Information and news about corruption

Kidnappings in NigeriaThe Nigerian government has struggled for almost a decade to find a solution for the nation’s severe kidnapping problem. With about 380 kidnappings in Nigeria and more than 1,000 deaths between January and June of 2020, the government is calling for military intervention.

Kidnappings Across the Country

Widespread kidnappings began in 2006. These kidnappings were considered to be politically motivated. Many people helped push laws that would benefit Nigerians across the country. Furthermore, people wanted to take a stand against the President. However, kidnappings have gone beyond the initial political nature. Now, kidnappings are a way for people to get rich quick. All kidnappers ask for a ransom regardless of the victim’s socioeconomic status. They are well aware that families will do whatever they can to guarantee the safe return of their loved ones.

Additionally, kidnappers will often raid schools with as many as 20 gunmen and grab children. Furthermore, they often face little to no government interference. In some cases, groups of people have been abducted from their cars that were blocked on the highway. Kidnappers hold victims hostage for days, months or even years. Moreover, victims’ families typically struggle to pay the ransom. These ransoms average around $1,222. The debts incurred to pay the ransom often hang over victims’ heads for years. Thus, kidnappings inflict not only physical damage but material as well.

Concerned citizens have been urging the government to put a stop to the rise of kidnappings in Nigeria for years. As a result, there has been an increase in military involvement to locate kidnapped Nigerian school girls. However, this has not been enough.

Many soldiers who attempt to help often face firefights. For example, soldiers often face armed gunmen who are in the midst of kidnapping several children. This is one of many instances where kidnappers fight against the military. Often, soldiers consider the risk greater than the reward and refuse to help. Furthermore, there are reports that soldiers have helped kidnappers escape in return for some ransom money.

What Changes are Being Made?

The Nigerian government has ordered the Naval forces to put a stop to the widespread kidnappings in January 2021. Nigeria’s Naval forces are large and have more firepower to help address this problem. Nigeria appointed Rear Admiral A.Z. Gambo as the naval chief at the beginning of the year. He plans to have a no-nonsense, iron fist on the kidnapping situation. Gambo plans to crack down on all forms of criminality surrounding kidnappings. Additionally, Gambo noted that he is aware of the corruption within the Navy and that often naval personnel assist with the kidnappings. As a result, he plans to crack down on this corruption as priority number one.

This new no-nonsense plan was implemented just days after pirates boarded a Turkish manned vessel. As a result, pirates killed one crew member and kidnapped 15 people. A preexisting law did not allow foreign naval vessels from countries such as Spain and France to carry weapons on Nigerian national waters, leaving the crew members of these vessels defenseless. Thus, the government repealed the law in 2020. Yet, kidnapping continues to rise.

The efforts to combat kidnappings in Nigeria have not been very successful. As a result, the nation saw its highest number of kidnapping cases in history in 2020. However, the government has not ignored this problem. There is a potential for kidnapping cases to decrease if the government cracks down on corrupt naval officers, politicians and government officials.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Russia and Its Effects on Poverty
In 2018, the Russian government set the goal of halving poverty levels in the country by 2024. However, recent revelations of corruption among Russian officials threaten progress towards such a goal. One is the case of President Vladimir Putin’s usage of ₽100 billion, about $1 billion, of stolen taxpayer money to build his extravagant palace. Here is an explanation of corruption in Russia and its effects on poverty.

“Comrade Capitalism”

Corruption in Russia is primarily based on the merging of public services and private interests. In 2005, President Putin created a $1 billion program to improve the country’s healthcare system, as average life expectancy declined significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union. According to a 2014 Reuters investigation titled “Comrade Capitalism,” this program helped to fund the construction of President Putin’s palace on the Black Sea and enrich two of his closest associates, Dmitry Gorelov and Nikolai Shamalov.

Shamalov was involved in the construction and preparation of new hospitals. Gorelov and Shamalov used multiple intermediaries to increase their profits while providing medical equipment to the Russian government. One of those intermediaries was a company based in Washington, D.C., that received approximately $50 million for providing construction materials for President Putin’s palace.

Poverty in Russia During COVID-19

Although the Reuters investigation is 7 years old, its revelations of Russian corruption are particularly timely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working-class cities in Russia have experienced the most impact. A report from The Moscow Times covers Ivanovo, Russia, a city located four hours away from Moscow that was once the center of Russia’s textile industry but has struggled during the pandemic. High unemployment rates and low monthly salaries contribute to a broader trend of doctors leaving the city seeking employment elsewhere. Since many of the available jobs in the city are in construction, security and shop work, most residents are unable to shelter in place to control the spread of COVID-19. As a result, all hospitals in the city are almost at full capacity. Moreover, the city’s healthcare chief is looking to purchase more refrigerators because the morgues are full.

Expanded Social Welfare in Russia

In response to the increased poverty rates that the pandemic caused, the Russian government has expanded social welfare programs. The most successful and widely used type of social assistance is cash transfers. The integration of cash transfers with employment support and social inclusion services was highly successful in the Republic of Tatarstan. The Republic of Tatarstan created a program called the Tatarstan Social Assistance System Development Project in collaboration with the World Bank. Since the establishment of this program, an increase in opportunities and financial support has occurred for people in Tatarstan. Thankfully, experts expect this trend to continue.

“Palace for Putin” Hits a Nerve

Alexei Navalny, President Putin’s most public political rival, wrote a documentary in January 2021 called “Palace for Putin.” It covered President Putin’s rise to power, the extent of his estate on the Black Sea and the people in his immediate circle that enrich themselves at the expense of the Russian people. Navalny’s team enlisted the help of an outraged palace contractor to provide an insider view of the secretive estate. Leaked floor plans of the palace reveal countless swimming pools, halls and extra bedrooms for entertaining guests. The property also has a hockey rink and amphitheater, in addition to other lavish accommodations.

For many Russians experiencing a decreased standard of living and increased inequality, this documentary was the last straw. On January 23, 2021, protests broke out as a result of Navalny’s recent arrest and corruption in Russia. While other protests of Russia’s recent history took place exclusively in big cities, these are quite different. Not only are the protests spread across the country, but younger generations are leading them. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, some in temperatures far below freezing, to express their frustrations.

Although the protests were mostly peaceful, police forcefully dispersed protests, citing COVID-19 concerns, and detained thousands of protesters, violating the freedom of assembly outlined in the Russian constitution. Navalny’s February 2, 2021 trial and sentencing for violating parole further attracted protesters, hundreds of whom authorities arrested outside of the Moscow court where the hearing took place.

Response from the United States

On September 23, 2020, Representative James P. McGovern [D-MA-2] introduced a resolution condemning Russian authorities for the suspicious poisoning of Alexei Navalny and calling for an investigation of the poisoning as use of chemical weapons, which is a violation of international law. The resolution passed in the House of Representatives on November 18, 2020.

One week after taking office, President Biden had his first phone call with President Vladimir Putin, in which they agreed to extend New START, the U.S.-Russia arms control deal. President Biden also confronted him about the recent SolarWinds hack and the arrest of Alexei Navalny. The U.S. president’s tone with President Putin was less sympathetic than that of his predecessor. Additionally, the Biden administration has taken interest in the recent protests in Russia. This is because they reveal weaknesses in Russian domestic politics that tarnish Putin’s image as a leader with complete control. The renewed desire for honesty and accountability among the Russian people presents an opportunity for the United States to engage with Russian society.

Moving Forward

Corruption in Russia is extremely frustrating to the average citizen. With corruption among top national officials, Navalny’s arrest and pandemic-induced decreased living standards, it is clear to see why. In order for average Russian lives to improve, the social safety net must undergo expansion. If Russia continues following the example of the Republic of Tatarstan and the Biden administration continues to invest in the well-being of Russian citizens, corruption in Russia and its effects on poverty should slowly but surely improve.

– Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Unsplash

Justice Systems in Africa
Flaws exist within criminal justice systems all over the world. Several justice systems in Africa have a design to ensure speedy and fair trials for defendants, but some are lacking. Furthermore, while several African governments take on the responsibility of providing adequate legal representation for defendants, some do not meet these standards. Many criminal justice systems in Africa lack quality legal aid due to increasing levels of illiteracy, corruption and poverty. Defendants with proper legal aid have a fighting chance in court.

Justice Defenders

Justice Defenders is a nonprofit that works within four African countries to provide prisoners with skills to defend themselves in court. This organization recognizes that the justice systems in Africa are suffering and aims to transform the lives of people who struggle within it.

Alexander Mclean educated prison communities about the law in Uganda. As a result, he founded Justice Defenders in 2007. This organization currently consists of over 350 workers across over 40 prisons in Africa. England and Wales recognized the organization as a charity. The United States recognizes it as a nonprofit as well. Recently, its impact has captured a lot of positive media attention.

Many other organizations aim to provide defendants with access to more lawyers. However, Justice Defenders works to train new lawyers who are living within the system. The organization believes that defendants have the ability to improve the justice system in Africa from the inside. The Defenders’ model has three core values: education, training and practice. Additionally, the organization partners with top law schools to train prisoners as lawyers and prison staff as paralegals. Furthermore, it runs clinics and offers free aid for those who would not have access otherwise.

Success Story

Morris Kaberia was a Kenyan police officer when he experienced imprisonment under robbery charges. However, he spent nine years waiting for his trial and in 2013, he received the death sentence. Fortunately, after meeting with members of Justice Defenders, he successfully appealed his case and effectively represented himself in court. Kaberia spent 13 years in prison before his release in 2018. Later, Kaberia studied law at the University of London and is currently representing other prisoners in Africa.

Justice Defenders have successfully served over 30,000 imprisoned clients and have trained over 300 paralegals in over 40 prisons in Uganda and Kenya. Furthermore, it has overturned over 150 sentences and has sent over 15,000 prisoners home to their families. This organization partners with the University of London and 91% of students pass courses offered. The organization’s website tracks and records many success stories of prisoners and students.

While there are still many flaws within justice systems in Africa, organizations such as Justice Defenders are positively instilling change from within the system. Furthermore, Mclean hopes to impact at least 1 million African prisoners within 10 years.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Corruption in LebanonEvents surrounding the massive blast that decimated the cosmopolitan city of Beirut have sparked outrage regarding poverty and corruption in Lebanon. The conclusion that many journalists and analysts have come to is that the bomb that went off on the Port of Beirut was an accident due to negligence by a corrupt, inefficient and sectarian government. As a result of the blast, 200 people died, many more were injured and 300,000 became homeless. Not to mention the economic devastation to Lebanon, with an estimated cost of $15 billion in losses to the entire country. The bombing has damaged an already strained healthcare system that is dealing with a global pandemic, causing a humanitarian crisis. This has sparked massive outrage in the form of protests taking over government ministries, calling for a revolution and a complete overhaul of the political system. However, this catastrophe only represents the tip of the iceberg, as we will see how the problem of corruption (and its link to poverty) has been mounting in Lebanon.

The Troubles Underneath

Lebanon scores 28 out of 100 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being least corrupt) in the Corruption Perception Index. This is in many ways due to the system of patronage. The country is ruled by a patronage system in which the political elite exchange political support for jobs, contracts and other benefits and resources distributed by sectarian division. Political rule is inherited through sectarian lines as the government and legislative seats are filled through the use of sectarian networks and contacts. The result is a political system made up of three parties that cannot be challenged by independent actors. Not to mention, a system with no accountability and massive inefficiencies.

Maya Terro, co-founder and executive director at FoodBlessed, spoke with The Borgen Project, stating “in Lebanon, the effects of corruption permeate every corner of public life.” She went on to explain that corruption is widespread at all levels of Lebanese society. The Lebanese public tends to view both the political institutions, such as political parties and parliament, and government institutions, such as public administration and the police, as “the most corrupt institutions of the country.” Terro then expanded on the economic life in Lebanon, pointing out that corruption, as well as a lack of proper infrastructure and bureaucracy, leads to disincentivizing of conducting economic activity in the country. Businesses are usually faced with a weak judiciary system that is subject to petty bribes as well as political interference.

Private industry is also hampered by an unreliable and unaccountable police force, public services covered in bribes and sectarian patronage. This scenario shows further problems with a public procurement system filled with favoritism. Protecting whistleblowers is one of the ways to combat this corruption. Unfortunately, a report from Transparency International in 2015 did indicate a lack of major laws protecting whistleblowers and access to information from the government, which are important when investigating corruption.

The Correlation with Corruption and Poverty

Poverty and corruption in Lebanon are highly linked. As the country is embroiled in corruption, half of its population lives under the poverty line. The top economic 1% in Lebanon owns a quarter of the wealth, with 0.1% making the same amount of income as the bottom 50%. The unemployment rate is a staggering 30%. In her interview with The Borgen Project, Terro pointed out that income inequality is a major drive for corruption. Those who are very well off are incentivized to engage in corruption to further their wealth while impoverished communities are motivated by poverty to make a living. She further explains, “I can say from my own observations and based on scientific research is that the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable as inequality increases.”

Additionally, “at the institutional level, economic loss and inefficiency are further exacerbated by corruption. Corruption also exacerbates poverty by creating a state of unequal opportunities in which advantages arise only for those within a corrupt clientelistic network,” says Terro. The power-sharing patronage system has caused further poverty and corruption in Lebanon to the point where a bomb blast occurred in the middle of an economic crisis that the country was experiencing.

Drivers of Change

When asked about her view on the roles of NGOs and aid organizations such as USAID have in helping with the issue of poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “it doesn’t fight it much because institutions like these only deal with the effects, they don’t and can’t do much when it comes to the root causes of corruption in Lebanon, which are many-fold indeed and vary sometimes from one institution to another and from one person to another.”

However, it is worth highlighting certain actions that NGOs have taken in tackling poverty and corruption in Lebanon. For one, Transparency International engaged in an investigative and documentary campaign that highlighted pollution of the riverside in the Bar Elias town and the sickness it was causing the locals after the government ignored the problem. Advocacy by NGOs has partly helped create the National Anti-Corruption Commission, which is composed of experienced professionals independent and inexperienced in politics. When asked about her view on what’s the best way to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon, Terro said “you need to start with the root causes and beyond filing reports and media — shaming the corrupt, not much has been done beyond that. What is needed is action, not more reports.” This action was manifested in the October Revolution and recent protests from cross-sectarian divisions demanding radical change to the political system. Finally, there is the mounting pressure that is coming from the international community (especially from Emmanuel Macron) in forcing the government of Lebanon to implement necessary reformations to receive necessary foreign aid.

Today, the country is currently going into uncertainty after the resignation of the designated MP Mustafa Adib after it became clear that Iran-backed militias are hijacking the French initiative to reform the country. Following Adib’s resignation, former Prime Minister and billionaire Saad Al Hariri took the position after being ousted from that position a year ago. The political class seems incapable of implementing a reformation that would topple the system it has put into power. It appears that the three factors showing hope to tackle poverty and corruption in Lebanon are the anger and revolt of the Lebanese people, external pressures by actors like Macron and civil society groups that have previously filled the vacuum left by the government. For example, the environmental NGO Al-Shouf Cedar Society, and the majors of different districts are in cooperation in the management of Al-Shouf Ceder Nature Reserve. When it comes to aiding refugees from Syria, Lebanese NGOs, which are mostly funded by the U.N., tend to be the primary provider of aid. After the blast in Beirut, three women affected by the explosion started the grassroots community organization Khaddit Beirut and identified 100 local businesses that it aims to help, thereby creating 1,600 jobs. The group aims to harness the local energy of volunteers to aid the recovery of the city after the tragedy happened.

Following the Beirut explosion, NGOs and the Lebanese government are highlighting poverty and corruption in Lebanon and are actively working to address the root causes. However, there is still much to be done to alleviate the political corruption in Lebanon. Civil society groups and Lebanese NGOs are critical actors in reforming political action.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Why the US Should Help Fight Corruption in IndiaFor years, India has struggled with high rates of extreme poverty, as well as mass amounts of corruption within its economy and government. This has created a cause and effect cycle of poverty: creating easy access for corruption while corruption in government preventing a significant change in poverty. As a result, there has been very little change in the socioeconomic standing of many Indians, and foreign aid may seem like a futile attempt to rectify an impossible situation. However, foreign aid is critical to fighting poverty and corruption in India. And investments from the United States will have a promising profound effect on both countries.

Corruption and Poverty in India

In 2019, one in two Indians reported taking or paying a bribe, which was a 10% decrease from previous years. These bribes took all forms and appeared in many aspects of everyday life for Indians, from property registration, the police force, a tax department to municipal corporations. Furthermore, corruption can be found within the highest levels of government, and in legislation in particular. More than half of India’s public officials have received bribes, or acted upon another form of corruption, creating significant inconsistencies and ineffectiveness from the bureaucracy. Most recently, in 2019, the Corruption Perception Index gave India a score of 41 out of 100, suggesting corruption still has a significant presence throughout the country.

While the corruption within the government and economy is an issue on its own, its repercussions go far beyond an internally broken system. India has one of the highest rates of extreme poverty in the world, with one-third of its population considered poor by standards that they live on approximately $3.20 per day. Despite decreasing rates, about 50 million people still live in extreme poverty in India. With so many people resorting to living on the streets or in slums, the poor living conditions lead to disease outbreaks, high infant mortality rates and, ultimately, corruption.

The Connection Between Corruption and Poverty

Corruption and poverty in India work off of each other. Poverty creates desperate situations, leaving people with very few economic alternatives to make ends meet, whether it be food or housing, among other essential needs. Consequently, these vulnerable groups become easily exposed to exploitation. However, corruption not only thrives off of poverty, but it also worsens the situation. Internal government officials, among other community members, tend to pass money around for ranks, rather than focusing on creating effective legislation to change the poverty crisis.

As a result, the government struggles to end the continual cycle of corruption and poverty in India, and cracking down on corruption can have massive repercussions for its citizens. For example, in 2016, in an effort to reduce corruption, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discontinued the 500 and 1,000 rupees. This action began to fix stockpiling, a technique that the upper-class used to avoid paying taxes. The discontinuation voided cash hoarded overnight. And, as a result, many low-income workers had their salaries cut in half, especially those in the transportation industry.

In order to access the new forms of money, many had to go to the ATM or banks to acquire it, despite many ATMs being broken or overcrowded. Without the rich carrying around cash to pay people, such as drivers, in addition to unequal access to ATMs, there was no pay for people working already low-paying jobs. During that year, 97% of Indians didn’t make enough annual salary to qualify to pay income tax, a price of around 250,000 rupees, or $3,650.

The Importance and Benefits of American Foreign Aid

For many Americans, corruption and poverty in India may seem like the exact reason why the United States should not be investing its money in foreign aid, especially to India. However, the solution is contrary to what many may believe. Multiple studies have shown that corruption with foreign aid is an insignificant problem, compared to the solutions it provides, such as access to clean water and vaccinations. Besides the humanitarian solutions, investment in India has significant returns for the United States. With a continually growing economy, India is set to become the third-largest consumer market by 2025. In turn, this will have a significant, positive impact on the United States’ economy. Continuing to invest in India means that more and more people will not only be in the market but will be able to afford American exports, therefore improving the corruption and poverty rates of India, as well as increasing American jobs and the economy as a whole.

—Alyssa Hogan
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon rainforest, covering about 40% of Brazil as well as parts of several other South African countries, is the largest, most biodiverse river basin in the world. It used to span nearly 2,300,000 square miles and is the drainage basin for the Amazon River. As Brazil’s population boomed in the 20th century, forest degradation ensued, causing rapid loss of vegetation and animal life. Read on to learn how poverty in the Amazon rainforest plays a major role in historical and contemporary fights for preservation.

The World’s Oldest Garden

Contrary to several outdated misconceptions, the indigenous people who first inhabited the Amazon rainforest were highly intelligent. They built complex structures to sustain cities of millions of people as well as cultivated the forest, much like a garden.

For over 8,000 years, indigenous communities favored certain trees, such as the brazil nut and cocoa bean, eventually domesticating such plants and allowing them to flourish. The soil in the Amazon is not suitable for this sort of cultivation, but indigenous peoples created their own fertilizer. This allowed millions of people to inhabit the forest along major waterways.

The Introduction of Disease

In 1541, Francisco de Orellana explored along the Amazon River, taking detailed notes in his journal about the many advanced civilizations he observed along the riverbanks. Sadly, the civilizations he witnessed were already being wiped out due to European diseases brought over decades before. As more extensive settlement took place a decade later, the civilizations Orellana saw were almost completely gone due to disease.

The settlement and exploitation of the Amazon remained fairly minimal until the rubber boom in the mid-1800s. The rubber boom ushered in an era of enslavement and genocide of the indigenous people, removing almost all of the indigenous communities from the Amazon rainforest.

A President with a Corrupt Agenda

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest directly correlates with the man in power, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, and the increase in slash and burn tactics in the forest has skyrocketed since. By August of 2019, Brazil saw nearly two times as many fires in the entirety of 2018. This is the highest level of deforestation the Amazon has seen since 2008. Swaths almost 4,000 square miles larger than Yellowstone Park have burned to the ground because of Bolsonaro’s policies. A large part of his election campaign revolved around the promise of exploiting the Amazon to improve Brazil’s struggling economy.

Circumstances for Unavoidable Poverty

Poverty in the Amazon rainforest has become nearly unavoidable due to conditions created by the people in power. Brazil is the world’s main exporter of beef and the most convenient way to keep up this exportation is to utilize slash and burn agriculture to quickly create spaces for cattle ranchers to take advantage of.

Although this may sound like it stimulates the economy and helps these low-income farmers, the Amazon rainforest provides resources that once depleted, cannot be replaced. These ranchers will never be able to escape their impoverished conditions because the burned forest land becomes useless so quickly. The poor indigenous communities suffer from poverty in the Amazon rainforest as do the poor ranchers. Both groups are trying to get by, but burning down the forest has no substantial or long-lasting benefits.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Although the destruction of the Amazon is daunting, there are several nonprofits working to preserve this biological gem and the people that depend on it. International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs and Amazon Conservation Team both prioritize supporting the indigenous people and environmental activists. Poverty in the Amazon rainforest unfortunately often falls upon the indigenous people, which is why these organizations are so critical in advocacy for the people who need it the most.

Rainforest Trust and Amazon Conservation Association are two more groups that prioritize tree restoration. Amazon Conservation Association has successfully planted more than 275,000 trees to date and Rainforest Trust has saved more than 23 million acres of the Amazon. With such a rich history and international importance, poverty in the Amazon rainforest cannot be ignored.

These are just a few of the many outstanding organizations working to save the rainforest from a corrupt government. Moving forward, it is essential that these organizations continue their work to conserve the Amazon rainforest and help reduce poverty for those living there.

Natalie Tarbox
Photo: Unsplash

Corruption in Lebanon
On the evening of August 4, 2020, a column of smoke loomed menacingly over Beirut’s vast horizon, foreshadowing tragedy in shades of gray and black. Flashes of white and glimpses of smoldering orange interrupted the inky cloud as it climbed to ever-greater heights. With a deafening blast, a massive shock wave consumed the city in the smoke and terror of 3,000 metric tonnes of ammonium nitrate. In a matter of seconds, the detonation inflicted an estimated $15 billion in property damage. Far more priceless, the human toll of the explosion stands at least 200, with thousands more wounded. In the tearful wake of the blast, the Lebanese people are hemorrhaging hope. Yet the horrific explosion is not merely a chance disaster: it is a symptom of the corruption in Lebanon that is eating the country from the inside out.

History of Corruption in Lebanon

Lebanon has long endured institutionalized corruption. Its current government system formed after the previous regime’s ineptitude eroded national security to the point of civil war. The war lasted from 1975-1990. The conflict occurred between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Christian groups backed by Israel and Syria, with both seeking political control over Lebanon. After 25 years of fighting, over 100,000 killed and thousands more uprooted, the conflict finally ended with the signing of the Taif Accord. This accord shaped the constitution into a document conducive to graft.

A government system that allotted public offices to major religious groups supplanted years of instability. This new framework nurtured the sectarianism that still dominates Lebanon’s politics today. Additionally, the presence of extreme polarization favors patronage over democracy. The champions of the civil war quickly grabbed power of the nascent government, bringing with them their blatant, unchecked corruption.

How Corruption in Lebanon Exacerbates Poverty

For years, Lebanon’s political leaders have enjoyed glittering affluence despite the country’s abysmal underdevelopment. Widespread embezzlement and underfunding of vital public services have gravely fractured Lebanon’s rickety foundation. In particular, a series of recent catastrophes have drawn international attention to the injustices long borne by the Lebanese people:

  1. Economic Crisis: A dire economic crisis has been ravaging the country for months. With a debt-to-GDP ratio of 170%, Lebanon is the world’s third most indebted nation. Even prior to COVID-19, one-quarter of the population was unemployed, and hyperinflation was driving prices to astronomic levels, dragging more and more citizens into poverty.
  2. Lack of Basic Services: Lebanon’s politicians have chosen personal enrichment over public welfare, leading to dismal internet connectivity, insufficient health care, contaminated water and unreliable power sources. Moreover, in the absence of infrastructure, sanitation deficiencies recently culminated in a massive accumulation of waste that attracted global coverage.
  3. Natural Disaster: A series of fierce wildfires in October 2019 sparked public outrage when fire departments proved ineffective in extinguishing the blaze. The destructive calamity called attention to the severe underfunding of Lebanon’s crisis response teams.
  4. COVID-19: The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has heightened unemployment, inflation and poverty. Consequently, the country experienced increased food insecurity and risk of famine, with the three-quarters of the population on track to require food handouts by the end of 2020. The pandemic has strained limited health care institutions, depriving thousands of vital treatment and underscoring the government’s neglect of public services. Overall, COVID-19 has delivered incredible hardship to a country already saturated with adversity. The blame for Lebanon’s innumerable development problems falls upon its leaders’ ineffectual leadership. Their failure or refusal to address long-standing infrastructural shortcomings in favor of self-indulgence has put the country on the brink of collapse.

Forces for Change

Despite the widespread corruption in Lebanon, downtrodden citizens and empathetic foreigners are striving to implement much-needed reforms.

Public outcry has led to numerous recent power shifts. In October 2019, massive demonstrations, set off by a proposed tax increase, united Lebanon’s diverse political sects against government abuses. This monumental display of solidarity ultimately ousted then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his administration and led to the induction of Hassan Diab.

The international community has joined this fight against corruption in Lebanon. On August 9, 2020, a global summit of donors authorized $298 million to directly help the Lebanese population. This relief package suggests a departure from previous payments of aid to the government. This practice fostered embezzlement by leaders and eroded the regime’s accountability to the public. Fortifying their stance against corruption, the forum also announced that Lebanon must enact long-overdue reforms to qualify for further funding.

Demanding Change

As the world demands change for Lebanon, recent headlines have chronicled the country’s myriad crises. The blast in Beirut is no different than these struggles: it is a product of the political abuse that has crippled Lebanon for years. The port authority seized the ammonium nitrate that exploded in 2013 and left it “awaiting auction” or a spark to ignite it, whichever came first. Early investigations have revealed the government’s full awareness of the compound’s improper storage: it just did not do anything about it. Instead, the government ignored repeated warnings from experts and postponed handling the issue to a later date. Tragically, chemistry beat them to it.

Once again reminded of the lethal consequences of inaction, protests previously hampered by COVID-19 have revived. These impassioned riots led to the resignation of Diab’s government on August 10, 2020. This event threatens to magnify the country’s instability. Despite widespread anxieties, however, Diab articulated his intention to “stand with the people,” a move that, if adopted the world over, may finally heal Lebanon’s long-borne suffering.

Rosalind Coats
Photo: Wikimedia

corruption in healthcare
The healthcare sector in several countries around the world is commonly referred to as being among the most corrupt sectors. A 2013 Transparency International Study reported that more than 50% of citizens viewed their country’s health sector as corrupt in 42 out of 109 countries surveyed. The World Bank has regarded corruption in healthcare as a major barrier to achieving social and economic development.

Corruption and Poverty

Informal payments are a very specific form of corruption prevalent in weak health care systems around the world. Informal payments refer to under-the-table payments to receive services that are otherwise free or which are requested in addition to officially sanctioned required payments.  They are prevalent in the healthcare sector of many countries globally. For example, in Azerbaijan, informal payments account for 73.9% of all medical spending. This form of corruption often arises due to inadequate healthcare management, including inadequate public spending, resource deprivation, governance and human resource constraints and scarcity of providers.

Informal payments negatively affect healthcare at the individual and governmental levels. Due to the secrecy that often shrouds the transaction of informal payments, these payments are often made in cash and do not contribute to the collection of taxes. This translates into less money available to be reinvested in the healthcare system.

Further, informal payments are often regressive in nature, meaning that low-income individuals often tend to pay a larger proportion of their income respective to high-income individuals.  One study in sub-Saharan Africa identified informal payments as being highly prevalent among the poorest segments of society.

Informal payments represent severe barriers to accessing care for those living in poverty. In some cases, informal payments can push low-income individuals to borrow money often with high-interest rates. This indebtedness can lead to financial ruin for low-income families and can potentially push them into the poverty trap.  More concerning is the potentially deadly impact of patients to delay or forego medical care due to the inability to cover the expected informal payments.  Further, the informal nature of these payments makes exemptions to protect those in poverty increasingly difficult to enforce.

The Impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis can lead to further barriers to accessing care and may bring an increase in the prevalence of informal payments. Overwhelmed, weak health care systems around the world with resource and provider scarcity may push those seeking treatment to use informal payments as a means of accessing better care and at other times may be required to make up for inadequate funding. It is known that informal payments are tied to these scarcities. These factors are increasingly relevant in COVID-19 responses around the world.

There is a high risk of the prevalence of informal payments increasing in reaction to the pandemic. For those who cannot afford the cost of informal payments, the catastrophic virus may cause families to take on a high-rate of debt, pushing low-income families further into poverty. If individuals choose to forego testing or treatment for the virus due to a lack of financial ability to cover informal payments it could impact the response to fighting COVID-19 by accelerating the spread of the disease.  With the number of people living in extreme poverty projected to rise by 71 million due to the economic shocks brought on by the pandemic, there is an urgent need to address the issue of informal payments and broader corruption in the healthcare sector.

How to Take Action

According to the Carnegie Endowment, the spread of coronavirus, with corruption acting as a catalyst, poses a serious threat to U.S. interests and foreign policy objectives. There are a number of ways the U.S. can address the problem of corruption and the prevalence of informal payments around the world through the U.S. Global Coronavirus Response. The Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act aims to address corruption through rapid action. The act has been introduced in the Senate after passing the House of Foreign Affairs Committee and shares bipartisan support. USAID in partnership with the State Department is addressing the corruption-coronavirus nexus by supporting transparent emergency procurement mechanisms and providing support to anti-corruption law enforcement.

Due to the discrete nature of informal payments and the provider-patient relationship, the U.S. influence is limited in combating informal payments. In low-income countries with weak healthcare systems, the most effective means of mitigating the impact of informal payments on those impacted by COVID-19 is prevention. The United States can help curb the spread of COVID-19 around the world by providing adequate funding for global health security in the next emergency supplemental COVID-19 response.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Flickr

 

Philippines Incarceration System
In 2018, the Philippines held the sixth-highest prison population out of 21 Asian countries. As of 2019, the Philippines’ population rested at 108.31 million people, and 215,000 of those people were incarcerated. Therefore, the Philippines has an incarceration rate of about 200 per 100,000 citizens. There are 933 prisons running in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they are mismanaged and overcrowded. Below are five important facts about the incarceration system in the Philippines.

5 Facts About the Philippines’ Incarceration System

  1. Severe overcrowding – Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election in 2016. He promised to end crime within six months. This promise also included the killing of 10s of thousands of criminals. Duterte’s election led to the infamous war on drugs and eventually, overcrowded prisons. Manila City Jail, the largest jail in the Philippines, is split into dorms that safely house 170 inmates. Currently, these dorms house around 500 people. Similarly, a room designated for 30 people holds about 130 in the Quezon City Jail. This severe overcrowding in prisons leads to illness and death tolls in the thousands.
  2. Pre-trial detainees – According to The World Prison Brief, 75.1% of incarcerations within the Philippines’ incarceration system are pre-trial. In 2018, 141,422 of 188,278 prisoners were pre-trial detainees. Unfortunately, many people are serving sentences without conviction. Pre-trial detention is found in judicial systems all over the world. In countries like the Philippines, people may serve time that outweighs their crimes. On average, prisoners in the Philippines are detained for nine months without being sentenced.
  3. High death tolls – About 5,200 inmates die annually at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). According to Ernesto Tamayo, the hospital medical chief, these deaths are due to overcrowding, dirty living conditions and inmate violence. At a 2019 Philippines Senate hearing, Tamayo said that there were “uncontrollable outbreaks of pulmonary tuberculosis.” In addition to overcrowding, poor living conditions and inmate violence, NBP lacks nutritional food and basic healthcare. On account of these living conditions, Tamayo reports that at least one prisoner dies at NBP each day. Thankfully, politicians and prison employees are working to reduce overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons. Human rights advocates have also called for the release of vulnerable inmates, hoping to protect them from poor living conditions.
  4. Vigilante justice – Duterte’s war on drugs escalated during his presidency. Jobless citizens were recruited to kill anyone suspected of dealing, buying or using drugs. This was one of few ways for some people to make money; many homeless and impoverished people joined the vigilante teams. In 2016, Duterte told the public, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.” Together, the Philippines’ police force and unidentified gunmen have killed 7,000 known drug dealers and users since Duterte’s presidency in 2016. The Philippines’ war on drugs has created the belief that extrajudicial violence and murder are necessary to fight crime. But, the Human Rights Watch has turned the narrative around on Duterte; they are publicizing information about the vigilante justice in the Philippines.
  5. Corruption – In August 2018, the public learned a former mayor may have been released from prison for good behavior. He was originally charged for rape and homicide in 1993. Similar stories of corruption in the Philippines’ prisons continued to emerge. In September 2018, the public learned that a woman was told her husband’s sentence would be shortened if she paid 50,000 pesos ($970). Later that year, senators stated that inmates could “live like kings” for a fee. This information led to further allegations: prison workers and officials were taking bribes to bring and distribute contraband to inmates. The contraband in question included cigarettes, cellphones and televisions. Supposedly, inmates can also pay for personal cooks and nurses. Inmates who cannot afford a better life within the prison are stuck in overcrowded and dirty rooms; these inmates have a higher rate of becoming ill and of death. Now that the corruption has been unearthed, officials are taking steps to weed it out, one prison at a time.

Possible Fix

With increased awareness of the Philippines’ prison system, there is hope that conditions will be improved and vigilante justice will end. It will take time to fix the Philippines’ judicial and incarceration systems. However, with the help of advocacy groups like the Human Rights Watch, a change could come sooner than expected.

Marlee Ingram
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Kyrgyzstan
In November of 2019, approximately 500 protestors assembled in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to express their dissatisfaction with the corruption in their country. The protestors demanded that law enforcement further investigate a $700 million money-laundering scheme, first discovered by the media. This incident of corruption is nothing new in the country of Kyrgyzstan.

Corruption is a common occurrence in the everyday life of Kyrgyzstan. The issue is especially common among businesses and in the government. Across the country’s judiciary and police forces, along with other sectors, corruption prevails. While many efforts to reduce fraud in Kyrgyzstan have had little effect, there are still routes the country can take to combat the large amounts of corruption within the country.

Judiciary

Corruption in Kyrgyzstan’s judiciary is extremely troublesome. This means that any anti-corruption legislation is implemented inadequately by the judiciary itself. Because of this, many efforts to reduce corruption in Kyrgyzstan have been largely unsuccessful. Attorneys in Kyrgyzstan’s legal system have often reported that giving bribes to judges is a regular occurrence. Many attorneys make the complaint that no matter how well organized their arguments might be, they know that ultimately it is these bribes that determine the decision of the case. In 2010 there was an attempt to reform the judiciary in order to eliminate corruption within it. However, the attempt failed because the government politicized the reform. Specifically, the president and parliament sought to use it as a way to assign judges that suited their political preferences.

Police

Corruption in Kyrgyzstan also extends to the police force. Unprofessional behavior among police officers is a regular occurrence, and as a result, law enforcement is much less effective in performing its duties. Some evidence has also shown that local law enforcement units answer directly to local government officials rather than serve the citizens. This type of behavior is especially common amongst police forces in Southern Kyrgyzstan. There are also reports that police will arrest people and threaten prosecutions in order to extort money from these “suspects”. Foreigners in Kyrgyzstan are especially at risk. The cars that foreign people drive in Kyrgyzstan have specialized license plates, making it easier for police officers to target them.

Reform

Despite the pervasive amount of corruption in Kyrgyzstan and the ineffective reforms that have passed, various institutions studying the corruption within Kyrgyzstan have made suggestions. One such institution is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. After conducting extensive research on the issue, the OECD concluded that the best way for Kyrgyzstan to proceed is to not rely on the judiciary and prosecution service. The OECD recognizes that the judiciary stands in the way of truly preventing and eliminating corruption in Kyrgyzstan. Another possible solution is that Kyrgyzstan uses specialized law enforcement that deals specifically with corruption cases.

While not the sole cause of poverty, corruption definitely can have an effect on it. This is especially the case when corruption affects businesses, which can negatively impact business owners and thus their employees. The best way for Kyrgyzstan to proceed in preventing corruption is by making some changes in the judiciary as the OECD recommends.

Jacob Lee
Photo: Flickr