No, we are not hardwired for fraud and corruption

Is there a fundamental remedy to greed? There is, only one. Soul-searching. How many are prepared to do it?

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

There is not a single day that goes by without the media across the world, including our own local media, reporting on some case or the other of a scandal or multiple scandals of fraud and corruption. They take place in all countries big and small, and it’s all about dirty money that X,Y or Z want to accumulate for themselves or their families, or privileges that are obtained as trade-offs in deals that are made involving both government and private sectors. There is no one that seems to be exempt from the tendency – individuals rich and poor, companies, corporates, banks, NGOs: you name it, or think of it, and it will be up there on the fraud/corruption list in one way or another if you scan the web.

There is no one that seems to be exempt from the tendency – individuals rich and poor, companies, corporates, banks, NGOs: you name it, or think of it, and it will be up there on the fraud/corruption list in one way or another. Photo –

To use modern terminology, fraud and corruption look like they are ‘hardwired’ in the ‘system’. And since the system is inert and is made up of and by human beings, it follows that this ‘hardwiring’ could well and only be in the – another modern terminology – DNA of human beings. Perversely, one almost wishes that this were the case. If that were so, we could have held the hope that it would only remain for scientists to look for and find the gene responsible for this aberrant behaviour of ours. Because, if indeed it were identified, the next step would have been for the scientists to genetically engineer human DNA, tweaking that gene so as to eliminate this destructive tendency in humans. Or perhaps remove it altogether using the CRISPR technique that can target DNA with even greater precision.

Alternatively, perhaps one might have even pushed for the development of a vaccine against fraud/corruption? How neat that would be! Unfortunately, though, we have to abandon this kind of wishful thinking, because the root of corruption goes even deeper, into our soul so to speak: corruption is an existential threat. In fact, the cause is well known to all of us: it is our GREED. As if to strike home the point more deeply, it was in this single word that the author of a several pages long article in Newsweek magazine, writing in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, concluded his reasoning about its cause. And that is why it will take a very long time to eradicate corruption – if ever. But, alas, in the meantime more headlines will bristle with ever more scandals.

We need not go into the gory details of the local ones that have rocked us within living memory, and the others that have been exposed more recently. The earlier sums involving, millions of rupees, pale in comparison to the billions that are nowadays bandied about, a trend that has been on since the eruption of the BAI scandal. It will be recalled that the latter incident had revealed alleged malfeasances and ramifications that extended so far beyond our shores that we could not even begin to think whether any radical remedy was even possible. As laymen, we shuddered just at the astronomical volumes of money that were cited.

But we have to face another reality that is equally unpalatable and hard to take in: a lot of taxpayer money continues to go into the investigations that frequently lead nowhere. But there are also the bailouts that had to be extended in the case of the financial crisis, for example, and as we learnt subsequently, there was a good amount of abuse of these packages. It goes without saying that much of this money could have put to better use elsewhere, in so many public sectors that are chronically running short of funding. As usual, it is those at the lower rungs of the ladder who have to bear the brunt of the apparent lack of funds.

And that was another paradox of such crises: the bigger they are, the more likely they are to benefit from government generosities. Again the financial crisis of 2008 comes to mind: the huge bailouts to banks and companies didn’t prevent CEOs from getting their inordinately large packages despite losses their organizations were putatively making!!

Sadly, we seem to have entered an era of grand corruption on an apparently unstoppable scale. However much we may deny it, there can be no doubt that as far as we are concerned the image of the country has been tarnished as a result – and the fact that many other countries, including advanced ones, are also battling against the same demon, does not give us any claim for either justifying what’s happening over here or claiming a moral high ground. Like, if everyone in our circle is corrupt, so who’s to say what? We have reached a stage so low that, for some, it seems to be a matter of pride to be the pot that calls the kettle black!

A few years ago, a book was reviewed in The Economist which gave an insight into the ramifications of Grand Corruption of nightmarish proportions. It was written by Jason Sharman, professor of international relations at Cambridge University who has specialized in the subject of Grand Corruption, which was defined as the ‘theft of national wealth by kleptocratic leaders and their cronies, often in poor countries’, who used shell companies and other such instruments to hide their ill-gotten gains.

To me what is most galling about this whole issue of corruption involving politicians in particular is that they have a first-hand knowledge of the plight of the people. I found this for myself in the first and only political campaign that I ever took part in, and that was in constituency No. 7 during the by-election of 2003 in Riviere du Rempart. It was about a month long, and after helping out at Piton I was ‘posted’ at Barlow for the last ten days, to give a hand to Mr Jeelall who was till then single-handed there.

All that I will say is that their elected representatives do not have the moral right to betray those who have placed their trust in them, to belie the hopes and promises they make and disappear for the next five years – and then come begging shamelessly for votes again. Instead of wasting their energies in wheeling-dealing for personal benefit, they ought to strive to improve the lot of the people whom they pledge to serve, and restore the notion of nobility to service by genuinely fulfilling their obligation to the people. In other words, sincerely doing their avowed duty. Which we also should do in our respective callings, whatever that be, for all work is noble.

Is there a fundamental remedy to greed? There is, only one. Soul-searching. How many are prepared to do it?

* Published in print edition on 8 September 2020

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