Bribery, the archetypical corrupt practice

José Zalaquett

José Zalaquett

Head of the Project at MOOC Chile
Lawyer, Universidad de Chile. Doctor Honoris Causa, by the Universities of Notre Dame and City University of New York.
José Zalaquett

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On August 31 we have launched a new MOOC course, this time on transparency and anticorruption.

Bribery is the form of corruption most commonly associated with this scourge. Actually, if we think about an image to illustrate corruption, the one that comes immediately to mind is that of a hand passing an envelope stuffed with money under the table.

The UN convention against corruption of 2003 defines bribery as

“The promise, offering or giving, to a public official, directly or indirectly, of an undue advantage, for the official himself or herself or another person or entity, in order that the official acts or refrains from acting in the exercise of his or her official duties”.

Corruption implies not only the betrayal of public trust by a public official, who is supposed to act always for the general interest. It may consist also in the abuses of such trust by private fiduciary agents who represent the interests of a large number of people.

At least two people are required for bribery to occur: a fiduciary agent (the bribed one) and a private agent who offers the undue benefit.

Bribery is related to illicit enrichment, that is the significant increase of the assets of a fiduciary agent which can not be reasonably explained. Actually a good deal of the fortunes of some corrupt fiduciary agents has been amassed by means of bribes.

Also, bribery is often present in some specific acts of corruption, such as trading in influence and incompatible negotiations. Equally, it is a means to achieve State capture by powerful interests, economic or otherwise, mainly through the shady financing of politics.

Bribery may be international. A clear example is that of contractor firms from industrialized countries which, in order to obtain a juicy contract, bribe high public officials of the country which is recipient of an international loan,
Until 1997, this perverse practice was fairly common. Some industrialized nations even allowed corporations to deduct from their income the bribes paid abroad. In 1997 an OECD convention against international bribery was approved. This measure was followed by some internal World Bank regulations (which hitherto had largely considered that corruption was a “polítical” problem) and by legal reforms in various countries. In parallel, the nongovernmental organization Transparency International began to elaborate a Bribe Payers Index.

In the fight against corruption, transparency is particularly effective concerning bribery, for such/practice is by definition shadowy.

As the well-known saying goes, the best police officer is public lightning and the most effective disinfectant is the sunlight.

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