“The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government.” George Washington
Corruption, institutionalized corruption in particular, has been a plague on societies for, well, since societies began to develop, I’d imagine. And while it almost surely exists in every country today, its scope and scale, and whether or not authorities publicly discredit and have the means and motivation to actively try and stop it, varies greatly between nations. And that makes a big difference in terms of how pervasive and damaging corruption’s effects are on the often fragile fabric that holds together the just functioning of any given society.
Just how sizable corruption has been, in monetary terms, during the recent past is being revealed to a greater extent than ever before by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery initiative. Intended to assist developing countries recover assets stolen by corrupt leaders and deposited in foreign, often Western, banks.
Corruption in the Developing World
Not surprisingly, developing country government leaders and public officials top the list of corrupt government officials who have deposited their ill-gotten gains in Western banks. They loot a staggering US$20-40 billion a year through bribery, extortion and robbing government treasuries, according to the Stolen Asset Recovery Report (StAR).
Notorious dictators including Indonesia’s former president Suharto, Haiti’s Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, former Peru president Alberto Fujimori and former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos appear at the top the list of the most corrupt, having looted their countries of billion of dollars, according to a 2004 report put out by Transparency International.
Of course, corruption on such a massive scale becomes institutionalized and requires an organization of corrupt underlings and spawns an entire ecosystem of complicit accountants, bankers, lawyers and law enforcement officials to collect, protect and launder all that money.
Not surprisingly, African countries are among the worst afflicted. Former African leaders, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha also make Transparency International’s Top Ten.
The fact that Suharto and Abacha contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling political party, is causing a bit of a stir in the South African press. Former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela went so far as to honor Suharto with an award subsequent to ANC’s ascension to power.
Much Smoke & Thunder Amounting to Very Little?
How effective the UNODC and World Bank initiative can be is being questioned. Neither is expected to get directly involved in investigations, asset tracing, prosecution or repatriation of stolen assets, according to an article written by Issaka K. Souar√© of the African Security Analysis Programme in Pretoria.
“…Given the fact that some of the developed countries concerned are among those that dominate the World Bank, and knowing just how unwilling some of these countries have been in cooperating in previous attempts to recover such funds from their banks, how effective can we expect the initiative to be?” Souar√© asks.