Countering Corruption: Globally or Locally?

Corruption goes along with the meaning of dishonesty, treachery and untruthfulness. However, the exact meaning is difficult to arrive at as it varies depending on the various perspectives. For the West, it is more associated wit the deceitful act for personal economic benefit, whereas it is not limited to the monetary profit in the context of Nepal but also refers to the exploitation, deception or betrayal of others. Therefore, it is significant to acknowledge the meaning and the level of corruption in the particular context in order to find its remedies within the periphery. It is readily accepted that none of the countries are free from corruption, but the problem I see here is the attention of the people to find its solution rather than trying to understand it i-depth in the particular context. I argue that it is necessary to have an in-depth knowledge for understanding the root causes of corruption, based on the particular socio-economic and cultural aspects that help in the sustainable reduction of the practices of corruption. In recent times, corruption has attracted the attention of researchers in the academic arena; not only in economics, but also in public administration, sociology, political science and law. Research in this area includes detailed descriptions of corruption scandals, case studies, and cross-country studies. It also ranges from theoretical models to empirical investigations. However, in the existing review, I found that all the studies are related to measure/ understand global nature of corruption rather than understand, and find the its depth in the particular social context. There are many questions that are yet to be resolved. Does corruption in a particular context have the same nature and extent as there is in the global context? In our attempt to reduce corrupt activities, is it necessary to identify the required socio-economic context? Does corruption in every local level have a distinct character? Can macro-model be well-equipped to address the issue or is it necessary to develop a micro-model to curb corruption?
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Corruption: Definitional Dilemma

There is no universally accepted definition of corruption. The dictionary of social sciences compiled under the auspices of UNESCO (1963) defines corruption in public life as the use of public power for private profit, preferment, or prestige, or for the benefit of a group or class, in a way that constitutes a breach of law or of standards of high moral conduct. Klitguard and Ronald Maclean-Abaroa (2000) have a similar opinion of corruption, as it is the misuse of office for personal gain. They further describe that it can be internal to the organization (e.g. embezzlement) or external to it (e.g. extortion). Although corrupt acts may sometimes result in a net social benefit, corruption usually leads to inefficiency, injustice, and inequality.

Going through the definitions of the scholars, it is not difficult to reach a conclusion that the western definitions give priority to that is economic benefits rather than the wide ethical meanings. However, some definitions include ethical meanings too. Hornby (2000), in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, describes corruption as: (1) dishonest or illegal behavior, especially of people in authority; (2) the act or effect of making somebody change from moral to immoral standards of behavior (p. 281). Here, corruption is linked with two important elements: authority and morality. Although the basic idea is to give priority to the monetary gains, it does not go out from the moral character of an individual. In contrast, the eastern definition, particularly the Nepali and Indian definition, concerns the ethical dilemma that may be monetary or something else. When one tries to find the literal meaning of "corruption", he/she needs to analyze the root word in Nepali--bhrashtachar that is the combination of two words bhrashta (deceitful) and aachar (conduct), to specify "corruption" as meaning dishonest or wicked behavior. Therefore, in the context of Nepal, a person intending to act dishonestly or illegally is said to be corrupt. Although the word "corruption" may have many different literal meanings in Nepal, the basic definition refers to the wicked and dishonest person intending on economic gains or other benefits by deceiving and misinterpreting others.

The Indian experience of corruption is similar. “The term corruption covers a broad range of human actions. He points out that there is not a single individual who has not been lured into corruption. If corruption is accepted in a wider perspective, exploitation of any kind is corruption; shirking work is corruption; waste of time, energy and money is corruption; deceiving or betraying is corruption; mismanaging of public or private funds is corruption; undue is corruption; smuggling is has become one of the biggest areas of corruption...corruption is the driving force and part of a national character” (Kohli, 2000, as cited in Rao, 2001).

The abovementioned definitions show that there is no single commonly agreed definition of corruption. However, it can be inferred that most western people and organizations concerned with corruption related matters would agree that corruption involves the abuse/ misuse of a position of power or authority for monetary gain or an increase of status/ position. These forms of corruption may take place at any level of a private or public organization, from the office file carrier to the supranational business manager. In contrast, the meaning of corruption in the Nepalese sense is wider and not only concerns the economic benefits but also a wide range of immoral and dishonest acts, and those issues may include economic and other related misuse of office for unofficial gains.

Therefore, it is difficult to reach a universal definition of corruption as it is contextual and varies from place to place, as it is rooted in the cultural context. “Moral norms differ from place to place and change from time to time. For example, whose moral standard should be used, or what is the appropriate moral benchmark if there is more than one standard? In African traditions, "gift giving" is a common practice but in western cultures it is often regarded as corruption” (Qizilbash, 2001). In this context, I argue that focusing to obtain the universal meaning of corruption is worthless rather we need to define and understand corruption in the particular context in an attempt to reduce it.

Corruption as a Problem

Corruption, indeed, is not visible and it does not carry the evidence. In order to speak against corruption and to protest openly against it can not be done universally. The reason is that corruption varies from place to place, and from private to public sector. In the context of Nepal, corruption has become one of the main reasons for widening gap between the haves and have nots. Millions of rupees in foreign aid never reaches the hands of the needy ones for whom it is meant. The amount that needs to be invested on the basic infrastructure has never been met due to the misuse of the allocated money. Even after the decade long Maoist movement in Nepal, the economic growth could not take place as the relevant policy has not been property implemented to increase the national income and raise the living standards of the people.

Furthermore, corruption is believed to have significant impact on the socio-cultural value system. For the West, it has become one of the important agendas to intervene in the social settings of the poor countries. Maria (2005) believes that West’s new interest in attacking African “corruption” is true to the logic of neo-colonialism. Transplanted, culturally de-sensitized explanations about wrongdoing are currently circulating in asymmetrical power relations that have come to mark the West’s dealings with Africa.

Culture and Corruption

Culture is a whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterizes a social group – not only the arts and letters but also modes of life, fundamental rights of the human being, value systems and beliefs (UNESCO, 1995). As corruption is deep-rooted in the social system that comprises of norms, values, arts, morals etc, it is difficult to define/ assess corruption without relating to culture. Husted (1999) argued that “effective measures to fight corruption are dependent on culture. Countries with a large power distance or a strong desire for material wealth will require different treatment than others”. Emphasis on culture as a means of human growth and empowerment and the recognition that in order to achieve sustainable development, economic, financial and social reforms have to be addressed from a cultural perspective (Austrian Development Agency, 2006). One cannot deny the notion that cultural development is based on an assumption that culture and development are closely interlinked, since all kinds of evolution, including human and economics, are ultimately determined by cultural factors. Therefore, it is not an easy task to describe corruption without relating it to the culture of the particular context.

The normative statement that development must be "embedded in culture" glosses over the character of development as a cultural performance in itself: implicitly the reference is to the culture of others, of the developing entity and in a opaque sort of way it is a statement about development as an engagement with cultural difference (Pieterse, 2001).

Cultural Determinants of Corruption

Every country has its unique characteristic features of corruption. In an attempt to reduce corruption, these factors should be considered. It is a fact that the factors that work in the developed country may not function for those in the developing countries. Among these various factors, history, religion, gender, consumerism play significant role to shape corrupt behaviors.

History is related to the present. Every country has its own unique history. The particular history of a country cannot be studied or analyzed from the history of the others. For Nepal, the political instability and corruption is not new. The widespread and visible misrule and political instability was established after the tragic death of the then Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in 1837 A.D. Later, Jung Bahadur started a new lineage of Rana rulers. During s period of 104 years, under Rana rule, the national treasury was used as pocket money for the Rana prime ministers and their followers. Regmee (2001) found the first autocratic Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana established Dharma Kachahari, a court forum, to look into corruption cases. In 1950, the people overthrew the autocratic Rana oligarchy and various attempts were made to regulate the national economy followed by a great political change in 1990. A major form of insurgency started in 1996, when a revolutionary group began their armed moves. The moves ended in 2007; however, the outcomes can be still observed.

This brief history of Nepal has its some unique characteristic features that may not be generalized for other countries. The country that has had a decade-long insurgency has a different context than the others that have not faced conflicts. In addition, when we consider social problems, they emerge in a particular context through the passage of time. Without peeping into history, it is very difficult and even impossible to find the roots of the social problem. Therefore, in our attempt to reduce corrupt activities, we can look back to history from where the main problems have emerged.

Some societies are characterized by a high level of trust among its people, while others may lack this. If trust differs from place to place, it is hard to explain corruption as if it has the same nature everywhere. The role of religion also contributes to the level of corruption examined. La Porta et al (1997) consider the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and the Muslim religion to be particularly hierarchical and that such hierarchical forms of religion are detrimental to civic engagement, a factor which should help reduce corruption (p. 337). Regarding the sample of 33 countries mentioned, the authors report a positive association between the percentage of population belonging to a hierarchical religion, and corruption, controlling for other iinfluences. A more in-depth analysis of the impact of religion is provided by Paldam (2001). He identifies 11 different groups of religion and tests their impact on corruption, controlling for other variables. While in countries with a large fraction of Reform Christianity and Tribal religion, corruption is lower, higher levels of corruption can be found in countries with a large influence of Pre-Reform Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. This shows that corruption depends on the religion followed in a particular place to some extent. I did not find any study as to why corruption is deep-rooted in particular religion followers than others. However, the above studies are amplyl enough to explain that religion too has not remained untouched by the influences of corruption.

Women's participation is also argued to correlate with corruption. Swamy et al. (2001) indicate that the more women are involved in the public arena, the lower the corruption will be. They also find that a higher share of women in parliament and in government reduces corruption. Manandhar (2006) shares his field experience in Butawal and wrote his conclusion (based on the conclusion of 55 women participants in the field) that women are less corrupt compared to their men counterparts. The reasons include: woman are very sensitive, honest, less selfish, can understand the future implication and lack opportunities.

Some scholars even link the degree of corruption with legal origin. La Porta et al. (1997) report that in countries with German and Scandinavian legal origin, corruption is lower compared to those with a socialist and French legal origin. As there are various countries in the world with their own legal origin, we can say that corruption has its own nature and extent in various cultural settings of the world.

Geography is a broad term that includes both human and physical geography. As it explains the interactions among the members of the society that shape norms, traditions, cultures, and institutions, human geography may also matter for corruption. In a heterogeneous and fragmented society, the probability that economic agents will be treated equally and fairly is lower. As a result, highly fragmented communities are likely to be more corrupt than homogenous societies (Swamy et al., 2001). This explanation indicates that corruption varies from place to place for being homogenous or heterogeneous society too.

Panday (2001) argues that the individualistic and competitive values promoted by a liberal market often causes business and civil society to negate their social obligations of fairness, justice and equality. This statement clearly illustrates that the competitive ideology and selfish values imported from the "west" create corruption in impoverished areas. This is because when there is very little opportunity to attain a position of affluence; people have to be corrupt to "get ahead" in the global economy. The importation of western "consumer culture" may also be causation or sustaining factor of corruption in Nepal (Bhattarai, 2003). The ideology of "consumerism" attaches great importance gor instant gratification rather than delayed gratification. The "get rich quick" attitude prevails, and the aspiration to become rich and live a comfortable or even lavish lifestyle is a strong driving-force for many people who comply with these values. For those who adhere to these new "western" social norms and values, the temptation to engage in corrupt activities will be immense, especially when the realization dawns that it is not possible for the vast majority of people to achieve such monetary success by legitimate means. In this context, I argue that the level or degree of consumerism differs from place to place. It is an individual phenomenon the extent of which is defined in the particular cultural settings.

From a somewhat Neo-Marxist perspective, at the highest level of the political hierarchy, corruption can be seen to be attributable to…the "greedy, selfish and individualistic" western consumer values (Bhattarai, 2003). It is the fact that the political party in power requires extensive funds for their campaigns to maintain and increase public popularity, in order to win the next election, may apply pressure on them to abuse their position of power and dishonestly obtain the funds for their own survival in the democratic system. Therefore, the democratic system can be seen as contributing factor to the corruption problem in Nepal because of its competitive nature. The rival parties have to do as much as they can (including corrupt activities) to "get ahead" in the race for votes and maintain/attain their position of power. I argue that this nature is contextual and the degree of which varies from place to place.

It may be argued that the foundations underpinning the mechanism of Nepalese society are actually based on corrupt principles. Although functionalists’ view highlights the importance on every social unit that exists in a society, I argue that some social units begin to function or function negatively with the passage of time. The "caste system", although officially abolished by Nepalese law, is still a prominent feature of Nepalese society even today. The operation of a caste system in Nepal means that a person born into a "higher" caste will automatically have superior chances of obtaining a relatively highly paid job (following in the footsteps of his forefathers). On the other hand, a person who is born into a 'lower caste" will be expected (by society) to follow in their caste heritage and engage in menial/manual work for a lower wage. The chances of such people, born into a lower caste, of acquiring a career of higher status are seen to be minimal.

The illustration of drastic inequality of opportunities manifests in Nepal, and that can be seen as the corrupt platform on which Nepalese society rests. The acquisition of a relatively prestigious career position through family heritage (ethnic grouping) draws parallels with the corrupt activity of nepotism. Since this is such a widespread phenomenon within the Nepalese society that we can say that corruption is extremely deep-rooted in the foundations of the society; therefore it will not be a small task to even manufacture a small reduction in its occurrence. The former statement indicates that drastic and broad societal action needs to be taken if a difference is to be made. Can broad global effort contribute in the Nepalese socio-cultural context? I argue that in the course of developing a tool, attention should be paid to develop distinct model that is suitable in the particular cultural setting. The model may not be of use for any other cultural setting.

It is often said that Nepal has some specific categories of corrupt activities. International charity donations and aid intended to be given to "worthwhile" Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) charity projects, for the benefit of the seriously disadvantaged members of the Nepali society, often finds its way into the pockets of some "bogus" NGOs, or is only partially used by reputable NGOs for its intended cause. In our attempt to reduce corruption, these minor issues, must also be considered

There are still some more cultural factors that make a particular place distinct in terms of corrupt behaviors. Therefore, it is necessary that in our attempt to reduce corrupt practices, we need to understand those factors in the particular context and setting. It is necessary to develop a model that is well-suited to combat corruption in the particular socio-cultural setting.

Current Trends of Countering Corruption

In the present context of globalization, every issue is looked at from the lens of capitalist economy and political process. Non-market values such as trust, ethics of care and compassion, a politics of recognition and respect, are not given importance in capitalist society. "In our own time, it is becoming extremely difficult for non-market values to gain a foothold. Mercy, justice: they are non-market. Care, service: non-market. Solidarity, fidelity: non-market. Sweetness, kindness and gentleness: all non-market. Tragically, non-market values are relatively scarce." (West, 1999, as cited in Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 361). This might be a reason why corruption, deeply rooted in the ethical context, is not given due respect but given emphasis on the meaning of corruption that is rooted in wealth.

Pieterse (2001) argues that "an element that tends to be relegated to the background in culture and development literature is the engagement with capitalism-as if the shift toward a cultural definition of problems is also a shift away from a political economy perspective" ( p. 71). This style of presenting corruption really complicates the issue rather than arriving at a solution. This may be the reason why despite a remarkable number of governmental and nongovernmental international bodies including the World Bank, OECD working, corruption is growing even greener.

Solution to the Challenges

As described in interactionism, to understand the act, it is necessary to discover the meaning held by the actors. Meanings are not fixed entities. They are shaped by the interaction on the particular context. "Meanings are also created, developed, modified and changed within the actual process of interaction." (Haralambous & Heald, 2004, p. 16). Corrupt practices are also developed in a particular social setting in the course of interaction. Through interaction, meanings of corruption undergo modification and become the agenda for discussion. As the interaction is based on a particular social setting, the meaning that is shaped in a particular social setting has its uniqueness and may not be generalized in another social setting. Therefore, the present trend of globalizing the issue, and trying to find the solution by global movement against corruption has to be drastically revised. Instead, in an attempt to reduce corrupt practices, local practices and the context of shaping the meanings should be observed, where the exact solution to the problem can be found.


Corruption goes along with the meaning of dishonesty, treachery and untruthfulness, so the exact meaning is difficult to depict as it varies according to different perspectives. For the West, it is more associated to the deceitful act for personal economic benefit, whereas it is not limited to the monetary profit in the context of Nepal but also refers to the exploitation, deception or betrayal of others. In order to reduce the deep-rooted social ill of corruption, attempts to reduce its occurrence must be of a broad and persistent nature to match the characteristics of the problem. We must be under no misconception that there will be a simple solution, or "silver bullet", to eliminate such a deeply ingrained propensity. What is needed is a broad, dynamic and sustained effort to reduce corruption at all levels of its occurrence, and that needs to be searched in the exiting socio-cultural context.

One of the reasons why government corruption has grown to be pervasive in many countries today is primarily because much effort has been spent to remedy the problem globally rather than to understand it in the socio-cultural setting. In order to address the problem, their focus is given to the existing laws and financial aspects of the country as the remedial means. Every issue is looked on from the lens of capitalist economy and political process. Experts take corruption as the agenda of political and economic process. Non-market values such as trust, ethics of care and compassion, a politics of recognition and respect, are not given importance in the capitalist society. In an honest and preliminary effort to reduce corrupt practices, an individual must focus on understanding the various factors associated with it together with the available socio-economic and cultural setting. Addressing those factors in the local context obviously helps in hindering the corrupt practices. Developing thinking needs to abandon the present way of thinking to find a single silver bullet macro model to reduce corruption in all socio-economic settings and needs to choose paradigms to find own micro model that gives importance to understanding social interaction that contributes to form corrupt behaviors in the particular social setting.


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