Saturday, February 4, 2023
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< view full issue: The corruption that does not cess
Jaime Rodríguez-Arana

​Fighting corruption

Professor of administrative law. University of A Coruña

Corruption, although we don't like to admit it, is a reality. A bitter and lamentable reality that has characterized, in some moments more than in others, the individual and collective life of us human beings. It is a universal experience that despite its detection in different times and latitudes, calls for us to fight against it, particularly when it affects public funds. This is everyone's money and the fight has to be constant, integral and intelligent, essentially eliminating the spaces in which this injurious seed germinates and grows, and ends up rotting all that it touches, as we see daily in many parts of the world too, and how, in Spain.

Hydra de Lerna

The figure of the Lernaean Hydra, as we all know well, is a good symbol of the power and intensity of corruption. As is taught in Greek mythology, Hercules, in charge of putting an end to the terrible animal, encountered many difficulties because of its multiple heads and the poison that oozed each time one of them was cut off. Each time Hercules cut off one of those heads, two new ones arose so he had to think of a different system than the ones used up to now. Indeed, with the help of his nephew, every time he cut off one of Hydra's heads, he used burning rags to burn the decapitated necks. Hercules, as Apodoloro says, cut off the heads and his nephew burned their neck, beheaded and bleeding. Finally, Hercules finished with the last head of the animal and crushed it under a big rock. Then he bathed his sword in the spilled blood and then burned the severed heads so that they could never grew back again. In short, an unconventional but effective method that combined the power of Hercules with the intelligence of his nephew. Probably, this is the combination of weapons that are needed to put an end to this terrible social scourge: forcefulness and intelligence.


According to a recent G-20 report, corruption consumes no less than 5% of world GDP (2017). That is to say, it is the third most lucrative "industry" of all that exist in this world. It is a bitter reality, says the G-20 report, which feeds both on the developed and the underdeveloped economies. Currently, corruption is the enemy number one of foreign trade. 

Surprisingly, the G-20 warns about the number of rules that regulate markets. 

Such a profusion of norms constitutes the breeding ground in which this terrible disease is born and developed, and it afflicts all the economies of the world without exception. In effect over-regulation or re-regulation are allied to corruption, as well as the excessive number of standards designed to establish the internal and external trade regimes. It is therefore essential to establish the rules that are strictly necessary: neither too many nor too few. Rules that are clear, precise and predictable. No confusing, constantly changing regulations that often attack the very same legal security they seek to promote by unilaterally varying the rules depending on the whim of who governs at any given time.

On the other hand, the G-20 warns about the need for companies to effectively care about the training of their employees in ethics.

That is to say, the implementation of ethical plans and programmes that go beyond simple veneer or the politically proper use of corporate social responsibility. Accordingly, we need additionally to replace the dogma of profit maximization in the shortest possible timeframe for broader objectives such as the compatibility between obtaining reasonable benefits and increasing companies' humanization.

At present, corruption hits the credibility of the institutions hard and also the general public's confidence in public activity in question. There is more to follow month after month the sequence of the CIS (Sociological Research Centre barometer). It is true: today corruption is omnipresent without us apparently being able to expel it from political and administrative practices. Law upon laws are enacted, code upon code of conduct are approved, but there it still remains, defiant and proud, one of the main scourges that prevents the primacy of people's fundamental rights, and therefore the supremacy of general interests over the individual interests.


Corruption is a serious attack on the very essence of public service to the extent that it assumes that the official or politician betray the sense of objective management of general interests. If we admit the existence of a fundamental right of the person to a good public Administration, characterized by justice, fairness, impartiality and rationality in the handling of matters of general interest, then the perspective of the analysis of corruption goes to depend on the degree of social perception of this phenomenon and on the real possibilities of reaction of the general public before the criminal and administrative illicit acts that are perpetuated, by action or omission, in the actions and conduct of the civil servants and authorities. This is, I think, the fundamental dimension of the problem. If the people do not tolerate corruption, the battle will sooner or later be won. However, if corruption is no more than the reflection of a diseased and defenceless society, then the remedy is not so simple, and we will need to work towards a more robust civic culture and for the general public's civic culture to grow, the end user of public policies.

A recent European Commission report on corruption (2014) highlights that the general public have a quite clear idea of how public affairs are handled in the old continent at this time. 

First of all, three out of four of the general public, according to surveys and analyzes of the European Union, estimate that they live, that we live, in an environment of widespread corruption. Or what comes to the same thing. that public power is put at the service of, not the general interest, but partial, individual interests. However, public reaction is what it is and highlights the generalised height of feeling that we are entrenched in a climate of general corruption.

According to the European Union study of the to which I refer, in Spain 95% of the population at large thinks that, in effect, corruption is generalised. In Italy, it is 97% and in Greece, 99%. Even in countries that have a serious appearance such as Germany, up to 59% of the population at large estimate that they live in a generalised environment of corruption.

Who could deny that it is true, that the perception of corruption is a consequence of transparency, of the publicity in the media of numerous corrupt practices that, little by little, are provoking a weariness and a feeling of impunity. This leads to the general public having zero tolerance left, and that this weariness only increases.


The recent report on corruption in Europe reflects that, as expected in Spain corruption is forged in the turbulent world of public bidding, political party financing, and above all, in local and regional city management. To reach this obvious conclusion, we only have to do a quick survey on the current multitude of criminal and administrative trials that involve so many public positions. 

Accordingly, the high number of judicial proceedings related to illegal acts carried out in urban planning matters is conspicuous. Much arbitrariness has erupted with special virulence in the search and capture of all sorts of reclassifications, alterations or modification of urban plans aided by a traffic of privileged information that brings with it substantial profits in record time. 

One of the reasons why urban corruption has taken root among us is due to the deficient regulation existing in the matter of political party financing. 

Another, perhaps the most frequent and directly related to the financing of party formations, lies in the ease with which we can modify urban plans, reclassify land or modify the land use designation. In these cases, this possibility should be extremely limited to avoid generating disproportionate expectations regarding the value of the land in question.

Corruption in Spain is one of the main causes of the detachment and disaffection of general public in relation to politics and politicians, businessmen and the business world. 

We do not have to be highly intelligent to realise that corruption is undermining the foundations of the political system while some people, political and financial in general, do not dare to propose and adopt the measures that the situation demands, and that the general public demand unanimously and energetically.

A recent University of Barcelona report rightly points out that transparency is the principal weapon in the fight against this terrible social scourge. A property and characteristic that still is conspicuous by its absence. Neither are there records kept of lobbying activity, nor in general terms are the meeting diaries of politicians, available to the general public. All that happens is that small adjustments are made to the unofficial information on official web pages, hoping for a quieter life when the media hurricane subsides.


We also recall that in the University of Barcelona report, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary are quite significant factors. Of course they are. However, the most significant thing is that the habits and democratic qualities of those who work in the service of public power are firm and authentic. Rules and procedures are useless if there is still a controlling perspective of society in the minds of many leaders, a mentality of being the owner and sovereign of public affairs. Fortunately, things have changed, and very much so. Moreover, and equally fortunately no-one tolerates opacity any longer, arrogance and political haughtiness and when whenever the chance presents itself, they express themselves.

In short, corruption is not only entrenched in developing countries. In Spain for example, with good reason the general public are extremely angry and willing to show the door to so many politicians in these years that have characterized themselves by generating spaces of impunity and by looking the other way while committing the biggest scams imaginable, and whose intentions is to pin the blame on those who have nothing to do with it. This is why, month after month, the CIS show what a terrible opinion the Spaniards consulted in the polls have as regards the political class's management.

I reiterate that the fight against corruption is not just a matter of rules and regulations, nor is it a matter confined to words and gestures.

It is the job of control, prior and subsequent, administrative, economic and judicial, independent of those in power. Moreover, we need the genuine commitment of public and private leaders with democratic values and qualities, armed with public ethical values. The battle is not simple or easy. To erase the sticky and putrefying magma that these illicit practices give off demands that the disinterested service to general interests shines brightly. We, the general public deserve nothing less, of course.



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