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Corruption and the Rule of Law

By August 11, 2016December 16th, 2019Uncategorized
The following blog post is written by Professor Jeffrey A. Brauch, Executive Director for the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights & the Rule of Law.

Recently the Center’s Facebook page highlighted the view of IJM founder and president Gary Haugen that the rule of law is the antidote to poverty. That prompted one reader to ask: “How does that rule of law thing work when governments and police forces are corrupt?”

The short answer is: Not very well at all! In fact, rooting out corruption in a nation is one of the most important steps to establishing the rule of law.

So what is the rule of law? It is the proposition that law (not rulers) is the ultimate authority in a state; rulers rule by law and under law.  It means more than that a nation has written laws. It means that those written laws actually determine what happens in the nation. And it means that government officials themselves are bound by the law just as ordinary citizens are.

The nation of Zimbabwe today has a constitution and laws that on their face promise effective government and the protection of citizen rights. But reality in that nation is far different. For many years now, President Robert Mugabe has ruled through will and power rather than law. He has rigged elections, ignored the constitution (and the decisions of Zimbabwe’s courts), and used violence against political opponents. The result has been deep corruption, economic collapse, and poverty.

Zimbabwe is not alone. In many nations that have fine written laws, corruption of police, prosecutors, judges, and administrators has undermined legal protection for ordinary people. In fact, a United Nations report eight years ago made this stunning pronouncement: “Most poor people do not live under the shelter of the law, but far from the law’s protection.”

Similarly the World Bank in its publication Voices of the Poor noted: “Poor people regard the police as agents of oppression, not protection….Particularly in urban areas, poor people perceive the police not as upholding justice, peace and fairness, but as threats and sources of insecurity.

So what is to be done? One of the most important steps toward protecting the poor – and all citizens – and promoting national stability and economic growth is to attack and destroy corruption.
Of course, ending corruption is easier said than done. Corruption exists because public officials profit from it. They have a vested interest in preserving it.

There are no simple and painless solutions to ending corruption. But some nations, such as Singapore and the Republic of Georgia, have employed intentional and largely successful strategies to reduce corruption (though both nations continue to face certain governance challenges).
So what are some of the steps a government might take to attack corruption by police, prosecutors, judges, and administrative officials?

  • Have strong leadership from the top – critical to ending corruption is to have leadership committed to the effort and to punishing officials who engage in corrupt practices
  • Place checks and limitations on all governmental offices and officials – there should be no unfettered grants of authority
  • Create a corruption oversight office – and place checks and limitations on that office as well
  • Simplify procedures so that government officials have less discretion for their actions
  • Increase the pay of public servants – often police and prosecutors in poor nations view bribery as the only way to make a living wage
  • Provide openness and transparency in governmental operations generally

Of course, none of these steps is easy. But ending corruption is critical to accomplishing the rule of law – and protecting the rights of all citizens. It also models the principles of justice that God gave to his people many years ago: “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone.” Deuteronomy 16:19-20.