Imagine this scenario: You’re at work one day when suddenly you’re hauled downtown to police headquarters and told there have been complaints about things going on at your residence. They want to know if you’ve been selling drugs and using your home as a brothel.
Despite being stunned, you explain that you and your family are as pure as the driven snow. You may have had a guest over that got a little tipsy, but there have been no drugs or prostitution in your home. You’re sincere. The police look like they believe you, and they ask you to wait while they make a few phone calls.
Later, the officers return. They tell you that your story checks out, but they can’t dismiss the charges until a bureaucratic “snag” is cleared up. It appears the snag carries a price tag of $1,000 and could take up to three months to resolve. Until then, you will have to stay in custody – unless you put up the money yourself, and then the whole tawdry matter will go away and you can go home.
Unfortunately, when I worked in Indonesia, I learned that a shakedown by the police was a fairly common occurrence. Even if you reported a theft, you had to offer some “milk money” to get anything done. Once, one of my friends was actually guilty of possession of hashish. He was looking at a 10-year jail sentence – until he bribed the judge and got the sentence reduced along with a promise to stay out of the country.
When I lived abroad, I was overwhelmed by how the rules were different depending on which country I was in, so I did some research and stumbled onto a website called Transparency International (www.transparency.org).
Transparency International is noted for its Corruption Perceptions Index, where over 180 countries are rated on the perceived corruption in government and public services. According to the latest data, the country ranked No. 1 (perceived to be the least corrupt) is New Zealand, followed closely by Denmark and Finland. The countries perceived to be the most corrupt are a tie between North Korea and Somalia, with Myanmar and Afghanistan right behind. The United States ranks 24, sandwiched between Qatar (tied with Chile at 22) and France (25).
Transparency International’s website states that their mission is “to create change towards a world free of corruption.” When I first read that statement I thought it was terribly naive. After all, I had just seen the movie “Syrianna” and remembered a scene where a U.S. Congressman ranted over and over, “Corruption is why we WIN!”
Then I realized that Mohamed Bouazizi, known as the “Hero of Tunisia,” immolated himself because he felt powerless to create change. He committed an act of desperation that touched a nerve and inspired the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring in turn inspired Occupy Wall Street. Both are still alive and kicking.
In reading the voluminous data at transparency.org and seeing the number of people who are sick of the status quo, a phrase like “to create change towards a world free of corruption” could hardly be called naive. Some people may believe it’s trendy. But, like any idea with gravitas, it won’t be going away. The only naivete is believing that a corrupt status quo will never change.