When I worked for the United Nations (UN) in Nicaragua I often went with two or three colleagues to visit the projects we were funding in Nueva Segovia, a mountainous region in the north, close to the border with Honduras. I was project manager. Our presence was necessary for the continuation of financing in these hard-hit communities. These projects started just after the war between the US-backed right wing Contras and the marxist Sandinistas had ended. Travel by road from the capital to this region is long and bumpy.
During my first trip we were stopped at a roadblock, 100 kilometers or so from our destination, by members of the national police or, at least they had the police uniform on. They told us that there had been incidences of violence in the region by insurgents and that it was recommended they accompany us. Courtesy to a UN mission? No. These policemen expected to get paid for protection. The question we had to answer for ourselves was: do we pay the police and get protection? Or do we not pay and risk getting ambushed during the last part of our trip by these disgruntled guys (or their accomplices) because we didn’t give any money? A quick radio contact with my superiors followed. One of my local colleagues paid off the police (equivalent of USD 20). Back at the UN office he was reimbursed for “unforeseen expenses”.
I wish my story had ended with how I single-handedly brought about changes in how business with the police was conducted in this particular Nicaraguan region. This was not the case. It still bothers me that I was too indifferent. The fact that the UN Convention on Corruption was still not adopted, is not a good argument either for not doing something. I wished I had raised my voice.
The simple truth is that corruption is a system. It’s like oxygen. It flows everywhere in our societies and it infects everybody it touches. Probably no independent auditor ever noticed or paid attention to the projects’ unforeseen expenses. This got lost in the bigger picture, national reconciliation and resolving the problems of displaced persons due to war. However, corruption is not a victimless crime, in whatever shape or form it may manifest itself. Corruption protects power and privilege.
I bet that almost everyone who reads this article will say that they are not corrupt. Yet, should this be about a simple binary choice between you being corrupt and a non-corrupt? It shouldn’t be. Let’s face it, being non-something is not enough.
Corruption wants to stay invisible. We need to expose it whenever we recognize it. Corruption wants our silence. We need to speak up and make noise. Corruption wants our apathy, We need to get beyond the thinking that one person only cannot make a difference. I’m sure that people like Mahatma Gandhi, Siddharta and Nelson Mandela were told that many times by others. We need to make a commitment to use our voice and power to fight for integrity and transparency. What kind of powers do we have at our disposition?
Voting power. Use your vote wisely to fight for justice and integrity. This means that we need to stop voting for those who have proven by their actions to be corrupt or even have been caught and jailed for corruptive actions.Yet, too many voters don’t seem to care, or maybe think they’ll be able to also gain illicitly. Let’s not forget that only you can empower these corrupt Members of Parliament. Without your vote they cannot get a seat.
Spending power. You can decide where you spend your money and what we spend it on. Become a conscious consumer, and make a statement with your wallet by not spending your money on a corrupt person, businesses and what not.
No justification for corruption is valid for it takes resources away from those who need it most. I’ve shown with my Nicaragua experience that being non-corrupt individually is not enough. We need to be actively non-corrupt. When you think of it, each individual has more power that he or she is aware off.
This article was written for Kòrsou Transparente