bad in the economy and can even accelerate growth.

"When it became apparent that one Western company after another was guilty of misconduct, including bribes and kickbacks to secure foreign contracts, public confidence in the corporate sector collapsed."

Holmes prepares the information in such a way that an up-to-date reference can easily be established. US President Donald Trump, for example, overturned an anti-corruption law as one of his first acts that would make payments by US oil companies to foreign governments transparent. Holmes wrote his book before the US presidential election. He already expresses the assumption that exemplary countries like the USA could at some point take steps backwards in the fight against corruption if they fear disadvantages for their own companies. Trump also promised that new jobs could be created en masse. However, this promise can be questioned with the help of the book.

The possible solutions

In addition, it has serious long-term consequences if a society encourages or accepts corruption. Public morals and ethical education played an important role in the fight against corruption.

"You can control corruption, but you can never eradicate it completely."

Leslie Holmes anticipates this warning when he sets out to describe solutions to corruption. Because the problem is too complex for that. Holmes vividly describes that neither more draconian penalties nor incentives such as higher salaries for civil servants or rewards for whistleblowers alone can address the problem. He describes successful national and international strategies, but also makes the effort to contrast them with any setbacks or unintended side effects.

"However, a growing number of states are already showing the necessary political will, for example by punishing corrupt officials, regardless of how high-ranking they are or were."

It may be due to the brevity of the text that Holmes' argument seems a little under-complex here and there. At one point, for example, he suspects that a state is "likely" less corrupt if people trusted it. Elsewhere he says - so literally - "essentially amoral neoliberal ideology" of promoting corruption. He also suspects that reporting on corruption in the population could lead to disappointment and despair. But isn't it more the reported corruption itself that disappoints people? These are inaccuracies that the author could have avoided because they cloud the otherwise accurate description of the problem.

Leslie Holmes certainly does not appear with his book to provide new impetus to the professional debate on corruption. But it draws a clear balance sheet and enables every reader to have a say at a high level.

Leslie Holmes: "Corruption. What it does and how we can fight it",
Reclam 2017, 185 pages, 14.95 euros