When people are asked about their views on corruption, they are likely to express divergent opinions, mainly because corruption means different things to different people.
The online Oxford Dictionary defines corruption as being dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery and/or the action or effect of making someone or something morally depraved. Another definition is having or showing a willingness to act dishonestly in return for money or personal gain.
Still, people do sense it when there is corruption, of whatever type. Like poverty, there will probably always be corruption.
It is what a country or organisation does about it that really matters.
A study by Transparency International, released a few days ago, shows that just under nine of every 10 Maltese respondents (86 per cent) consider corruption to be a problem – whether “fairly small” or “very big” – within the government. Four in 10 (39 per cent) think the level of corruption remained unchanged in the year before the study was conducted, in late 2020. More say it had increased a lot or somewhat (28 per cent) than those who think it had declined a lot or somewhat (24 per cent).
The majority (56 per cent) are satisfied that the government is doing a very or fairly good job in fighting corruption, though 39 per cent differ.
Interestingly, one in three Maltese admitted resorting to personal connections to gain access to a public service, be it social security, entry into a public school, healthcare, dealing with the police or to sort out identity documents.
Seeking this kind of favour can also constitute corruption, as one would realise when seeing the definition of “corrupt practices’ in the general elections act, just to mention one law.
Although many would not mind resorting to the ‘friends of friends’ network, corruption can never be beneficial to the common good.
In fact, 77 per cent of Maltese respondents in the Transparency International survey disagreed when asked whether it is acceptable for the government to engage in “a bit” of corruption so long as it gets things done and delivers good results.
The previous administration headed by prime minister Joseph Muscat followed that direction and appeared to be making inroads until the extent of corruption was exposed.
Ensuring transparency is a good first step to addressing corruption.
Institutions that truly work to ensure the rule of law and which are strong-willed to take all necessary action without fear or favour are another essential ingredient. Government representatives, business and civil society must also collaborate to ensure the common good is protected.
What, however, matters most is the people’s own determination. It is heartening to see in the study that most respondents – 77 per cent – think ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.
It is encouraging to see more people speak out publicly against the scourge of corruption but it is worrying to note 56% of those responding to the survey saying they feared retaliation for reporting corruption.
The depth of corruption to which this administration has sunk should remain among the issues on which the next election will be fought, alongside the economy, the handling of the pandemic and the pitiful state of our environment.
Corruption will never be wiped out. But the survey findings show that most people, including Labour supporters, do expect robust action to be taken to, at least, bring it down to a level that does not provoke such widespread disgust.
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