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CORRUPTION: Bribery Brings High Costs in Africa and Latin America

Peter Dhondt

BRUSSELS, Dec 7 2006 (IPS) - The police can be your friend, but the friendship often has to be paid for: more than half of Africans and one in three Latin Americans who have had contact with police officers in the past 12 months have paid a bribe at least once, says a Transparency International survey.

People in Europe and North America have far less personal experience of corruption, but most think their governments do not do enough against it, according to a worldwide public opinion survey by the international anti-corruption watchdog.

Corruption can have a dramatic effect on the lives of poor people, said David Nussbaum, chief executive of Transparency International at the launch of the Global Corruption Barometer 2006 in Brussels Thursday. In some countries, basic services like electricity are denied to the poor because they cannot even afford small bribes, the survey found.

Bribes paid to utility organisations in Africa amount to an average of six euros a time – prohibitive for the poorest. Bribes paid to the judiciary, the police or schools in Africa average more than 50 euros. In Latin America, people pay bribes of more than 450 euros on average to obtain medical services.

The findings of the 2006 Global Corruption Barometer are based on a poll of nearly 60,000 people in 62 countries, carried out by Gallup International between July and September of this year.

Japan, Spain, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Croatia are among the countries where the public has the impression that corruption or its effects have gotten worse. In India, there have been some perceived improvements. “The Barometer has not been conceived to determine trends,” Nussbaum told IPS. “And progress can mean progress starting from a very low base.”

Around the world, bribes are most commonly paid to police, registry and permit services, and the judiciary, says Transparency. But the public views political parties and parliaments as the most corrupt institutions, followed by business, police and the judiciary. Religious bodies, non-governmental organisations and registry and permit services are viewed with less suspicion.

In large parts of Africa and in countries like Bolivia, the Philippines, South Korea and Turkey, more than 70 percent of respondents indicate that corruption affects their personal lives to a great extent. Even 22 percent of Europeans feel personally affected.

“They are possibly thinking of the consequences that fraud in their company may have on their jobs or their pensions,” Nussbaum said. However, people worldwide have the impression that political and business life are more affected by corruption than family life.

In most parts of West Europe and North America, only between 1 and 3 percent of the population actually had to pay a bribe over the past 12 months. But 70 percent of Europeans and 78 percent of North Americans think their government’s actions against corruption are ineffective or non-existent.

“At the time the poll was carried out, we had some big corruption cases in the media of several western countries,” said Nussbaum. “They involved the buying of seats in the House of Lords in the UK, investigations into bribes that were possibly paid in connection with telecommunication activities of the German company Siemens in Asia, Africa and Europe, and the case of the political lobbyist Jack Abramov in the U.S. (involved in a vote-buying scandal).”

Almost one in five North Americans alongside 15 percent of Asians and 23 percent of Latin Americans think their leaders actually encourage corruption, the survey indicates.

Unexpectedly, while many in African countries pay bribes, they are less critical about their governments. “A lot of African countries are really focusing more on the fight against corruption,” Nussbaum says. “There are major challenges left, but African people have the impression that their leaders are doing something. And I must say that they often see these efforts undermined by multinationals paying bribes. In previous studies, we found that European companies are much more inclined to pay bribes in Africa than in Europe.”

The countries that have signed the UN Convention against Corruption will be meeting Dec. 10-14 in Jordan in order to strengthen compliance with the agreement, which entered into force last year. “This is a major opportunity for change,” said Nussbaum. On a state level, countries can adopt codes of conduct for civil servants, protect whistleblowers and make sure that trespassers are punished, Transparency suggests.

The Thursday report was released ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day Dec. 9.

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