Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain. Corruption harms anyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in positions of authority.
The term ‘corruption’ has many definitions. These range from very narrow to very broad and depend on the angle from which the term is examined.
Corruption can be criminologically defined as a form of “diversion of power”, also called “misuse of power” in English. In this, a person uses the power he holds in an organisation for a purpose other than that for which the power is assigned to that person. Thus, the decisions made are not the result of a normal exercise of power.
When corruption is approached from an economic perspective, the core of the phenomenon is sought in the free market mechanism and more specifically in the penetration of this mechanism in areas where it is not allowed.
In the most narrow legal definition, corruption is defined as public bribery (Sw 246-252). “Since the Act of 10 February 1999 on punishment of corruption, private bribery (sections 504bis-504ter Sw.) can also be added to this.” However, there are a lot more applicable legal articles if one gives a broader legal definition to the concept of corruption. See “National regulations” for this.
Corruption may be an almost invisible and at first sight victimless crime, but it nevertheless causes a lot of social damage. It compromises democratic decision-making, it can undermine social trust, it threatens the rule of law and it can economically destroy fair competition.
TI Belgium uses the definition formulated by Transparency International.
“Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain. Corruption harms anyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.”
This broad definition was deliberately chosen, as corruption can take many forms and cause different problems in different cultures and countries. But always it boils down to a large number of people suffering because one person or a (relatively) small group of people want to enrich themselves at the expense of society and thus fellow human beings.
‘Transparency’ or transparency can be defined as the principle that people, who depend on administrative decisions, business transactions or subsidies, should be able to understand how decisions affecting them were arrived at. It is the duty of officials, managers and agencies to act insightfully, understandably and predictably.
Of course, it can be successfully argued that corruption is not a huge problem in Belgium. In general, any citizen can use public services without being asked to pay bribes. Civil servants are generally paid well enough that they are less likely to feel the urge to create an extra income from bribes.
Yet Belgium, like any society, is not entirely free of corruption. Many abuses still exist in many areas.
The most famous corruption case in recent decades is undoubtedly the Agusta-Dassault case. Agusta and Dassault involved two companies that had won army orders on helicopters in the late 1980s. In doing so, however, they had paid out generous bribes to various politicians. The scandal led to several politicians, including former NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes, having to resign and being convicted.
Despite this having brought the corruption problem into the spotlight, few preventive steps were taken in Belgium. From around 2005, a policy on whistle-blowing only reluctantly and very fragmentarily began to be implemented. Only since the “Act of 15 September 2013 on the reporting of suspected integrity violations in the federal administrative authorities by its personnel”, has an official reporting procedure been established for federal civil servants. For Flemish civil servants, a whistle-blowing procedure through the Flemish Ombudsman has already been in place since 2004.
Despite these initiatives, there is still a lack of an overarching whistleblower scheme to which everyone, including employees of private companies and other citizens, can turn.
In a society free of corruption, such a scheme should not even be necessary, as through full openness and transparency, any impending wrongdoing will soon come to light.
Fighting corruption requires more than a long breath, it demands a relentless breath, an unending commitment. If corruption is not actively prevented and fought continuously, there will continue to be room for a multitude of abuses.
The price of corruption is paid in four areas: political, economic, social and environmental.
In the political sphere, corruption is a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose legitimacy when they are abused for private gain. While this is already harmful for established democracies, it is even more so for emerging democracies. Responsible political leadership cannot develop in a corrupt environment.
Economically, corruption leads to the depletion of national wealth. Corruption often causes scarce public funds to be spent on uneconomic high-profile projects, such as dams, power plants, refineries and pipelines, which come at the expense of less spectacular but more necessary infrastructure projects, such as the construction of schools and hospitals and roads, or the provision of electricity and water in rural areas. Moreover, corruption hampers the development of a fair market and distorts competition, deterring new investors.
The effect of corruption on the social fabric of society is the most damaging of all. It undermines people’s trust in politics, its institutions and leadership. The frustration and general indifference of a disillusioned public result in a weak civil society. This, in turn, paves the way for despots and democratically elected but unscrupulous leaders to convert national assets into personal wealth. Soliciting and paying bribes becomes the new norm. Those unwilling to conform to the regime often emigrate, with which the country generally loses its most capable and honest citizens.
Environmental damage can also be partly blamed on corrupt systems. The lack of, or non-compliance with, environmental rules and laws has historically allowed rich countries to relocate their polluting industries to poor countries. At the same time, careless exploitation of natural resources ranging from timber and minerals to elephant (ivory) by both domestic and international agents has resulted in violently degraded natural environments. Environmentally destructive projects are prioritised for funding because they are easy targets for siphoning public funds into private pockets.
The short answer is “no”. Some experts use regression analysis and other empirical methods in order to attach a monetary figure to the cost of corruption. However, this is virtually impossible because the amounts spent on bribes are (obviously) not made public. Nobody knows exactly how much money per year is “invested” in corrupt officials. And bribes do not exist only in the form of money: favours, services, gifts, and so on, are just as common. At most, one can examine the correlation between the level of corruption and, say, democratisation, economic development or environmental damage. The social costs of corruption are even more difficult to monetise. Nobody knows how much the loss of an energetic entrepreneur or a renowned scientist costs a country. Moreover, any estimate of social costs in monetary value would be inadequate to measure the human tragedy associated with a layoff, with illiteracy, or with inadequate medical care. A general scepticism towards any attempt to quantify the costs of corruption is thus justified. The following example illustrates the dilemma of expressing the issues in facts and figures:
A nuclear power plant is being built somewhere in the world, at a cost of $100 million. It can be argued that – were there no corruption – the cost should only be $80 million. The financial loss to society then becomes $20 million. In practice, projects are often simply planned so that those involved can make large private profits. Assuming the nuclear plant was unnecessary, the financial damage should be set at $100 million. In addition, no major construction project leaves the environment untouched. The results could include increased pollution, reduction in land values, resettlement of residents, an increase in the country’s debt burden, etc. This calculation – probably the closest thing to reality – is enormously complex. On a global scale, it seems almost impossible to make such a calculation. But even if one were able to make a calculation of environmental damage, increases in debt and other factors, it would still be impossible to make a measurement of the erosion of public trust and the erosion of legitimacy of a government. For these too are direct consequences of corruption.
A first, random look at the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), published annually by TI, seems to confirm the stereotype that corruption is mainly a problem of ‘the South’. While Scandinavian countries reside at the top (meaning they are perceived as the least corrupt), most of sub-Saharan Africa is at the bottom of the list. However, it would not only be incorrect to conclude that for example Somalia and North Korea are the most corrupt countries in the world; it would also be counterproductive. The index is not meant to brand certain countries as ‘corrupt’ or pit ‘the North’ against ‘the South’. Rather, it is a tool to raise public awareness of the problem and promote better governance.
Corruption is as much a problem of the North as it is of the South. Recent scandals in Germany, France, Japan, the US and the UK testify to this. It has been sufficiently demonstrated that the degree of control makes all the difference in the level of corruption. People are as corrupt as the system allows them to be. In an environment where the temptation and opportunity for corrupt acts exist, corruption can easily take root. Such an environment is more likely to exist in the emerging democracies of the South and East. In those countries, governance and political institutions are still weak and salary scales are generally very low, making it tempting for civil servants to scrape together a “top-up” on their own income by asking for bribes. In dictatorial systems, administrative and political institutions are nothing but instruments of the usurper to promote his corrupt practices.
The North also bears some of the responsibility for the South’s bad situation due to its role as bribe payer. Indeed, it is largely the business interests of that North that fuel the payment of bribes. Until recently, not only did governments of rich countries tolerate these corrupt practices, the practices were even rewarded: costs incurred by companies for paying bribes were tax deductible in many countries. Fortunately, the 1999 OECD Convention against Corruption made bribing foreign officials a criminal offence for such behaviour. TI pays attention to this aspect of corruption with its Bribe Payers Index (BPI), as a logical complement to the CPI.
Besides the issue of the regional spread of corruption, the issue of corruption by sector has often been raised. The BPI provides some statistics on which industries are most prone to corruption.
According to the results in the BPI, the problem of corruption is most prevalent in public works and construction, followed by arms and defence industries. The sector in which the least corruption had been detected was agriculture.
From a legal approach, corruption is very difficult to define strictly exhaustively. The main articles of law can be found in the Criminal Code and include Articles 240 and 241 (embezzlement by a public official), Article 243 (gagging), Article 245 (taking of interests), Articles 246 to 252 (public bribery, Article 314 (collusion between businessmen) and Articles 504a to 504b of the Criminal Code (private bribery).
Relevant legislation can also be found in individual laws. For instance, the “Law of 15 June 2006 on public procurement and certain contracts for works, supplies and services” is very important regarding fraud in public procurement and the “Law of 7 June 1994 amending the hot Royal Decree of 31 May 1933 on the declaration to be made in connection with susbidies, remunerations and allowances of any kind, which are wholly or partly borne by the state” is used as a basis for prosecutions for fraud in public subsidies.
Below you will find various international regulations on corruption, such as:
– Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), U.S.A.;
– UK Bribery Act 2010;
– OECD Convention against Bribery;
– United Nations Convention against Corruption.
Fighting a problem is impossible when it is not clear what the problem is, where the problem is located and how big the problem is.
Transparency International’s goal is to strengthen the fight against corruption worldwide. To convince people worldwide that corruption should be fought, they must first become aware of the scale of the problem.
In order to identify the problem of corruption, Transparency International has developed and commissioned a number of measurement tools. Each instrument highlights a particular aspect of the multifaceted phenomenon of corruption.
Corruption Perceptions Index
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has been published annually since 1995 and has developed into the instrument by which Transparency International is best known. The CPI charts the level of perceived corruption among officials and politicians in 180 countries. It is therefore not about hard figures but the experiences and observations of country experts and businessmen. They give their opinions not only about their own country, but also about other countries. This way, the most complete picture is created.
Multiple surveys and opinion polls are combined for the CPI, resulting in a rating from 0 to 10 for each country. The lower a country’s rating, the more corruption is perceived among officials and politicians in that country as a fundamental and common problem. The CPI then ranks the countries so that at number 1 is the “least corrupt country” and at number 180 is the “most corrupt country”.
For more information on the CPI and CPIs released since 1995, click here.
Global Corruption Barometer
Since 2003, TI has published the Global Corruption Barometer (SCI) annually. The SCI charts observations and experiences of “ordinary” people. In this, the SCI differs from the CPI, as it is based on perceptions and experiences of country experts and business people.
The 2007 SCI included experiences and perceptions of 63,199 people in 60 countries. People were asked which public sectors they consider most corrupt, how they think the corruption climate in their country will develop and how they think the government is performing in fighting corruption. They were also asked about experiences with corruption, which can provide a picture of how frequently citizens in a given country are asked to pay a bribe when interacting with various public services.
Because the SCI measures citizens’ experiences, the SCI – unlike the CPI – also includes experiences of petty corruption, so-called ‘petty corruption’.
Despite the differences between SCI and CPI, a correlation between the annual expenditures of the two indices can be observed. Click here for the SCI released since 2003 and more information on its creation.
Would you like to report wrongdoing or do you have questions about reporting wrongdoing? In principle, it is best to do so first within the organisation concerned. Many organisations have a reporting centre with confidential advisers for this purpose. For more information about this procedure, and about your protection as a reporter, the best first step is to consult the labour regulations and/or a confidential counsellor.
Should you find no or insufficient response to your report, you can turn to a number of external bodies. In principle, TI-Belgium is not an association to which reports can be made.
Therefore, we are happy to refer you. Among others, you can contact:
The Federal Ombudsman, for complaints about federal administrations;
Fraud Notification System, for reports of suspected corruption and fraud to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). For fraud and corruption affecting the financial interests of the European Union.
Fair Competition Hotline, a central point where you as a citizen, company or organisation can make a report if you suspect that a citizen or company is committing social fraud.
For whistleblowing within the Flemish government, a tiered approach applies. Your hierarchical superior is your first point of contact. If your problem is not or difficult to discuss via this route, you can turn to Audit Flanders.
If you want protection, you can turn to the Flemish ombuds service in the third instance.
Sports fraud hotline, for reports and information on fraud in which persons involved in sports competitions allow themselves to be bribed in order to influence the normal outcome of the match.