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< view full issue: The corruption that does not cess
Oscar Diego Bautista

How to tackle corruption? Public ethics as a response

Professor-Researcher Research Centre in Social Sciences and Humanities (CICSyH). Regional Mexico State University

Corruption is a worldwide phenomenon. We can say that there is a globalisation of corruption. This problem is so old that it already existed in ancient civilizations. Although with ups and downs, it accompanies mankind throughout its history. 

Manzana podrida

However, in recent decades, there are key situations that allow us to identify the rise of corruption in our era. These situations are the following:

The fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). From this, the capitalist economic system had a free path in the world to expand its philosophy and form of operation, That is to say, the business-neoliberal ideology became globalised;

The "Washington Consensus", which happened in the early nineties (of the 20th century), as a strategy of globalisation or globalisation led by the United States ideologically, politically, economically and commercially. This strategy consists of establishing a philosophy for the entire planet supported by the free market and international trade, economic neoliberalism. In its formulation, true factual powers participated, among them, the International Financial Organisations (OFI), members of the Congress of the nation, the Federal Reserve, senior civil servants of the US administration, as well as groups of experts (Think Tanks);

The New Public Management (NGP), composed of a set of neoliberal business ideas promoting the techniques of private companies applied to the public sector. The NGP also encourages the participation of the private sector in the public sphere.

Based on these elements, the "capitalist spirit", as Max Weber called it, and its values (or, rather, anti-values) expanded. 

The "Pandora's box" opened. Anti-values such as acquisitiveness, greed, desire to accumulate riches spread throughout the world. "The capitalist spirit is the mentality that systematically and professionally aspires to profit for profit itself (...), it is an attitude, a habitus, a psychic disposition of the individual that manifests itself in its patterns of behaviour, in the criteria with which it organizes their life (…). The capitalist "spirit", in particular, is that attitude or mentality that aspires to make money as an end in itself ".

The "spirit of capitalism" has its foundation in liberalism and is expressed in free enterprise. The business philosophy, by penetrating the public sphere, attacks the internal good of the public servant, That is to say, it touches their "soul" or "spirit of service". This is why more and more corruption scandals arise in the public sphere and why many public servants are so confused at the moment of doing something.

Faced with this panorama of corruption, can anything be done? The immediate answer is yes. The first step is to delve deeply into the analysis of corruption. 

The US scientist, Charles F. Kettering wrote: "It is not that they cannot see the solution, it is that they cannot see the problem". 

When a problem is not understood in its entirety, it will be difficult to find a solution. Without pretending to be simplistic, here are a few steps that might offer a way to control corruption.


Corruption as an object of study goes beyond any single discipline: political, economic, social and cultural. There is corruption in:

The large sectors of a state: public, private and social;

The different public powers: Legislative, Executive, Judicial;

The different levels of government: national, state, municipal;

The different sectors of public administrations: education, health, housing, justice, environment, and so on.

Corruption is a giant monster whose dimension we cannot perceive. It is a snowball that was allowed to grow and now it is an avalanche that razes everything in its path.

Get to know the origin of the problem, get to the bottom. The inevitable cause of corruption is the dishonest behaviour of public agents. Corruption occurs because an individual takes the decision to perform a corrupt action. 

There is no antidote or external control system to the individual that prevents an act of corruption. 

Those who perform corrupt practices are quite intelligent beings. In any case, that antidote has to come from the internal part of the individual. That is to say, where ethics comes into action when internalizing values and principles that generate awareness and forge convictions that guide the behaviour of public servants and inhibit carrying out undue actions.


There are several ways to address corruption:

Understand and clarity the problem. This consists of analyzing theoretical conceptualization of corruption by reviewing different definitions to get a clear view of the problem.

Typify and classify corruption. One classification establishes that there is white, grey and black corruption, another indicates that there is high, medium and low corruption.

Characterise each type of corruption, That is to say, each corrupt operation has a strategy that has to be carefully studied to avoid recurrence.

Find out what causes it to appear, that is to say, the reasons why a human being has become corrupted, and particularly public servants.

Identify the sectors and specific areas in which it manifests itself. Education, health, environment, public works, security, and so on.

Describe its perception and measurement, and here we have to analyze perception indexes, without a doubt, a reference is the one that Transparency International publishes annual.

Quantify the effects it generates. Politically, economically, socially, culturally.

Itemise the most notorious cases in the media. Investigative journalism often discovers significant cases of corruption that has to be addressed.

Catalogue the organisms to fight it. Anti-corruption Prosecutor, Anti-Fraud Office, Chancellor of Justice;

List the international anti-corruption legislation. Laws, agreements, international agreements.

Describe the mechanisms for its prevention. This includes Public Ethics along with its different instruments of practical application.


Any improvement in the operation of public institutions will have a greater chance of success if it is accompanied by ethical principles and values, ensuring that every public servant has an integrated conduct accompanied by the Internal Good or spirit of service. and that is to say achieved through Public Ethics, a discipline whose responsibility it is to study and to forge public servants' behaviour. 

Ethics, since ancient times, has been linked to politics, always as a filter that prevents individuals with unsuitable profiles from entering public office.

When ethical principles and values are rescued and fostered by public servants, they strengthen, motivate and give integrity and dignity to the individual's behaviour. No public servant with ethics steals, lies, cheats, swindles, offends or is inefficient, on the contrary, they help, are responsible, fulfilled, whole, respectful, and deliver results. Conversely, when values in the public service are weakened or absent, anti-values and corrupt practices spring up immediately.


Public ethics is practical, therefore, requires its institutionalization. In its implementation, it requires a set of instruments of practical application. A basic kit contains the following instruments:

Ethical Council;

Ethics Office;

Ethics law;

Ethics Codes;

Ethical agents;

Monitoring of ethical conduct;

Ethical courts.


Once we have the tools, we have to piece the puzzle together using a model in which all the pieces fit. There are different models of ethics to be applied to governments and public administrations. A well-known one is the Ethical Infrastructure Model of the OECD; another is the Integral Ethical System (SEI).


Stop corruption through a policy of prevention is possible, it is not an empty shell, but rather something achievable. The institutionalization of ethics through a State policy, besides being possible, is worthwhile. However, a model of this nature can only be viable if it is adopted and applied by a government with an authentic will to elevate its commitment to a State policy.


To generate an ethical culture we need to awaken interest in this discipline and extend it, time and time again, not only to public servants but to other sectors of the State, That is to say, to the private sector, as well as to the social sector.


Punish and purge harmful elements from the public service. For the philosopher Plato it was key to monitor state guards and public servants' conduct. For these, he says, can fall into temptation and do the opposite that for which they were formed. In their own words: "The most shameful and terrible thing of all for a shepherd would be to feed the sheep to the guard dogs that, by the act of debauchery, hunger or bad habits, will attack and harm the sheep and come to resemble wolves rather than dogs (...). Therefore we have to prevent by all possible means that the guardians of the State do not behave like this confronted with the general public, and that, by being stronger than them, they will not look like both savages instead of welfare assistants. " (The Republic 416 b).

In addition to monitoring, we need to evaluate and self-criticise a permanent basis.

It also requires a system of complaints and denunciations that compiles unethical acts, a system of exemplary sanctions with the capacity to purge negative elements, and a fluid communication system that informs the general public.

In short, Public Ethics is a powerful instrument for the control of corruption.



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