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Corruption: ambitious or evil?

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Corruption: ambitious or evil?

Contrary to what some postulate, corruption is not the exclusive domain of evil individuals. Few are like that; In reality, virtually every person is motivated by self-love and guided by self-interest. In almost all cases this implies the search for maximum benefit (pleasure) and minimum effort (pain). Consequently, corruption, although it may spring from evil, generally arises from the conditions that foster it: it is a practice based on calculation.

Corruption, like other calculated crimes, is based on opportunity, motive and means. Focusing the fight solely on the protagonists omits these factors. This brings to the fore an essential question: what are these opportunities, motives and means, and how can we intervene in them?

Opportunity manifests itself when conditions make it possible for a person to make decisions about the well-being or property of others.

In any government system, opportunities for corrupt behavior exist due to the discretion with which officials handle resources under their control, from permits to court rulings. However, in many governments, the proliferation of regulations and bureaucratic procedures and the lack of transparency multiply these opportunities. The reason varies. In our Governments, many officials are pressured to use their positions for the benefit of political leaders and their collaborators.

This happens when opportunities for employment and advancement within the state apparatus are controlled by political leaders, generating a strong dependence on their will. Ironically, this same dependency endangers the position, reputation and, in some cases, the freedom of those officials who choose not to align their behavior with the interests of politicians.

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In this context, the motivation of many individuals arises from the scarcity of alternatives. The presence of an overwhelming and arbitrary bureaucracy, together with biased authorities, drives people to seek alternatives, often illegal, to overcome these impediments. For those who have access to political power, the reason lies in the necessary “speedup” achieved through the exchange.

The medium refers to the tools used to carry out acts of corruption and protect their authors.

In our countries, the main means is poorly designed government structures, which establish a relationship of dependence between officials and politicians.

Their control over officials allows politicians to influence all areas of public administration, granting favors and guaranteeing impunity to their allies, and persecuting and sanctioning those with whom they clash.

It is crucial to recognize that every ruler, even the most authoritarian, depends on a base of collaborators to rise and remain in power.

In countries where the means exist, such collaborators can be recruited through clientelism, exchanging positions and privileges for political support.

It is not unusual for citizens, with the intention of improving their situation or safeguarding their assets and businesses, to be forced to alleviate the burden of excessive, suffocating and arbitrary bureaucracy. In fact, this is ensured by exchanging support for political leaders for political “favors.” Likewise, except in exceptional circumstances, a politician who refuses to offer benefits in exchange for support will see his collaborators shift toward a rival more willing to favor.

In short, a paradigm emerges: those who do not engage with politicians or parties are at a disadvantage due to bureaucracy and injustice, while supporting politicians who provide “favors” turns out to be the best deal.

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It is crucial to punish those who break the law, but, as with the best public health campaigns, the main focus must be prevention. This means, fundamentally, confronting the opportunities, motives and means that promote corruption.

A government system whose structure generates dependencies will rarely enable those in the best position to combat corruption (both politicians and officials) to conduct themselves fairly and endure.

Therefore, beyond focusing on punishing offenders, it is essential to address the opportunities, motives and means that foster corruption. This requires reviewing how the structure of Government (for example, who appoints whom) may be exacerbating and fueling these three plagues.

* Architect. Member of the Ibero-American Institute of Constitutional Law

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