World Agenda

Last updated: 9 december, 2010 - 10:22 GMT

Lyse Doucet: Talking corruption

BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet

BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet

The BBC's latest The World Speaks poll reveals corruption is a major concern and talking point. Lyse Doucet has encountered many examples of it on her travels and explores why it is so prevalent.

Everyone knows exactly what it is, everyone has a name for it.

In the Arab world its called “baksheesh”, and sometimes it also needs a bit of “wasta”.

In some African countries they talk of “eating”.

A place like the Philippines has, according to one blogger, too many words to mention – everything from “tongpats” to “padulas” – when it comes to describing bribes.

And in the West, it’s often just called by its name – corruption.

The terms are endless. And it’s no wonder, because everyone is talking about it.

Interesting twist

The World Speaks poll

The poll results are drawn from a survey of 13,353 adult citizens across 26 countries and was commissioned by the BBC to understand which global issues they consider most serious. It was conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork between June and September 2010.

In our latest BBC World Service poll, The World Speaks, we discover that a lot of people are worried about corruption.

When it comes to “talkability” or, in other words, what global issue people talk most about in their daily lives, corruption came out on top.

The issue was described as “very serious” everywhere from China to Columbia, to Nigeria and the Philippines.

In Kenya the percentage was as high as 63%. Just less than half of Indonesian respondents thought the same.

And in India, it was the most talked about global issue, by 30% of respondents.

There was an interesting twist in China, where there are more controls on freedom of speech.

Three-quarters of Chinese participants felt corruption was the most serious global issue. But only one in ten had actually talked about it in the last month.

Scale of extremes

When the BBC decided to launch a season called Extreme World – an examination of just how differently we live our lives, which will run over the next few months – it was clear that corruption was one of the themes that had to be included.

Extreme World logo

Through December, on TV, radio and online, BBC News will be looking at the most corrupt countries in the world as well as the least.

It may not surprise you that Sweden is amongst the least corrupt, while war-torn Somalia is among the most.

The BBC will find out about the “top ten bribes” and we’ll also investigate how the “whistle blower” or “good policeman” can help fight this menace.

Taking many forms

Corruption is an issue the BBC keeps returning to.

It’s an important part of accountability in any democracy, or indeed any culture.

It matters right across what is a very diverse world – whether you live in a poor village or in the most modern of cities, in a Western democracy or a more authoritarian state.

Corruption takes many forms. Some are brazen, some so subtle that they are woven into the very fabric of society.

It includes everything from “cooking the books” in financial institutions, to election fraud or match fixing.

Golf in the Bahamas

I’ve seen Afghan government ministers, who talk about fighting corruption, accept generous hospitality from wealthy businessmen and not think twice about it.

BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet

Before writing this article, I did a “shout out” on social media like Twitter and Facebook to find out how it was being described in different societies.

I received answers from across the world, from Kabul, Afghanistan, to my own country Canada.

From Pakistan I heard of putting “tyres” on government files to make them move or “chai pani”, “tea or water” to get service.

Someone from the US sent the phrase: “Let’s discuss it over golf in the Bahamas – on me of course.”

In Brazil I was told about “rouba mas faz” (he steals but he gets things done).

From Norway, a Facebook friend offered the phrase “he helped himself at the table”.

Growing anger

Through my years of reporting, I’ve been bluntly asked for money by policemen on the streets of Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan, and less directly (but just as clearly) by civil servants in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I’ve seen Afghan government ministers, who talk about fighting corruption, accept generous hospitality from wealthy businessmen and not think twice about it.

Each society has its own sense of what corruption is or isn’t.

Some of it can be rooted in a traditional sense of responsibility to family or tribe.

In Nigeria, they might say: “It’s okay to take money, but don’t be greedy.”

In some less developed societies, corruption or the taking of public money can be seen as a way to distribute wealth.

Money changing hands

Each society has its own sense of what corruption is or isn’t

It’s regarded by poorly paid civil servants, including the police, as a deserved supplement or, by consumers, as a necessary evil for the absence of formal institutions and services.

But in more and more places, as civil society develops and people are drawn into a more formal economy, there’s a growing awareness and anger about its real cost.

Anti-Corruption Day

A few months ago, while in Pakistan covering the worst floods on record, many asked why the world had not been more generous in their country’s hour of need.

Many worried that a tarnished history of official corruption was causing Pakistanis and others to donate money through other channels – or not at all.

Then came another devastating blow to a nation’s pride. Three of Pakistan’s top cricketers were suspended in a spot fixing scandal in that much loved sport of “fair play”.

Many Pakistanis felt betrayed and angry over this very public moral slide.

No wonder the UN has a day to mark the fight against corruption – 9th December is the United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day, the same day that The World Speaks poll is published.

And if people keep talking about corruption, maybe something will be done about it.

You can follow Lyse on click Twitter and for more details on The World Speaks poll, click click here

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