International Anti-Corruption Day (IACD) has been marked annually on December 9 since 2003, the year in which the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Having just returned from a short term contract with an anti-corruption effort in Mali, I thought it worth highlighting this issue on this day.
IACD was actually designated as Dec. 9 by the UNGA at the time of adoption of the UNCAC. It figures as part of a global anti-corruption campaign led by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and the U.N. Development Program. IACD’s dedicated website is at anticorruptionday.org.
What is corruption?
Corruption is variously defined, but involves uses of power and/or money to achieve a desired but unethical and illegal (or at least extralegal) benefit. By its nature it involves someone in a position of authority seeking or able to confer the illicit benefit. As such it is not one thing but a range of practices that can occur in many contexts.
The simplest distinction is between a person in authority charging a fee or gift for a good or service that should be provided without charge, and a transaction between a private citizen and a person in authority to allow the former to get away with something unlawful (e.g., illegal goods, avoiding taxes or fines). One can also distinguish for example petty corruption (what an individual might encounter) from grand corruption (of the big money sort one might read about in the press), or systemic corruption (which is generalized and organized) from sporadic corruption (which may arise in diverse situations).
In fact, once one begins to consider details of specific situations, the taxonomy of corruption gets a lot more complex. Two organizations concerned with corruption offer glossaries of its various forms:
- Transparency International‘s Anti-Corruption Glossary has “easy-to-understand, animated definitions” for 60 terms.
- The U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre‘s Glossary has definitions for a slightly different set of 72 terms.
There is, as one would imagine, a significant amount written about corruption. Among bibliographies, Matthew Stephenson‘s extensive (197 page) “Bibliography on Corruption and Anti-Corruption” and Inge Amundsen and Odd-Helge Fjeldstad’s “Corruption – A selected and annotated bibliography” are of note.
Personally, having encountered corruption (mostly indirectly) in West Africa at various points over the last three decades, and trying to make sense of those experiences and qualitative data from research by the project with which I worked, I have found J-P. Olivier de Sardan‘s discussions of what he calls the “corruption complex” helpful (see for example “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?“).