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Corruption can be found in every country and in many different sectors, but it can be more evident in some areas, where bribery and extortion may be accepted as the normal way to conduct business. Kemi Ogunyemi discussed extortion in “How Extortion Works (Evidence from Nigeria): The Extortion Cycle”, which summarizes 159 narratives of corruption. There is a formula to extortion. One person acts as gatekeeper to withhold something from the person who wants it until they pay some form of penalty. This imbalanced relationship demeans the victim of corruption and makes that person distrustful of the system, especially when the extorter is in a public office. If corruption is widespread citizens begin to believe that nothing can be done to fix the broken system and begin to accept it as a way of life even if they object to the practice. Once this point is reached the system is broken because no one believes in it.

One way to limit corruption is by self-policing. In her essay, “Guilt and Elation in the Workplace: Emotion and the Governance of the Environment at Work,” Rebecca Whittle discussed how environmental concerns have entered the workplace and are causing new conflicts among co-workers who are not following the rules. People who make small but collective sacrifices to recycle, reduce energy use, and commute by bicycle begin to monitor those who do not. These self-appointed police may begin to judge the noncompliers for being lazy and uncaring about the environment, and the people being policed may become defensive for being called out. Whittle outline the cause of this conflict as the “good” conservationist employees vs the “bad” employees who are not participating. While conservation efforts are critical to sustainability, this interpretation of it being a moral choice creates tension while social norms are shifting. She noted a better practice would be strong leadership from the top engaging all employees to help shift the mindset to drive change.

Strong leadership to drive change was discussed in a case study by Jonathan Schlefer.  “Change in Chignahuapan: Reforming a Municipal Government in Mexico” covered the 3 year term of Raúl Rivera, mayor of a small rural town in the Sierra Norte mountains of Mexico. He and his council took some simple and effective steps to remove the perception and potential for corruption, including opening council meeting to the public, publishing monthly budgets, but primarily in engaging the citizens. While all of these things were required by law, they had not been done under previous administrations; residents had restricted knowledge about the government’s dealings. Since it is a relatively small and isolated community, where most people know each other, nepotism was common, however when decisions made by the government were made public, residents were made part of the process. This transparency discouraged backroom dealings; they now had to be disclosed. His one legacy was digitizing all public records, since it reduced the time to produce necessary documents from 3-4 days to 30 minutes; this removed the potential for bribery with public officials to expedite the process. Although he was only allowed to hold a single 3 year term, Rivera made significant progress. Change is possible with the right leadership and community support.

Image Credit: Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)