The flooding of corruption into every stratum of the global society is successfully creating a symbiotic relationship between its existence and maintenance of the status quo. Regardless of the idealistic inclination of a state, format of inter-governmental relations, the nature of the most elemental frameworks of societies or even the worth of the bodies that are independent of authority: the magnitude of bribery augments severely in all of them.
Bribery is an act of taking or receiving something—usually of a monetary worth— intending to influence the recipient in some way favorable to the party providing the bribe. This definition, however, could almost create a falsified perception that the causes and consequences of bribery exist under an isolated system.
In reality, the aftermath of bribery, even when distilled down to the irrefutable ones, shows layers of explicit moral wronging and even worse: tangible detriments and injustices to the community. Stating that bribery is a deed without a victim is impossible. Nevertheless, as compelling as it is to position bribery amongst the most despicable crimes and embrace measures to deal with it accordingly, it is equally essential to question whether bribery is an intentional breach of social orders or simply a defense mechanism adopted to survive within the flawed complexities of our society.
We live in a world where every facet of life is assessed in terms of its monetary worth. This assessment divides prosperity, security, respect, resources, and dominance, as a privilege for individuals that retain wealth. Possession of wealth is extensively established and glamorized as the sole parameter for a qualitative life. In most communities, a person’s affluence dictates the amount of social validation they shall receive. With all these determinants molding the mindset of individuals, the desperation to accumulate wealth is internalizing within people in a global scale, and these individuals naturally fail to identify any fault in exploiting their positions for their personal advantage.
The matter of bribery, however, does not prevail merely due to the desire of certain groups to obtain substantial fortune; it also exists as a means for sustenance. For instance, “Survival” corruption, practiced by public servants, is a consequence of minimal salaries, perhaps in highly inflationary economies, that hinders their well-being.
In the absence of bribery, public administration could disintegrate, as the service members would lose the incentive to work. People are also compelled to bribe officials because of unfavorable economic, social or bureaucratic conditions. Officials may refuse to serve clients unless they are paid. About seventy-two percent of Cambodian nationals need to pay a bribe to receive service. Similarly, in Delhi, junior police officers take around $0.2 per day to permit street vendors to sell edibles at forbidden areas. In such countries where state institutions are increasingly corrupted, refusal to participate in bribery may cause financial losses for businesses.
The theory of “survival” bribery is also applicable upon multi-national corporations that hope to outlast the fierce competition within nations where bribery has taken the form of a normalized culture. In addition, large businesses mandatorily require fulfilling favors or providing gifts as a lobbying technique. Regardless of the rationale behind bribery, it does not always represent the ill intention of the participant but could also show flaws in our social architecture.
Comprehending the foundational catalyst of bribery births a question: if socio-economic defects manipulate people into participating in the act of bribery, how then is the act a threat to the society? Bribery or subornation is a threat to our communities because it actively jeopardizes the prominence and efficiency of various social organs --upon which innumerable people depend. Subsistence of bribery as a culture degrades the strength of democracy and establishes a monopoly of the rich.
Large-scale business enterprises succeeding to directly bribe the state authorities or indirectly channelize that money to politicians in the form of funds means that the leaders need to comply with the agendas favoring the corporation; these leaders no longer represent their voters. For instance, Nigerian officials choosing to accept the hundreds of millions of dollars, provided by the Kellogg Brown and Root Company, to secure a natural gas plant contract, is not just a betrayal to the electors of Nigeria but also a direct theft from the taxpayers of the nation. This case also symbolizes how bribery in the political spectrum turns states into pseudo democracies and ensures plutocratic oligarchy.
Furthermore, bribery dismantles the sole hope from the working class: A system of meritocracy. The 2019 College Admission Bribery Scandal of The United States shows how more deserving candidates can be denied acceptance into prestigious positions over unqualified individuals who are affluent enough to bribe the authority. These forms of bribery prevent merit-based assignment of roles and limits power structures to the rich.
Moreover, the impacts of corruption are not limited to socio-political or financial aspects of society; it can also create life-threatening scenarios. Bribery undermines security when police, military, customs officials and border guards can be bought; bribes are paid to ensure building inspectors ignore irregularities of constructions, health officials approve unsafe products, toxic wastes are disposed off inappropriately, and government contracts are awarded to inferior products at inflated prices. Tragically, the primary victims of the bribe-culture are always the impoverished individuals who cannot afford alternatives. Hence, bribery eternalizes the ever-expanding difference between the two polar socio-economic classes.
Bribery can be divided into two categories: conducted as a defense mechanism and conducted under pure ill-intentioned, selfish motive. While the latter is unimpeachably damaging to society, even “survival-bribery” could be significantly damaging. Firstly, it perpetuates a culture that contributes to the disruption of social orders. For example, traffic police officers with a low payment, accepting bribes, creates a technique for these officers to make easy money. They lose the desperation and urgency to demand any form of pay raise, and the department learns to tolerate bribery to keep their staff on-job -- compromising the depreciation of its quality.
Similarly, this makes abiding by the traffic rules an option, threatening thousands of lives. Secondly, “survival bribery” contradicts the overlapping ideas of ethicality shared by almost all human societies. Creating exceptions for circumstances under which bribery is acceptable, validates exploitation of position and violation of duty for personal benefits, exploiting the vulnerable individuals. For instance, when doctors working in rural areas demand a bribe for their services, the indigent people are directly exploited. From the utilitarian perspective of morality, the number of individuals who benefit through bribery is dramatically lesser in number than the individuals who suffer due to its existence.
Furthermore, the impacts of survival bribery are not limited to the stakeholders but also extends up to the shareholders. When enterprises participate in bribery to survive the corporate competition, they harm themselves in the long run. Bribery introduces uncertainty and delay. No contracts are signed formalizing bribes, so the negotiation never officially ends. Companies cannot sue for breach of a bribe-tainted contract. It takes time to generate the funds, often through false invoices or non-existent subcontractors, and more time to bury the details in the company’s books. Hence, Opaque markets are more costly to companies than developing a culture of compliance.
Identifying bribery as a social disorder, almost all states have formulated laws against it. The Republic of India released The Prevention of Corruption Act that holds the guilty individuals liable to six months to seven years of imprisonment and a fine—based on the intensity of bribe. However, the largest impacting agents of the bribery-scheme — The multimillion-dollar corporations functioning within numerous territories — were highlighted only after the release of The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA, 1977) by the USA. Varying national rules and standards for combating corruption are not sufficient during an era of global investments and international business transactions. The divergence between domestic standards allows bribery to proliferate. FCPA was a pivotal act, as it encouraged the elimination of domestic bribery-related legal loopholes in different nations, and set an international standard on the prosecution of enterprises that bribe foreign authorities.
Furthermore, United Kingdom’s Bribery Act of 2010 set an exemplary format of intolerance towards bribery by criminalizing accepting of bribes, giving bribes, the corruption of foreign public officials, and even the failure of commercial organizations to prevent bribery on its behalf. The universal solution proposed by bribery-related laws can be summarized as the provision of punishment to participants and discouragement of similar acts. However, although these laws accurately recognize the issues that perpetuate bribery and ensure the penalization of this felonious behavior, the approach taken might not mitigate or even subsidize the rate of bribery.
In the case of retribution, the penalty should mandatorily be proportional to the harm created, but calculating the exact amount of harm is very difficult. Furthermore, deterrence is mostly ineffective because people who accept, provide or channelize bribes are usually aware of the consequences, and yet they commit bribery because these people do not find any moral indiscretion in the act and nor do they expect to be caught.
While the possibility to misinterpret the magnitude of penalty exists, dissolving provisions to penalize people who partake in bribery is still indispensable. Even though retribution might not disincentivize a large number of people, it is necessary to display the state’s disapproval of bribery and to reestablish a sense of security and justice within the victims of bribery. However, for a definite alleviation of bribery, enactments should focus on social protection by seeking methods of prevention. For instance, the major flaw in the idea of deterrence could be resolved through robust execution policies.
Similarly, the annual publication of transparent reports on spending and funds of companies that are consenting to do so along with tax raise upon the dissenting ones could also be effective to combat corporate-bribery. Although such prevention techniques could minimize the immediate problem, complete emancipation of bribery from our society requires prevention of a more significant issue: Class Inequality.
Bribery cannot be solved until the normalized culture of colossal class disparity is deconstructed. So long as there are systems that permit individuals to reach unlimited opulence at the cost of weaker groups and the lower classes do not have the liberty of a choice, the custom of corruption shall persist.
Therefore, alongside retribution, the legislation should introduce long-term policies to reduce economic inequality. Such legislation could include policies that focus deeply on the increment of medium wage, Expansion of earned income tax, construction of assets for working-class families, higher investment in education, the progression of tax codes and termination of residential segregation.
Like all the disparate forms of transgression, bribery barricades the smooth operation of a functional society. It not only challenges the symbolism of democratic structures but also endangers the freedom and liberty of people. Even when bribery depicts the shortcomings of our social organs, its use as security further magnifies these imperfections. Since bribery devalues the ethics of the global community, awards power to wealth instead of representation, annihilates the system of meritocracy and survives upon victimization of the defenseless groups, under no circumstance, it can be considered an exception.
While imprisonment and fine collection is effective in the evacuation of bribe-related felons from the society, it does not eradicate the felony in itself. The principal origin of bribery is the hierarchal arrangement of people in our society. Provided we truly desire to formulate any legislative system that could succeed in the eradication of the menace of bribery, its foundation should be targeted.