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Strong institutions needed in fight against corruption

07 Aug 2020 at 09:08hrs | Views
WHILE reasonable progress has been made in strengthening capacity to ensure effectiveness, efficiency and accountability in the management of national resources, the institutional framework for dealing with lapses in the use of public resources is yet to be properly implemented. The phenomenon of corruption poses a number of questions. What are its socio-politico-economic determinants? Is it a culture-bound phenomenon? Do public administration and political science have anything to offer in explaining it? Is a human being angelic or devilish?

Assuming that there are no powerful institutions to administer and control human beings, what would have been the people's behaviour toward one another? Would they have mutually respected and observed their rights, or would they, like wolves, have fallen on and torn one another apart? Any sort of answer to these questions necessitates the existence of a political system. Assuming that a human being is intrinsically wicked, there is need to perpetually control individuals' behaviour. If human beings are innately angelic, there is no need for restrictions and limitations. Why then has endemic corruption become a national culture in Zimbabwe?

This article uses viewpoints of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to unpack the connection between human nature and corruption. The argument here is that only strong and effective institutions grounded in ethical foundations are the lasting solution to the scourge of endemic corruption in Zimbabwe.

Hobbes' view

In Hobbes' view, humans are materialistic and their actions are motivated solely by self-interest. Thus, state stability can only be guaranteed by a sovereign ruling authority, what Hobbes calls Leviathan. One of the key concepts of Hobbes is the expression, "man in the state of nature". What is meant by ‘the state of nature' is a hypothetical state wherein there is no political institution and administrative organisation existing in the society, the people being left to their own business and to do whatever they like. Thus, his conclusion, "man is the wolf of other man".

Since the instinct of love and defence of one's self is very strong in everybody, the people would be at each other's throats and would destroy one another. Life in such a society is very difficult; in the words of Hobbes it is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short".

According to Hobbes, in no way is this kind of living to one's benefit and advantage. As such corruption does not benefit a society. It undermines the rule of law, sound governance and competitive business transactions, distorts social and human values and raises political and moral concerns. Corruption violates the public trust and corrodes social capital. This calls for powerful strong and effective institutions. This is the role of the Leviathan, i.e. the central government. Looking at the City of Harare Land Scandal Report, which is very topical these days, there is no doubt that corruption in Zimbabwe has reached alarming levels, if not fatal.

One may argue and say Hobbes' view of human beings was too pessimistic. Anyhow, Hobbes' standpoint on human beings has its roots in the older tradition of JudeoChristian faith. In fact, according to both the Old and New Testaments, man is sinful and genetically impure. According to the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve ignored the commandment of God not to go near the forbidden, and due to the temptation of the serpent, they ate the fruit of the tree.

As a consequence, they earned the wrath of God; they were expelled from heaven and were sent down to the accursed world. The sin that was committed by Adam and Eve not only embroils them, this sin passes down from generation to generation of humankind.

Likewise, corruption blocks sustainable development by denying future generations good and quality social infrastructure, safe and clean environment. For example, invasion of wetlands, green ways and other open spaces for housing and commercial development with no environmental impact assessments and no development permits issued are all examples of corrupt policy decisions in local government management.

Why the deliberate damage of wetlands through illegal occupations, unlawful developments by private individuals and developments approved by council itself? Does this mean that the council is captured by certain individuals or groups?

The health sector is not spared. Corruption in the healthcare sector takes many forms and corruption within healthcare services and industry inflates prices of medicine and equipment, lowers the quality of care and products and impedes the necessary response to injuries and disease. This unsympathetically affects human and sustainable development, economic growth, increasing inequality and inhibiting prosperity.

Rousseau's view

Rousseau is diametrically in opposition to Hobbes. In his discourse on inequality (1755), he professed the equality and goodness of "natural man" and asserted that the golden era of humanity occurred before the formation of society, which bred competition and the corrupting influences of property, commerce, science and agriculture.

The Social Contract (1762), influential during the French Revolution, claimed that when human beings formed a social contract to live in society, they delegated authority to a government. However, they retain sovereignty and the power to withdraw that authority when necessary.

Rousseau believes that man in the state of nature is a decent, well-mannered and free-mind. It is the society which corrupts him. Implied here is that the socio-economic-politico environment makes people engage in corrupt behaviour. The source of corruption is the desire to own, which in turn is an offshoot of society. It is this longing for possession that drives human beings to kill one another and causes so much corruption.

The truth of the matter is that man possesses a predatory and destructive makeup. This explains why man subscribes to the law of "kill or be killed". He destroys others in order to provide for himself and gives priority to himself over others. If the environment is the demolisher of pure human nature, what then should be done to deal with corruption? This means there are determinants of corruption that need attention: greediness, inadequate pay, effectiveness of penalties, sociological factors among others. Civil service wages and salaries in Zimbabwe are not only low, but also have declined in real terms in the past two decades.

Although successive wage and salary reviews have tried to reverse these trends, it has been on the whole difficult to protect wages from serious erosion. A demoralised and discontented worker whose image has been unduly tarnished cannot be an effective instrument of fighting endemic corruption. It explains why pharmaceutical products are magnets for corruption and unethical practices. Prescription drugs meant for free distribution are often lost to theft or just unaccounted for before ending up on the black market.

Corruption is a multifaceted issue that pervades all aspects of the public and private sectors, and cannot be addressed through legal reforms and enforcements without tackling the underlying causes and incentives for corruption and reducing payoffs to the individuals.

A striking piece of advice from Rousseau is that the environment dictates human behaviour, thus to fight the complexity of corruption, it is important to understand its causes and effects to fully address the underlying structures and dynamics. Although corruption tends to get the most attention, it is a symptom of a more general problem of perverse underlying incentives of the civil service. Hence, there is need for a holistic review of the national integrity system.

The level of political will has to be upped. Currently, the citizenry do not believe that the government is genuinely committed to curbing corruption, especially in the public sector, despite extensive investigations being carried out by Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission. In particular, citizens do not understand the rapid transformation of poverty-stricken individuals becoming prosperous within a year of being elected to political office or appointment to "juicy" posts within the public sector. Yet, nothing happens to them despite their flagrant display of such sudden wealth.

The same argument goes for civil servants, who are known to have built massive, sumptuous mansions in their localities or have chains of houses and property investments throughout Zimbabwe's major cities. They also parade noticeable wealth at ceremonies, such as weddings for their children. This gap between the barking of the government and the flagrant display of proceeds of corrupt behaviour needs to be reconciled before the populace will take the government seriously. The action taken by President Mnangagwa to dismiss from his ministerial post ex-health minister Obadiah Moyo is commendable, now the ball is in the court of the judiciary to discharge its constitutional mandate. This is where strong and effective institutions are needed.

So, Hobbes in saying that man is the wolf of another man and Rousseau in opining that man is, by nature, pure and wellmannered, are both right. Each of them has seen one facet of man's being. But if man were only wolf, the establishment of a government would not have been possible. On the other hand, if he were only angelic and peaceful in nature, do all these crimes, corruption scandals and murders then make sense? Hence, man is both this and that, but at the same time, is neither this nor that.

This is the first of a two-part series.

Zinyama is a lecturer at the university of Zimbabwe's Department of Political and administrative studies.

Source - the independent
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