Sunday, September 04, 2005

Is Corruption Curable?

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

“Framing” is a dangerous art. You can give a horrible thing a good name and make it look good. With the right media tools, you can sell it to the masses. A good lie, repeated long enough, convinces even the liars themselves.
Worse, lies in time become norms. The rules change to accommodate. And new generations know no better or different. The social evolution alters its ways accordingly, and what was immoral in the past, becomes acceptable and even ethical.
Take for example “corruption” in the Arab world.
Bribe is now called “commission.” The rationale goes like: Life became costly. What was regarded a decent life in the good old days is now poverty. Salaries, especially in the public sector, are meager. You need to think of your family and dependents. Good accommodation and private schooling cost a fortune. Every one is doing it; why not me?
Corruption is universal, but in degrees. Ours is one of the worst. This reminds me of a funny — and telling story.
Once, an Arab minister was invited to Japan. His Japanese counterpart took him on a city tour. He noted that most Japanese live in small apartments. Later, he was invited to lunch with the Japanese minister and was awed to see his spacious villa. “How could you afford this on your salary?”
The Japanese asked him to look out the window. “Do you see that bridge?” he whispered. “I got 10 percent commission on the project.”
Years later, the Japanese came to visit his Arab friend. On a city tour he noted that many people lived in shantytowns, if not homeless. He visited the minister’s home, and found it a palace. He couldn’t resist asking how come. The Arab minister didn’t need to whisper what is common knowledge. Do you see that bridge? He asked proudly. The Japanese couldn’t see anything. “Of course,” the Arab explained, “I took 100 percent commission on it!”
True, corruption is universal, but in our Arab world it is cancerous. Billions are spent on development but most go to private Swiss accounts. Few are brought to justice or even exposed. Little is done for the average man. Meanwhile, the ships of civilization are steaming ahead in all seas and oceans, while ours are sinking. Something has to be done if we ever hope to survive the storms of the New World Order where no economic or political barriers are allowed. So, is corruption a curable disease or a hopeless case? If we can fix it, then how and where to start?
This is a long story with so many variables. Some diseases are more curable than others. The longer you wait, the harder it gets; the stronger the medicine, the faster the recovery. But first, you need to know, acknowledge and be committed. Without knowing the extent of your problem you can’t appreciate it. Without acknowledging the seriousness of the disease and the urgent need to cure it, you are not prepared. And without commitment you might start but not finish, take some steps and leave some, get mixed results, no results or make it worse.
Our corruption is cancerous but curable. It will take lots of effort, plenty of headache, and tons of commitment. Once we decided we had enough, we can think up the right systems, procedures and safeguards that deal with cases, causes and symptoms.
When the Mafia polluted America in they early 20th century, the police, laws and courts were powerless, and often too corrupted to fight it.
In response, a committed US government came up with new solutions. They put new laws, created special task forces, and reinvented the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). From a small group of investigators within the Department of Justice in 1908, the bureau grew up to become a formidable force with (to a large extent) incorruptible agents. They took on organized crime, with the support and backing of a committed government, and achieved great successes.
The story was replayed in the sixties when the Kennedy administration gave full authority and support to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to break up the Mafia structure, and he did — to a great extent.
What I am driving at is: It is possible to cure a disease like corruption if we research it, acknowledge it, and sincerely decide to fight it. If there is a will, there is always a way.
Most important, though, we should start from the top down. Catch the sharks before the crap. And make it a holy rule that no one is above the law. Otherwise, it is going to be like in the Communist and Baath regimes, the fat cats swallow it all while the rest dies of malnutrition!

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