The World Bank estimates international bribery exceeds US$1.5 trillion annually or 2% of global GDP, but corruption is as old as human history; from our ancestors to modern leaders, all do it. Corruption is as old as human history. The First Dynasty (3100–2700 BC) of ancient Egypt noted corruption in its judiciary. Controlling corruption requires strengthening institutions and promptly upholding the rules of law.
The Oxford Dictionary defines corruption as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery”. Corruption originates from a Latin word: corruptus. The word is the past participle of corrumpere, meaning “mar, bribe, destroy”.
The most common definition of corruption is misuse of office or power for personal gain. A wider definition is that corruption is abuse of trust. There are two possible approaches to defining corruption: based on laws or based on public opinion. The definition based on laws is guided by what corruption is considered to be in legislation, while the definition based on public opinion is guided by the wider opinion of the public as a whole.
The World Bank uses a straight forward definition on corruption as ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’. Transparency International defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain
Corruption exists everywhere. The causes might differ, however, whether corruption results from a need, a culture or simply from an opportunity too tempting not to exploit, it influences the way we deal with it or don’t deal with it.
Corruption severely constrains poverty alleviation and economic development. In 2017, nearly 10% of Asians, around 400 million, lived in extreme poverty. Corruption siphons off funds intended for poverty alleviation. Corruption results in lower economic growth because a corruptive economic environment is not conductive of investments.
Corruption has more than just financial costs. It reduces public trust and citizens’ willingness to participate in society. For example, citizens who perceive politicians as corrupt may not bother to vote in elections, get engaged in politics, or pay taxes.
Corruption will thrive where there are inadequate and ineffective controls. A lack of policing, detection and prosecution encourages corruption. Weak internal controls such as financial management, auditing, and personnel systems are also facilitating conditions. When authorities control and censor the media and civil society, corrupt politicians and officials have less to fear.
As the global economy expanded significantly during the 20th century, levels of corruption increased as well. It is difficult to estimate the global magnitude and extent of corruption since these activities are carried out in secret.