Foreign Policy Blogs

Where there’s a will

Can corruption really be stopped? With all the fuss that is made about anti-corruption programs and holding corrupt leaders to account, this is not a trivial question. There are people who argue that corruption is simply “the way things are done here” or “part of the culture,” implying that change is not possible. In this, perhaps the most hopeful time of year, I would like to state clearly: change is possible.

Corruption is not a valid method for conducting either business or politics. It is not the same as repaying a kindness or recognizing a service. It is an abuse of one’s position in a way that takes advantage of those who lack such status. Most importantly, it has direct negative impacts, such as failed infrastructure that leaves ordinary people stranded or unsafe, or health services that are too expensive for needy children. This is not a Western concept or one that is the privilege of the rich: it is a universal value that those who have should not exploit those who do not.

That said, corruption cannot be fought around the edges. Ultimately, a system is not going to turn around unless there is will from the top. Business culture does not change until the CEO is on board, and a society will not change without the head of state leading the way. That does not mean speeches or task forces, but cold hard action that turns heads and makes enemies. As an example, today it was announced that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia has issued an executive decree to protect whistleblowers as part of her anti-corruption campaign. She is not alone, but she is among a tiny minority. More power to them all.