What is ‘Corruption’? African Development Bank provides answers

The term “corruption” is used as a shorthand reference for a large range of illicit or illegal activities. Although there is no universal or comprehensive definition as to what constitutes corrupt behaviour, the most prominent definitions share a common emphasis upon the abuse of public

power or position for personal advantage. The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary defines corruption as “perversion or destruction of integrity in the discharge of public duties by bribery or favour.” The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery).” The succinct definition utilized by the World Bank is “the abuse of public office for private gain.” This definition is similar to that employed by Transparency International (TI), the leading NGO in the global anticorruption effort:
“Corruption involves behaviour on the part of officials in the public sector, whether politicians or civil servants, in whom they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves, or those close to them, by the misuse of the public power entrusted to them.”5
These definitions are useful but, in the ADB’s judgment, they do not give adequate attention to the problem of corruption in the private sector or to the role of the private sector in fostering corruption in the public sector. As a shorthand definition, ADB defines corruption as “the abuse of public or private office for personal gain.” A more comprehensive definition is as follows:
Corruption involves behaviour on the part of officials in the public and private sectors, in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves and/or those close to them, or induce others to do so, by misusing the position in which they are placed.
A list of illicit behaviour typically referred to as “corruption” is presented in Box 1. This catalogue is not exhaustive and is intended to illustrate the areas of greatest interest and concern to ADB. Some types of corruption are internal, in that they interfere with the ability of a government agency to recruit or manage its staff, make efficient use of its resources, or conduct impartial in-house investigations. Others are external, in that they involve efforts to manipulate or extort money from clients or suppliers, or to benefit from inside information. Still others involve unwarranted interference in market operations, such as the use of state power to artificially restrict competition and generate monopoly rents.
More narrow definitions of corruption are often necessary to address particular types of illicit behaviour. In the area of procurement fraud, for example, the World Bank defines corrupt practice as “the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any thing of value to influence the action of a public official in the procurement process or in contract execution.” Fraudulent practice is defined as “a misrepresentation of facts in or to influence a procurement process or the execution of a contract to the detriment of the Borrower, and includes collusive practices among bidders … designed to establish bid prices at artificial, non-competitive levels and to deprive the Borrower of the benefits of free and open competition.”6
It is often useful to differentiate between grand corruption, which typically involves senior officials, major decisions or contracts, and the exchange of large sums of money; and petty corruption, which involves low-level officials, the provision of routine services and goods, and small sums of money. It is also useful to differentiate between systemic corruption, which permeates an entire government or ministry; and individual corruption, which is more isolated and sporadic. Finally, it is useful to distinguish between syndicated corruption in which elaborate systems are devised for receiving and disseminating bribes, and non-syndicated corruption, in which individual officials may seek or compete for bribes in an ad hoc and uncoordinated fashion.

An Illustrative List of Corrupt Behaviours

– The design or selection of uneconomical projects because of opportunities for financial kickbacks and political patronage.
– Procurement fraud, including collusion, overcharging, or the selection of contractors, suppliers, and consultants on criteria other than the lowest evaluated substantially responsive bidder.
– Illicit payments of “speed money” to government officials to facilitate the timely delivery of goods and services to which the public is rightfully entitled, such as permits and licenses.
– Illicit payments to government officials to facilitate access to goods, services, and/or information to which the public is not entitled, or to deny the public access to goods and services to which it is legally entitled.
– Illicit payments to prevent the application of rules and regulations in a fair and consistent manner, particularly in areas concerning public safety, law enforcement, or revenue collection.
– Payments to government officials to foster or sustain monopolistic or oligopolistic access to markets in the absence of a compelling economic rationale for such restrictions.
– The misappropriation of confidential information for personal gain, such as using knowledge about public transportation routings to invest in real estate that is likely to appreciate.
– The deliberate disclosure of false or misleading information on the financial status of corporations that would prevent potential investors from accurately valuing their worth, such as the failure to disclose large contingent liabilities or the undervaluing of assets in enterprises slated for privatization.
– The theft or embezzlement of public property and monies.
– The sale of official posts, positions, or promotions; nepotism; or other actions that undermine the creation of a professional, meritocratic civil service.
– Extortion and the abuse of public office, such as using the threat of a tax audit or legal sanctions to extract personal favours.
Obstruction of justice and interference in the duties of agencies tasked with detecting, investigating, and prosecuting illicit behaviour.