Let’s talk about Corruption…

[ I am not legally trained and write with no legal authority about the definition of corruption or how corrupt behaviour is legally determined. The words written here are my opinion. An opinion formed from many years of dealing with public figures, politicians at all levels of Government and senior business personalities in Australia and South East Asia. ]

This word, this very confusing word has been a feature in media, both print and electronic, in South East Queensland for some years.

Much has been said, but what are we really talking about.

The Definition of “ corruption “ according to The Reader’s Digest Oxford Dictionary is broad and covers several attitudes and actions, from moral depravity to description of human corpses.

I am not sure that I would hang my hat on any of those; an alternative might be the ‘ decisions made that are influenced by bribery or fraudulent activity’, and that definition holds for most circumstances. Bribery is bribery; there are no levels of mitigation like it was just “ a small bribe, nothing serious. “ All bribery is serious, that is that – the basis of the arrangement is that in exchange for a favour, granted due to a position of authority at some level,a person is able to gain an advantage either commercial or financial, or both, simply by flinging either cash or benefits of another kind to the person in authority.

In the same breath, we can say that fraud is fraud, no levels, not big fraud or small fraud, just fraud.

In our criminal justice system, there exist levels of punishment for persons convicted of bribery or fraud, and that is fine, I am not discussing our criminal justice system.

It seems to me as if this word, corruption, and the ugly connotations that hang from it, is thrown around far too readily, and that has caused me to reflect on just what we are talking about. Like many of our English language words, corruption has its origins in Latin where it was used to describe actions that – mar, or destroy.

So, is helping your mate out with a favour that no one else can provide corruption? Well, it would be if you were using public money or public assets – no argument. And it is the use of public money or public assets which is the issue here.

Unfortunately, the untrammelled beast of the social media has made a forum for every self-righteous soul to fling ‘ corruption ‘ allegations about like the old game of spinning the bottle.

The matter is quite simple. If you are in a position of public trust, either elected or appointed and you use that position to gain an advantage for yourself or your associates; then you are probably corrupt.

But if I, as a citizen of our society, fling a carton of beer at a local stock inspector for helping me solve a problem….are we corrupt? Hard to know. I suppose if it happened regularly and the number of cartons increased, then corruption would enter from stage left. Would it not?

More often than not, in the rural communities in which I lived, a carton of beer in the right place at the right time could sort out most issues relating to minor bureaucratic matters. This was common knowledge, never disguised, and the carton was almost always was shared in workplace drinks on Friday afternoons.

I did not then and do not now, see this practice as a problem in our community.

Where we run into trouble is when it all moves up a cog or two ; and a person in authority asserts that authority, either personally or by implication, to halt a legal process, to divert a proper administrative procedure or to have the rules bent for the approval of a plan or project which might be controversial.

This sort of stuff can happen at all levels of Government. In Australia, it is generally quite rare – but happen it does! Thankfully we have institutions in place which can and do deal with with this.

Having observed various debates occurring in the electronic media and across social media, about a corrupt activity, I have formed the view that we need to be fairly careful before we point fingers or make accusations of corruption or corrupt behaviour. Human frailty exists, and mistakes are made. Actions which seem simple and innocent at the time, are quite often the result of not thinking through the consequences.

In another life, many years ago, I was a young Police Officer in a Southern State Police Force, for a few short years before entering the Australian Army. The Police training course was demanding and being a Police Officer was, as it is now, a position of substance and consequence in our community.

During the cold Southern winters, night shift was long, dark and often boring. Thankfully there existed a ‘ pie cart ‘; the owner of which was more than happy to chuck a couple of free pies to coppers driving past on cold rainy nights – and they were bloody good pies!

I remember my Sergeant, who like many in those years, wore World War II ribbons on his uniform, saying to me when I mentioned the pies.

“ Think how long you trained to get your badge, think what it means to you and the community in general, do you reckon you should sell it off for the price of a meat pie ? “

I did think about that. I always paid for my pies.

I never sold my badge for the price of a meat pie.

And, I am glad about that.

We would love to hear from you about Corruption and your thoughts, please feel free to write a letter to the editor to belinda@islandandsurrounds.com.au

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