Petty Bribery: It’s Not Pretty

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"Petty" bribery is an accepted way of life in much of the world. A person simply understands that he or she will need to "grease the palms" of certain officials in order to get a business license, a work contract or help with a legal matter. In Rev. Robert Sirico's book, 'Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy', he recounts how economist Hernando de Soto decided to see how long it would take the average person to set up a small business in Peru.

He [de Soto] and his colleagues decided to test the question by establishing a two-sewing machine shirt-making business in a Lima shanty town, and he took himself out of the equation by sending out four students under the supervision of a seasoned lawyer to do the work of trying to comply with all of the legal requirements. “I’ve discovered that to become legal took more than three hundred days, working six hours a day,” De Soto writes. “The cost: thirty-two times the monthly minimum wage.”

This type of corruption is a leading cause of poverty. While many times the amounts of money may seem small - therefore "petty" - the cost is enormous when viewed more globally. Eduardo Bohórquez and Deniz Devrim, of Transparency International, Mexico, have studied "petty" bribery and concluded that this type of corruption not only hampers economic growth, but is truly devastating to the economies of developing nations, calling bribery a "regressive tax on the poor."

The Index on Corruption and Good Governance suggests that while Mexican households with an average income spent 14% on bribes in 2010, households with the minimum income spent 33% of their monthly income on corruption, a percentage that by no means can be considered to be “petty”. The survey on experienced corruption in the Western Balkans confirms the finding that the average number of bribes paid is higher among lower income groups than wealthier citizens.

Further, Bohórquez and Devrim conclude that bribery doesn't simply cost the poor money; it weakens their trust in public officials and institutions  and undermines struggling democratic underpinnings of government. In fact, they state, "Calling corruption in public service delivery “petty” minimizes its devastating effects and the high damage it has on the development of societies. Therefore, the term “petty bribery” needs to be banned from the anti-corruption vocabulary."

Read Bohórquez and Devrim's 'Cracking the Myth of Petty Bribery'.




Sep 182012
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