Why It’s So Difficult to Eradicate Corruption

Eradicate corruption

Whenever a new government or new party is elected, particularly in the Third World, a promise to eradicate corruption is always at the forefront.  But why do these promises almost never materialize?

The answer is more simple than it appears. Government doesn’t lead society; it REFLECTS society. If people in government are corrupt, it is because this corruption, this way of thinking and getting things done, is pervasive throughout the society.

So, at best, new parties and new governments make a big show of “attacking corruption” by arresting a few people.  What they are really doing, however, is just trying to scare everyone from pushing the boundaries of corruption, so that they don’t “get caught.”  All the while, even the new government officials continue with corrupt practices in their daily lives.  The people change, over and over, but the corrupt system never changes.

Why is this?


The problem starts with young children.  I see this every day as a teacher.

Young, impressionable children watch and notice the way their parents deal with the issues of life each day. In most third-world countries, when the child has a severe problem at school, instead of letting the child repeat the grade, the parents go in and “beg” or pay a bribe for their child to be promoted (because parents feel ashamed if their child is not promoted). When the child gets a bad grade or doesn’t do homework, parents do the same thing. Instead of children being taught that they will have the consequences of their actions, good or bad, they are taught that one can “get out of any consequence” by either paying a bribe, or knowing the right people. Is it any wonder that they grow up into corrupt adults?

Corruption will never be eliminated in government until it is first eliminated in society. Yet, speaking as a teacher, I don’t see this happening at all. Even five-year-olds are learning this corrupt behavior by watching their own parents.

I personally know of one case where a five-year-old told his teacher that if the teacher didn’t allow him to do as he pleased, “I will bring my father in and have you fired!”  (The result was that the foreign teacher told him, “Go right ahead!  Go get your father right now!  I’m waiting for him!”  The student didn’t know quite what to say after that, as he wasn’t expecting that response…..)

So where, exactly, does the endemic corruption in third-world nations come from?  It comes from the class system.  In order to have a meritocracy, and fair treatment for all, whether in the courts or in daily life, EVERYONE HAS TO BE EQUAL UNDER THE LAW.  In third-world countries, and even in many developed countries, this is unfortunately not the case.  Those who are born wealthy, or with titles, the right name, or connections can get away with crimes of any sort and no court will convict them.  This is truly what it means being “above the law.”

corruption 2

The ONLY way, therefore, for ordinary citizens to get justice, or even things done in everyday life, is through “knowing the right person (powerful people),” or paying a bribe.  In every class of society, those above exploit those below.  (This does not mean every individual in the society exploits others, but it is true as a general rule.) The rich exploit the middle and lower working classes.  Even lower-middle class people, if they have some economic success in their own lives, hire a maid and exploit her even worse than higher classes.  People on the lower end steal and cheat time-wise on their employers because they feel like they “deserve it.”  They feel this way because it is a passive-aggressive sort of class warfare.

Class warfare 2

The same dynamic plays out in companies where many bosses exploit their workers.  Since there is no justice in third-world countries, it is dangerous to resist directly, so they resist in a passive-aggressive manner, “forgetting” important things, showing up late, etc.   Their jobs are often protected by “work rules” which mean they can’t be fired for any of these sorts of infractions.

Not every boss is exploitative.  Unfortunately, when a foreign manager is working with these sorts of employees, their behavior is very confusing.  The manger expects a certain level of output, what is normal for himself, or in his own home country.  He gets only 1/3 of that and wonders what is wrong.  He tries every tactic to improve productivity, only to find workers getting worse and worse.  (He can’t fire them due to work rules.)  What’s wrong is those particular workers have the class-warfare mentality.

In third-world countries, because of the “class” system, no one will ever be equal under the law.  Even in countries with recent revolutions, such as in Arab Spring countries, the class system and class-warfare mentalities continue.  So I am not optimistic that they will be able to develop meritocracies.

Democracy (or democratic reform) means nothing without meritocracy.

–Lynne Diligent

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5 Responses to “Why It’s So Difficult to Eradicate Corruption”

  1. Judy Says:

    I think you are right that things won’t change until there is a free, fair, transparent and accessible legal system (interestingly questions have been raised in Canada recently that our legal system is becoming accessible only for the wealthy). However I disagree that corruption is inextricably linked to a class system. Despite what people may tell you, the class system is alive and well in many democratic (and less corrupt) countries.


    • Lee Regal Says:

      Well said, Judy! it seems that more and more corruption is being
      exposed at many levels in the US. ( as well as around the world) Some of it despite our positive values-our recent chemist case in Massachusetts and the team’s consistent concerns about results that were too good. They were dismissed-as “jealousy” of a good worker. The class system is alive and thriving despite our espoused values. I agree with your point. The powerless, the poor and the victimized feel it the most in any country, and may be the most vehement ( revolution) or do the most to sink into it just to survive. But let us aspire to change corruption. Sorry to hear about the legal system in Canada becoming only accessible to the wealthy.


  2. Srilalaitha Girija Says:

    u hit it rightly and its a stigma of society at large as people are afraid of people in power and for their self centered benefits and security of personal comfortable situations they would adopt these kind of easy and cheap way of getting things done and that becomes an expectation of a person who is in the power and the more he receives the attention of people more he is being encouraged to indulge in the corruption and use power to control others and terrify others instead of contributing to the organization and society


  3. Patricia Shamseldin Says:

    After doing business for 22 years in Egypt as an importer and then 8 years living there full time when I retired, I have had many experiences with doing things “snake way”. First of all, we can get things done in USA by sheer work, but it does help to “know someone”. In Egypt, knowing someone is the prerequisite for getting anything done and also the lazy way, as it requires no work on your part just making a phone call to “someone” and there is always someone who knows someone to solve your problem. And because laziness contributes to this corruption, no one ever has a sense of accomplishment for doing a good job, which leads to a lack of self esteem. Of course, if a student can get a better grade by his parents paying off the teacher, he feels proud of this fact and not in the least ashamed – and so the circle of life continues.

    For employees of the government and also in private industry, the salaries are so low in Egypt – $100 to $200 a month, that they do not feel they should make any effort whatsoever and whatever they can get away with is OK! Again there is no sense of accomplishment – except the accomplishment of getting away with doing less.

    So, for all these Arab Spring countries, I have a word of warning. Do not think that democracy means the freedom to do anything you want. Democracy means laws are passed and enforced. This fact will require a generation or more to evolve in Egypt.


  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn Discussion: (Franck R) • Good question…in third world countries (not so much in ‘Western’ democracies) the problem is closely linked with bad governance, scarcity of resources (including TIME & HR), ridiculously low incomes of civil servants and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Ordinary people in those countries sometimes engage in it to get around all the artificial obstacles created by those above mentioned.
    In third world countries corruption is very often NOT the root-cause but the symptom of a variety of complicated & interlinked factors, AND it’s part of a vicious, self perpetuating cycle.


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