What does the term corruption really mean?

By Gerald Bareebe

Though a serial problem, corruption lacks a universally accepted definition. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines corruption as an act of dishonesty especially using bribery or an immoral or wicked act. This definition focuses essentially on the moral aspects of corruption. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank define corruption as “the abuse of public office.”This is a very wide ranging definition which will make the understanding of the concept difficult, especially to the younger generation. Otive Igbuzor, of Action Aid International, Nigeria, probably gives us the best definition of Corruption, which he describes as the perversion of integrity or state of affairs through bribery, favour or moral depravity. This is a broader definition which looks at the moral aspect as well as the distortion of twisting of procedures. The Transparency International defines corruption as behaviour on the part of officials in the public sector, whether politicians or civil servants, in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves, or those close to them, by the misuse of public power entrusted to them. Although the definition of the Transparency International is very descriptive, it focuses only on the public sector. But there is corruption in private sector with negative consequences for the whole of society. The Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences defines corruption as the misuse of public power for private profit. Like the definition by Transparency International, this one also focuses on the public sector. The Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act, 2000 defines corruption to include bribery, fraud and other related offences like gratification. The Uganda anti-Corruption Act, 2000, gave a very wide definition of gratification to mean among other things the offer or promise or receipt or demand of money, donation, gift, loan, fee, reward, valuable security, property or interest in property with the intent to influence such a person in the performance or non-performance of his/her duties.
From the above definitions, three things come out clearly. First is that corruption is a dishonest act, wicked and bad. As a result, it will be expected that good people will not be involved in it. Secondly, corruption is seen as immoral and antithetical to the positive virtues of society. This implies that there should be social disapproval of anyone who engages in corrupt practices. Thirdly, corruption involves an abuse or misuse of position and authority. Any of such abuse is expected to be met with sanction.

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